Casey Kotchman's father Tom is legendary in Angels organization
Tom Kotchman is now not only the winningest active manager in the minor leagues (1,583-1,317 with eight league championships as he enters his 32nd season), but as a scout has been involved in the signing of players like Howie Kendrick, Jeff Mathis, Orlando Palmeiro, Eduardo Perez, Jorge Fabregas and numerous others.
Seattle Times baseball reporter
TEMPE, Ariz. — Tom Kotchman was a rising managerial star in the Angels' organization in the late 1980s, ascending to the job of Class AAA manager in Edmonton in 1987. He was on the threshold of a major-league coaching job, or perhaps even a seat in the big chair, the one now occupied by Mike Scioscia.
But instead, Kotchman did something extraordinary. He informed the Angels that he was missing too much family time, that he feared son Casey and daughter Christal, then 6 and 3, would wind up growing up while he was off riding on buses and hitting fungoes.
So Kotchman stepped down in Edmonton after three seasons and accepted a position the Angels crafted specially for him. He would scout his native Florida for nine months of the year, and manage their rookie league Boise team in the Northwest League from June through August.
"It's not really odd when you evaluate why he did it," said Casey Kotchman, who is now 27 and the Mariners new first baseman.
And thus was an Angels institution born. Tom Kotchman is now not only the winningest active manager in the minor leagues (1,583-1,317 with eight league championships as he enters his 32nd season), but as a scout has been involved in the signing of players like Howie Kendrick, Jeff Mathis, Orlando Palmeiro, Eduardo Perez, Jorge Fabregas and numerous others.
The result also was a baseball-soaked childhood for Casey Kotchman that most boys could only dream about.
"Just to have a father figure around is a privilege," said Kotchman, who only vaguely remembers what it was like when his dad was gone nearly year-round. "I was spoiled. He got to see us grow up and play, see my sister play. Now we're out of the house, and he's still doing the same thing."
Growing up, Casey would often accompany his dad on scouting trips up and down the state, driving together in the legendary gold 1998 Chrysler Town & Country minivan that Tom affectionately dubbed "Goldy." It's at 310,000 miles and still going strong (after a new transmission at 299,999 miles — honest). The elder Kotchman won't even consider a replacement.
"It works," shrugs Casey. "It gets the job done."
Casey was fascinated even as a youngster by the arcane craft of scouting, the speed guns and scouting reports.
"I just always enjoyed the numbers, the grading tools they used to put on guys, what they were looking for," Casey said. "I enjoyed all that stuff."
But that was only part of Kotchman's baseball education. When school was out in Seminole, Fla., the St. Petersburg suburb where the family still lives, Casey would fly to Boise and spend much of the summer traveling around the Northwest League, bus trips to Yakima and Everett and Spokane. Tom spent 11 years managing in Boise before the Angels relocated their Class A rookie team, first in Provo, Utah, and currently in Orem, Utah.
As a bat boy and treasured hanger-on, Casey watched the likes of Jim Edmonds, Troy Percival, Garret Anderson, Troy Glaus and Jarrod Washburn pass through Boise. The players treated Casey like their little brother, full of affection and horseplay.
There was the time that some Boise players — Washburn might have been involved — taped Casey to a pole. His crime? Hoarding the chewing gum supply.
There was the time that Tom Kotchman was ejected from a game, as well as his assistant coach, against Yakima. The acting manager, pitching coach Howie Gershberg, used 8-year-old Casey to relay messages to his father in the clubhouse, and run the bullpen.
"I had Casey getting the pitchers ready," Gershberg told the Los Angeles Times in 2001. "He knew what he was doing. He got Percival (who played for Boise in 1990 and '91) ready in the ninth to save the game. We came back and won, and that game turned our season around. We won the Northwest League championship."
Casey Kotchman also made sure that his dad threw him batting practice after every game, honing the skills that made him a prodigy in his teens, and the Angels' top pick in '01, perhaps the only baseball talent from his region in the past 20 years that Tom Kotchman didn't scout.
"You can't scout your own kid," Casey said. "That doesn't make any sense. That wouldn't fly."
Kotchman's career with the Angels never took off like anticipated, and he was sent to Atlanta in the 2008 Mark Teixeira trade. That season, the Kotchman family was rocked by a serious illness suffered by Sue Kotchman, Casey's mother, who had a brain hemorrhage in August.
The family mobilized at her bedside, Casey flying in from Atlanta, Tom from Utah, Christal from Charleston, S.C., where she was a softball player at College of Charleston. It was touch-and-go but she survived, and is now "doing well," Casey said.
Kotchman had a stint in Boston last year before the Mariners acquired him in January for Bill Hall and Miguel Celestino.
The Mariners believe that Kotchman has considerable untapped potential, so much so that manager Don Wakamatsu is contemplating using him as their No. 3 hitter. Wakamatsu has let Kotchman know that he doesn't expect him to be a 30-homer player, as was once forecast for him.
"He's an extremely gifted player," Wakamatsu said. "But he's a guy that's not that prototypical power hitter. I think that haunts a guy, too. You try to be something you're not. We're asking him just be a good hitter."
While working several seasons in the Angels' minor-league system, Wakamatsu became well acquainted with Tom Kotchman.
"He was a legend over there," Wakamatsu said. "If you go back and track the history of the Angels and how many players have played for him, it's amazing. (Tom Kotchman) was extremely important in that organization for development. Not so much on the field, but off. He would do a lot for young kids that didn't have a lot. I have utmost respect for him."
And now the Mariners hope that Tom Kotchman's son helps them finally get past the Angels.
Larry Stone: 206-464-3146 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
About Larry Stone
Larry Stone gives an inside look at the national baseball scene every Sunday. Look for his weekly power rankings during the season.
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