Pirates Notebook: Banister goes a step at a time
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SAN DIEGO -- A 25-year lifer with the Pirates, interim bench coach Jeff Banister is approaching his surprising new post moment by moment, day by day.
He has to. It has been such a whirlwind since accepting the assignment, replacing the ousted Gary Varsho and getting promoted from minor league field coordinator, that Banister needed to take it slow. After all, he was in Bradenton, amid a 20-day tour of the Pirates' minor league system while toting along his 8-year-old son, when John Russell called him Sunday before the manager let go Varsho and pitching coach Joe Kerrigan.
All Banister could do was fly home to Houston, hand over Jacob to his wife, Karen, in exchange for business-traveling clothes, and land in Pittsburgh early Monday morning to join the club on this trip.
"JR called me Sunday morning to let me know that there were going to be some changes made, and [ask] did I have interest in joining the staff, coming up and being a part of this process," said Banister, 45. "For me, right next to being called up as a player ... that's the ultimate. As a coach, this is the next ultimate. I am truly happy being here, to accept the challenge of whatever's asked of me at this level."
Banister dressed for games as a major league field coordinator from 1999-2002, but bench coach is considered a dugout position second only to manager. He has managed throughout the minor league system and last served in an interim capacity in 2004, spending two weeks as Class A Lynchburg's manager.
Asked if he hoped this interim work could lead to full-time bench coach for 2011, he responded: "That's a great question. Really, I have no answer for that right now. Truly. For me it's getting past Day One. Then this series. And then on to Houston. And then find a place to stay in Pittsburgh. Really, I have not thought past this point.
"I've been with this organization so long, however I put the uniform on, at whatever level, my personal goal will never change: Hopefully, I'm part of the celebration some day in the middle of that field at PNC Park."
Russell said he will rely on Banister and third-base coach Tony Beasley to handle the "maintenance" aspects of coaching the outfielders every day, but added that he will bear some of the duties. "I'll do a lot of it, as far as the hands-on work, like with Ryan [Doumit]. A lot of the fundamental stuff, with some guys learning some new things, I'll do a lot of that."
Andy LaRoche made his first start at first base in more than two years. The last time? "Yeah, right here, San Diego," he recalled of Petco Park. "My first game in '08," June 11, after a Los Angeles Dodgers call-up. He played 300 games without "taking a ground ball since" at first, where he may play more frequently.
Calling LaRoche "a corner infielder," Russell explained that he started him Tuesday as a right-handed bat while resting Garrett Jones, who had played 110 of 111 games. "He fouled a ball off his shin about 14 times it seemed like in three games," Russell said of Jones, who spent some time in the trainer's room beforehand.
LaRoche was surprised when Russell approached him late Sunday about preparing to come to work early Tuesday and readying for first base. It was such late notice, LaRoche had to borrow Neil Walker's first-baseman's mitt. He didn't even get time to tell big brother Adam, a first baseman extraordinaire for Arizona. "He'll probably just say, 'Don't embarrass the LaRoche name.' "
"If they want me to take some in the outfield, I'd be more than happy to. Or if they want me to get an inning or two on the mound," said LaRoche, looking for utility chances with Pedro Alvarez manning third base regularly. Said Russell of LaRoche adding first to second and third: "Playing first now gives him three spots where he can get some at-bats."
• Don't read into Alvarez at cleanup -- that's a coming attraction for later, not this year. "When Garrett's not in there, it was an opportunity for him to hit [fourth] without putting somebody else there. I don't think it's going to be a big 'woo' for him, where he'll be overwhelmed. He's comfortable now."
• Minor transactions: Reliever Steven Jackson cleared waivers and accepted an assignment to Class AAA Indianapolis; catcher Luke Carlin was sent to Cleveland to finish the trade for Brian Bixler, since dealt to Washington.
• Jeff Karstens, from nearby Spring Valley, Calif., had about 200 friends and relatives at the game Tuesday night. Offered Walker: "He said his family bought, like, a section." Karstens never previously pitched in Petco, the only remaining National League ballpark he hadn't worked. He has pitched in 27 of the 30 big league venues.
First Published August 11, 2010 12:00 am