Sunday, May 19, 2013

An Interview with Morgan Ensberg

Speaking with Infield Coach Morgan Ensberg last weekend when I was in Lancaster was a treat for me for many different reasons. But the best part of talking to Ensberg was to see and feel his love for the Astros and his passion for helping, coaching and mentoring the minor league players in the Astros system. He is honest, unfiltered and thoughtful in his opinions. Speaking with him was very refreshing and very encouraging.

This is what he had to say (edited at a minimum for clarity) ~

I told Ensberg that I was somewhat surprised to see him as a coach because I assumed that he would be coming back into the Astros fold as a broadcaster. He responded, "I was going to originally interview for the TV and radio and, as we started talking, I made it very clear that it rips my heart out that the Astros stink. It’s not okay. You’ll notice now that my tone changes in that it’s not okay. I feel I am an Astro. That’s who I came up with. That’s who I played the majority of my career with. And we had great winning teams. And to watch them really struggle, I’m not okay with it. And so when I came back, at a certain point, I said 'Listen, anything that I can do to help you whether it’s in the broadcast booth, if it’s coaching, whatever it is, I want to do. If you tell me go clean bathrooms, I’ll go clean bathrooms.' It was about making sure that the Astros get back to being great, and it morphed into a coaching job. I was originally going to be talking for the broadcast booth but I said, 'Wherever you feel like I can help the team the most for now.' That’s how we got to this."

I asked Ensberg how the idea of the extra coach was working out so far, "It’s really been great and it’s been something that Jeff Luhnow and the powers-that-be have thought about. I think it’s great to get another set of eyes. We tried to get away from having too many cooks in the kitchen. I think this just allows these kids to have another coach there, especially with me specializing in a certain area. I think it helps that, but most importantly, it’s great just to have support for these kids."

Who came up with the "Really Good Player" Award, "It was me. It was something that I heard and I just thought it was fun. It’s obviously there all in good fun, but I thought it was a good phrase and it was something that really caught on. You know what? I think it’s important to acknowledge when an individual has done well. I had a trophy made at this place in L.A. that cost me $18.73. It’s kind of like one of these women with wings, like a champion. I obviously [had to] get it in fuchsia because that’s the type of award we're dealing with here. I had a little nameplate engraved 'You’re a Really Good Player, Player of the Game.' It’s something that helps just build camaraderie among the guys. They’re the ones that [vote on] it, and I think that’s an important distinction. I think a lot of times in the past when you’re growing up, your coach chooses it, but this is an award where your teammates choose it.

The Really Good Player Award

"And this also has to do with the harsh realities of life which is that, although these are still kids, they are men now and unfortunately it’s dog-eat-dog. You have to show that there are winners and losers, and even though a guy might go four-for-four or two guys go four-for-four, one of those guys has to win. Obviously we had our first ever three-man victory [for the game on May 12th], but I will put a star or asterisk by that because [you have to] throw all the rules out the window on a no-hitter with a piggyback.

"It’s important to be positive because baseball is such a difficult, negative game, but it’s also very important to be brutally honest. I’m very hard on these guys and it’s not because I want them to feel bad. It’s just that the game of baseball is going to rip your heart out, and my job is to prepare them for the big leagues. Make no mistake about it. This has the most talent of any team I’ve ever seen that’s not in the big leagues. I’ve never seen a team with this many big league players on it at one time, and I refuse to say good job or just pass them on to the next level by being overly positive if that’s not the case. [They need to] understand what is expected of them. [They need to] understand what is right and what is wrong, especially with the infield. They know that I’m going to bring up things that have to do with effort … I don’t bring up anything that has to do with ability. They can't choose whether or not they are fast, strong. We never talk about that. But I will be all over them ... on effort problems. If they have a situation where they’re not doing it correctly, it’s not okay. They know [I’m not going to be] yelling at them directly into their face, but they know I’m not going to be happy, and I’m going to bring it to their attention. It’s constant accountability.

"The reason why I coach is not so I can coach in the future. The reason why I coach is because baseball's a very scary game. Make no mistake about it. Even though these guys are doing really well, they're staring at the ceiling at night scared to death. I’ve been there. I’ve been in that situation and I don’t want these kids to feel ... it’s almost anxiety or terror. I want to be there for them to help them get through this because this is just a very difficult game that they play, and it’s very emotional. And again I’m not going to just pat them on the back and say the way you’re doing it is good. It’s not good unless it’s the way a big leaguer does it and that’s what I teach."

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Ensberg's passion is infectious. It's hard not to feel his enthusiasm when watching the Lancaster team. And it's impossible not to see and appreciate his compassion for and belief in these players. 

I've already posted interviews with Telvin Nash, Travis Ballew and Delino DeShields. I have been working furiously over the weekend to transcribe the rest of the interviews and hope to have several more interviews coming out this week, with Preston Tucker, Andrew Aplin, David Rollins, Brandon Meredith and Nolan Fontana. I hear that they're all Really Good Players.

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