WASHINGTON - After he was the pitching coach for Triple-A Salt Lake with the Angels in 2019, Pat Rice joined the player development system of the Nationals.
And then he waited - he was to be the pitching coach last year with Single-A Hagerstown but the season was called due to the pandemic.
Then, Hagerstown lost its team after Major League Baseball eliminated about 40 minor league clubs after 2020.
“I was itching,” Rice, now the Fredericksburg Nationals’ pitching coach, told Federal Baseball of having no season in 2020.
“I have been in the game a long time. I did not handle that ... any better than the players did.”
Rice, 57, spent most of last year at his home in Colorado Springs, where he went to high school before playing at the University of Arkansas and eventually in the majors with Seattle in 1991. He was teammates with the Mariners with Brian Holman, the brother of Washington minor league pitching coordinator Brad Holman. And Rice and Brad Holman used to work together as instructors in the Seattle system.
Those connections didn’t make sitting out the 2020 season any easier.
Rice didn’t help out at the alternate site in Fredericksburg last year and wasn’t part of the coaching staff in Florida during Instructional League last fall.
Then when Fredericksburg began the 2021 a season a month later than normal, the team lost its first 15 games.
Rice pointed out that many pitchers had not played with an organized team in 2020.
“The lack of competing for a year ... the more you throw, the more command you have,” said Rice, who pitched in seven games for Seattle in 1991.
What message did he send to his pitchers during the 0-15 start?
“We are going to be all right,” he told them. “It is just we have some stuff to work on. Don’t worry, things are going to get better.”
In some aspects, they have. Player development is more important than winning in the low minors, usually. Fredericksburg is 37-50 since that rough start, in games through Tuesday.
More importantly for Rice is the development of pitching prospects. He helped get Mitchell Parker on track earlier this year, and now Parker has moved up to high Single-A Wilmington.
Rice coached in the Angels’ system with Gary Thurman, an outfield and baserunning coordinator in player development with the Nationals.
Rice hired Brad Holman for his first coaching job in the Seattle system. Holman pitched in 19 games with the Mariners in 1993.
Rice won his Major League debut, beating the Yankees in New York as a starter on May 18, 1991. Ken Griffey, Jr. of Seattle had three hits in that game.
“There is a pretty strong connection there,” Rice said of Holman and Thurman. “The Nats have been awesome and very good to me. I appreciate everything they did during the pandemic. I think that our guys did it right. The Angels basically furloughed their entire [minor league] coaching staff. That is a tough move; my friends that are there, that was really hard on them.”
Rice, who also worked with the Giants in player development, is not the only member of his family involved in minor league baseball.
His son, Stephen, works in the front office of Fresno as a media relations coordinator.
The younger Rice was the media relations manager for Fresno in 2019 when the Grizzlies were the Triple-A team of the Nationals.