By Paul Braverman
“To be in a league and division that I’ve been in the last 10 years, it just felt like the perfect fit.”
When word of the availability of former Major League catcher Tim Federowicz reached Seattle Mariners player development this past winter, they quickly agreed. Federowicz, 34, was officially announced as Tacoma’s manager on December 8, following a 13-season playing career with over 1,000 games, including 163 in the big leagues.
A 2008 draft pick of the Boston Red Sox following three seasons at the University of North Carolina – where he helped lead the Tar Heels to a berth in three consecutive College World Series – Federowicz split last season between the Triple-A Oklahoma City Dodgers, and the silver medal-winning United States Olympic Team where he was a teammate of former Rainiers Outfielder Eric Filia. His MLB time was spread between 2011 and 2019 with the Dodgers, Cubs, Giants, Astros, Reds and Rangers. His stint in Chicago earned him a 2016 World Series ring.
“I had mostly made the decision that I was going to call it quits towards the end of last year when I was with Oklahoma City, and talking with my agent a lot about it,” said Federowicz. “Once we got my resume together and sent out, the Mariners were actually the first team to reach out. A couple others did tell us they were interested, but the Mariners contacted us in about 30 minutes, so that was really cool.”
Andy McKay, Seattle’s Senior Director of Baseball Development, quickly echoed the excitement of Federowicz joining the organization, shortly after the hire became official. “People and Process. Tim immediately makes us better and will have such a positive impact on our players,” McKay tweeted later in the day on 12/8.
While a former catcher becoming a manager is hardly uncommon, usually former players transitioning to coaching have at least some experience with the hiring organization. All the more impressive concerning Federowicz’s swift career transition is that 2022 will be his first season with the Mariners in any fashion. He was quick to impress McKay and company.
“It was not really a formal interview, but they were mostly just getting my thoughts on the game and what I wanted to do. At the time, I thought I wanted to go into some type of front office or coordinator-type role, where I could roam around and spend more time with the family. They really didn’t have anything like that available, but when they offered me the Triple-A managing job, I was all in.”
Should it also seem unusual that an active player would hang up his spikes for turfs to manage at the highest level of the minors so quickly, bear in mind the Rainiers found themselves in the same situation a year ago, when former utility man Kristopher Negron went directly from playing in 92 games for Tacoma and Seattle (in 2019) to being hired as the R’s skip. The 2021 Triple-A West championship trophy and rings dotting Cheney Stadium are plenty of proof that the trend of younger managers is no experiment. Guys like Federowicz and Negron, who were back and forth between Triple-A and the Majors in six and eight separate seasons respectively, have that fresh perspective on the challenges their players are facing. (Negron is now the Mariners’ MLB first base coach.)
“I’ve been up and down probably close to 30 times in my career. It’s something that really excited me to be able to help these guys through some of the same struggles I went through- getting called up, getting sent down, getting DFA’d, all these things that happen to guys at this level,” Federowicz said.
In Triple-A, where the focus is on daily approach and fine-tuning opposed to first adjusting to life as a professional, Federowicz’s playing experience offers that unique perspective, without having to lose the competitive fire that comes with managing MLB-ready players.
“The higher levels was always something I was interested in. I just like the crispness of the game, the guys are a lot more polished so it’s much more of a mental game than physical at this level. It’s getting into the same league and division that I’m so familiar with,” said the manager, who as a player faced off with the Rainiers 26 times at Cheney and elsewhere. Federowicz suited up for PCL rivals in Albuquerque, El Paso, Iowa, Sacramento, Fresno and Nashville after making his Triple-A debut in 2011.
“Most appealing to me was, being at the higher levels, there’s not much more these guys really need to do with fundamentals. Obviously they can still get better, but it’s more about teaching them how to win and certain situations that might come up in the big leagues, to help ease that transition. To be able to go out there with winning as the main goal every night, that was another reason why it was appealing for me to be at Triple-A.
In the big leagues I was mostly in a bench role, seeing the game from that angle, and in the minor leagues I was playing a lot more, so I saw the game differently. The last five years as I thought about going into coaching, I’ve really seen the game from multiple perspectives and thinking about how I would handle things in certain situations,” said Federowicz.
Indeed, a catcher’s view of the game is what’s made so many of them successful managerial candidates. In the PCL, it’s an even more unique challenge considering the changes in altitude and the way the ball files from city to city. Federowicz’s nomadic baseball life west of the Mississippi again comes in handy to help players, pitchers especially, navigate their first trips into the mountains. When it comes to evaluating Seattle’s numerous blue-chip starting pitching prospects, having the good fortune of playing in one of the few PCL parks which acts “fair” in Cheney Stadium is a distinct advantage.
Right-handers Matt Brash, George Kirby, Emerson Hancock and Levi Stoudt have all ascended to the higher levels in advance of their MLB debuts, with their potential Triple-A “finishing school” coming in what’s been historically a pitcher’s park.
“It’s relieving for them, as we will be going to a lot of places that don’t play very even, the Albuquerques, the Vegases, the Renos. So having that safe haven to come home to is going to be nice for them. If it’s good for them development-wise to make the trip to Tacoma, that’s great, if they make the jump to the big leagues from Double-A, that’s great as well. It’s all about the player, and what’s best for them.”
Buoyed by that list of pitching prospects, Seattle has entered the 2022 season with the game’s #1-ranked farm system, according to Baseball America.
As is usually the case with catchers, Federowicz spent his last handful of seasons playing as a de-facto coach, especially as it pertained to the U.S. Olympic Team through last summer’s Tokyo games. Between being a veteran amongst a younger group, and the uber-competitiveness that international competition brings, the experience mirrored what Federowicz hopes to achieve this summer.
“It was great, it’s very big league-esque in the aspect that every game feels like a must-win. That takes pressure off the player because it’s more about the team- sometimes in baseball it gets too individualized, especially in the minor leagues, how you’re doing personally instead of how the team does. So for the young prospects we had on that team to get into that atmosphere and experience that urgency before being called up to the big leagues, to get into a must-win and every day-win mindset, I think was very beneficial to them.
I’ve mostly been the ‘older’ guy on the team the last five years, so I get asked a lot for advice. Having guys gravitate towards you, that definitely opened my eyes over the last few seasons, on how I’d be able to message players and how I’d be able to help them when I decided to retire,” said Federowicz.
In a twist of fate, the first road series Federowicz will manage will be at the ballpark he’s played most in, when the Rainiers visit Albuquerque beginning on April 12. After being traded mid-season from the Red Sox to the Dodgers while at Double-A in 2011, he went on to appear in 239 games for the Isotopes during their time as an L.A. affiliate.
“As a player going back, they’ve played my old walk out songs, a bunch of fans have always come over just to say hi. I’m not sure if they’ll do anything now that I’m a manager, but that’ll be pretty cool. It’s on my radar, and I’m just excited to go back.”
If “familiarity breeds contempt” as the saying goes, it doesn’t apply to Federowicz and his travels throughout the PCL. As one of the league’s most respected players the last decade, he was summoned to the Majors from six of the first seven Triple-A clubs he played for. Last season OKC/the Dodgers loaned him to the U.S. National Team multiple times for qualifying tournaments and the Olympics.
“Once I called it a career I was excited for the next step, and luckily I got this opportunity in Tacoma,” says the 11th manager of the “Rainiers” era and Mariners affiliation (since 1995).
Like the organization that moved so quickly to hire him, the excitement from Tacoma fans is likely to be mutual.
THE FEDEROWICZ FILE
Born: August 5, 1987 in Erie, PA
Alma Mater: Apex (NC) High School, University of North Carolina ‘09
Family: Wife Megan, daughters Emma (5 ½) and Ava (1 ½)
Playing Career: 1,040 professional games, 3,600 pro at-bats…career .286 MiLB hitter, 112 home runs at all levels…163 career MLB games (LAD, CHC, SF, HOU, CIN, TEX)
Career Achievements: 2016 World Series Champion (CHC), “Tokyo 2020” Olympic Silver Medalist