Chad Mottola Is Right Where He Belongs
Mottola observing Blue Jays batting practice before a spring training game in Bradenton, Fla.
BY CHRIS TOMAN
TORONTO – Chad Mottola, a star talent out of the University of Central Florida, was supposed to enjoy a long career in the big leagues after the Cincinnati Reds made him the fifth overall pick in the 1992 amateur draft. But the gifted prospect, picked one spot ahead of baseball immortal Derek Jeter, was unable to live up to the lofty expectations, playing parts of five seasons with four teams over a decade-long run from 1996-2006.
That, however, didn’t push Mottola away. Despite playing just 59 career games in the majors, Mottola made a smooth transition to coaching and now finds himself back at the highest level of the sport with more job security than he ever enjoyed as a player.
As hitting coach of the Toronto Blue Jays, Mottola will be given an opportunity to help others reach heights he was never able to as a player. And when you hear the 6-3 Georgian talk, it’s clear he doesn’t beat himself up over what could have been. In fact, he knew – at least he knows now – that it was never meant to be.
“I was born to be a coach, I think, in the long run because I know I can do it mentally,” Mottola said after a recent Grapefruit League game in Dunedin, Fla. “Physically, it didn't show up all the time.”
Reading articles like this from the Orlando Sentinel in ’92 show how highly regarded Mottola was as a prospect.
But after shifting his focus toward instructing, the 41-year-old husband and father of two is set to make up for lost time.
After cutting his teeth as a minor league hitting coach, most recently for Toronto’s Triple-A affiliate, Mottola was one of the many offseason additions the Blue Jays made. Ironically, he will be working alongside the last big-league manager he played for, John Gibbons.
“I liked his personality when I played under him and I think he’s the perfect guy for the team we have,” Mottola said.
“Being the guy that was only up for a month and a half, he treated me just as good as the other guys and that's why I have always respected him. He lets each guy be themselves but promotes the team concept.”
The decision to bring Mottola on board was an easy one for the Blue Jays skipper.
“I knew Chad as a player when he was here and I loved the guy then,” Gibbons said. “Before we decided on who the guy was going to be, we heard nothing but good things from everybody. It’s his time.”
Toronto’s belief that Mottola’s time is now meant that Dwayne Murphy’s, the Blue Jays’ hitting coach from 2010-12, had expired. Murphy, a friend, colleague and former coach of Mottola’s, was retained as the first base and outfield coach, but lost his post to one of his students.
That could have potentially led to an awkward dynamic between the two, but both downplay the significance of Murphy’s reassignment, as he will still help with hitting regardless of his title.
“There is no doubt we are a better team with him sticking around,” Mottola said. “He has had success with a lot of guys and we have the relationship where we don't have an ego. If he sees something or I see something, we just want the player to be better.
“So if he takes a guy in the cage or I take a guy in the cage, we kind of just share ideas. There is no ego in the way about who fixed who. It's just, ‘Hey, let's get him better.’”
Murphy, a six-time Gold Glove winner, said Mottola was always perceived as someone who would make a great instructor.
“I knew he was going to coach, you could see it was going to happen. As soon as he was done with Triple-A he was coaching in the organization,” Murphy said. “He is going to do an outstanding job as the hitting coach and our relationship is good. To me, he’s the hitting guy and if he needs me to do something, I will help him out.
“Most teams are going to two hitting guys; it puts more eyes on them. But I would let him know when I talk to a guy as a respect factor.”
Respect is a big reason why Mottola is a big leaguer again. When you talk to players who have worked with him, you get a real sense of the genuine affection they have for him – it’s not just hyperbole.
“They can relate to him,” Gibbons said, when asked what makes Mottola so successful at what he does. “He has spent time with most of these guys in the past. He knows them. I think the big thing that the good hitting instructors have is that the guys have confidence in him. Once they believe in what you’re telling them, you can basically tell them anything. That doesn’t always happen easily.
“They like him and he’s a hard-working guy, a first-class guy. He knows what he’s talking about and he has some of those guys in his back pocket – that’s half the battle.”
Part of what helps Mottola get through to youngsters, veterans, stars and role players alike is his individualistic approach to hitting.
“I think there is a reason why every guy steps into the box with a different stance. To me, if someone has a blueprint to hitting, it scares me,” Mottola said. “And if they do, they have a pretty big secret.
“There is no one way to do this thing. Each guy has a different process and that's where I start. Why is he doing what he's doing? It's not to question what he's doing, it's so I can know what he's thinking and then we go from there.”
Mottola interviewed for Cleveland’s vacant hitting coach position while he waited in limbo for Toronto to fill out its staff. Former Blue Jays manager John Farrell endorsed Mottola – the recipient of the Bobby Mattick Award in 2012 for excellence in player development – many times last season but after Farrell left for Boston and brought Torey Lovullo and Brian Butterfield with him, Mottola had no idea what direction Toronto would go.
The Indians ended up hiring Ty Van Burkleo, who was previously with the Astros organization, while Mottola waited patiently for a phone call from the Blue Jays that eventually came.
“I've been around the game long enough, so it was one of those things where I was just going to let it play out,” Mottola said. “But it was, obviously, my choice to stay here.”
Mottola got his wish. And now, nearly 21 years since the day he signed his first pro contract, Mottola is back where he belongs, set to embark on a journey he was always destined to fulfill – a career in the major leagues.