Bagwell adjusts to life as coach
Astros legend working as instructor at Spring Training
KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- From a distance, everything looked normal. Jeff Bagwell was in uniform, wearing his Astros cap and a pair of reflector sunglasses as he walked out with the rest of the Astros players to the back fields of Osceola County Stadium.
But instead of joining the crew for the half hour of stretching routines, Bagwell stayed back, leaning on a fungo bat and sipping a cup of coffee.
The newly retired first baseman was ready for his first day of Spring Training camp -- as a coach.
"It's already a little weird just walking out here," Bagwell said. "No tape on my wrist, I'm not in that little circle [of players]. I'm not that sad about that. But it is different."
Bagwell is here as one of general manager Tim Purpura's many special assistants. He'll work with the Major Leaguers, but will spend much of his time on the Minor League fields, where 40 prospects are currently participating in a pre-Spring Training mini-camp.
Bagwell looked genuinely happy to be with the Astros, but he did use the words "strange" and "weird" several times, especially when reflecting on the day that position players reported to Spring Training and he was still home in Houston.
"The last few days have been a little strange," he said. "To pick up the paper and go on the Internet [to read about the Astros], it has been strange. I think I have been a little grumpy at the house. But I'm OK with it. It's just different. This is the first year that I haven't been down here to try and play. It has been a little weird."
The scene was far more tranquil than it was a year ago, when dozens of camera-toting reporters were waiting for Bagwell to report to Spring Training. Bagwell, suffering from a degenerative right shoulder, was in the midst of a battle with owner Drayton McLane that involved mounds of insurance dollars and a dispute over whether he was healthy enough to play.
This time was different. Bagwell walked into the clubhouse without much fanfare, made his way around the clubhouse to shake hands with old friends and teammates, and headed to the coaches locker room to put on his uniform.
That last part was also a little "weird."
"I have a locker at Minute Maid [Park] in the coaches room, and I continue to walk straight to my locker," he said, referring to his old space that was sandwiched between Brad Ausmus' and Craig Biggio's in the middle of the Astros' clubhouse. "I have to turn past it to get to the coaches room. That's definitely different. Most baseball players are creatures of habit. That's been a habit for a long time."
Bagwell will be in and out of Kissimmee for the rest of the spring season, splitting time between his obligations in Florida and family commitments in Houston. Having had his first real taste of the coaching side during the Elite Camp earlier this month at Minute Maid Park, Bagwell is most looking forward to spending time with the youngsters on the Minor League side.
"When I was with the kids at camp, that was great," Bagwell said. "I love baseball. I like to talk about baseball. People come up to me all the time [and say], 'Oh, I don't mean to talk about baseball ...' Nah, let's talk, I love it. It's not hard for me to talk about baseball.
"With these kids, it's kind of neat because you can give your thoughts, your experiences. They go, 'No way you thought like that.' I say, 'Yeah, I did.' You can see that it means something to them. That's what's great and it kind of drives me to keep being around those kids."
Bagwell also remembers what it was like to be a young prospect in the Red Sox system, and seeing Boston legends Carl Yastrzemski and Ted Williams hanging out behind the cage during batting practice.
"That was a pretty big deal for me," Bagwell said. "In no way, shape or form am I Yastrzemski or Williams. But that was a huge deal for me. I didn't get a chance to talk to them too much. I later did, but not at that particular time."
Known as one of the most approachable players during his career, Bagwell has already established an open-door policy with the prospects, who are developing a comfort level with the Astros legend and possible future Hall of Famer.
As the Major League workout was coming to a close on Monday, Bagwell grabbed his fungo bat, signed a few dozen autographs and made his way to the Minor League fields for his first day of the mini-camp.
Whether he can actually hit fungoes without disturbing his ailing shoulder remains to be seen. Bagwell laughingly surmised it wouldn't be a problem.
"I told Matty," he said, referring to another Purpura special assistant, Matt Galante, "I can definitely hit a ground ball to short. I've been doing that my whole career."
Alyson Footer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.