The Detroit Tigers have Johnson City connections in first-year manager Brad Ausmus and assistant coach Ed Hodge. Ausmus’ father, Harry, graduated from Science Hill in 1955. Hodge is a former Johnson City police officer.
Hodge had mentioned weeks ago perhaps trying to get Ausmus to offer a few tidbits – if he had any childhood memories from visiting Johnson City – after Ausmus got settled replacing the legendary Jim Leyland. And Tuesday afternoon Hodge called to follow up and pass along Ausmus’ email address.
Before signing off, Hodge noted that umpire Will Little hadn’t called a Detroit game this year. Little also went to Science Hill as well as Milligan College, where Hodge once coached under Doug Jennett.
But an hour or two after the phone call, Hodge learned Little was working second base during Detroit’s game against the Los Angeles Dodgers that night.
Oddly enough, I was talking to Dodgers farmhand Clint Freeman when Hodge called Tuesday afternoon. Freeman, like Little, grew up in Jonesborough.
Ausmus was born in New Haven, Connecticut in 1969. His father was a European history professor at Southern Connecticut State.
Ausmus occasionally visited Johnson City growing up. His grandparents, Harry and Gretna, had remained here.
“I don't have a ton of memories from Johnson City,” Ausmus said via email. “I was pretty young the times I visited my grandmother. We stayed at her house a few times. My grandfather had passed away when I was very young. ?“She moved to a retirement community a few years later. I mostly remember catching crayfish with my sister in the creek behind her building. And, I won't ever forget her big, yellow Cadillac, though.”
Ausmus, who attended Dartmouth, is a quick study in the dugout. He hadn’t managed prior to this season, and his first-place Tigers have a 6 ½-game lead in the American League Central.
“Everybody knows he’s an extremely intelligent guy,” Hodge said. “You would never know that this was his first gig. He’s really, really good at what he does. He’s a baseball man.
“I’m very impressed with him. He always speaks to me. … He never talks down to anybody. He just seems like he’s the perfect guy for the job.”
Ausmus was a catcher. Like point guards in basketball, catchers often make good coaches. And Ausmus has some similarities to Elizabethton Twins hitting coach Jeff Reed, says Hodge.
“They see everything in front of them,” Hodge said. “It’s like Jeff Reed being a coach; Brad’s just a good guy and a good baseball guy.”
Hodge was brought into Detroit last year, in part, to give Prince Fielder a left-handed arm to face in batting practice. Fielder’s offseason move to Texas and Leyland’s retirement could’ve made things hairy, but Hodge had a good feeling about the transition.
And Ausmus is evidently happy Hodge hung around.
“Ed's a big help throwing batting practice and keeping in-game charts,” Ausmus said. “He's never in a bad mood. Fun to have around.”
The 56-year-old Hodge is from Bellflower, California, and first came to Northeast Tennessee to play for the Elizabethton Twins in 1979.
He now lives on a farm in College Grove, Tennessee, and hearing my hillbilly accent had him eager to get there for a few days during the All-Star break.
The All-Star game is Tuesday in Minneapolis. Science Hill graduate Daniel Norris is expected to pitch in MLB’s Futures Game today (5 p.m., MLB Network) – also at Target Field in Minneapolis.
The left-handed Norris is 7-0 with a 1.84 ERA this season in combined stats from Double-A New Hampshire and Single-A Dunedin.
Clint Freeman is hitting .333 for the Dodgers’ Arizona League affiliate. He doubled and tripled and drove in two runs Thursday.
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