Hanging out on the diamond before a July 4 game at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, Texas, Wayne Kirby noticed his old friend Scott Servais striding with a purpose toward Kirby across the crisp green grass.
Servais, who is the Texas Rangers' senior director for player development, and Kirby have some history. They worked together and became close when Kirby was Texas' base running and outfield coordinator from 2006 through last season, which culminated with a World Series appearance by the Rangers. Kirby left the Rangers before this season to be the Baltimore Orioles first-base coach.
Kirby wondered what was on Servais' mind when he saw him earlier this month. Servais almost immediately revealed his tongue-in-cheek intentions.
"He looked at me and said, 'Man, we just drafted nine outfielders. Where you at, Kirb? We need you,' " said Kirby, a 47-year-old Tabb High graduate.
Kirby laughed. Once you gain a reputation as a teacher in the major leagues, it's hard to shake it.
Kirby's rep as a coach is the same as it was during his playing days with the Cleveland Indians, Los Angeles Dodgers and New York Mets -- fundamentally-sound, hard-working, aggressive on the basepaths and possessing a mouth that's in constant motion.
"He hasn't shut up since he was born," Orioles center fielder Adam Jones said. "The thing I like about him is he's the same every day. Wayne is good people. That's why he's been around so long."
Hey, Kirby can't help it if he has a lot to share. He's not changing his approach. It worked in Texas -- where none of Kirby's outfields had more than 18 errors in a season in four of his five seasons (by comparison, the Rangers' outfield already has committed 16 errors this season) -- and it has been popular thus far in Baltimore.
Luke Scott, an Orioles outfielder, first baseman and designated hitter, has a long-standing relationship with Kirby. When Scott started his pro career in '02 with Cleveland, Kirby was opening his coaching career at Lake County, an Indians' Class A affiliate. Scott crossed paths in the spring of '02 with Kirby, who worked with outfielders in the Indians' minor leagues.
"He taught me a lot about how to play outfield," Scott said. "He's always been an up-beat guy, very positive. He's very meticulous. Anything he could do to help you in the outfield -- backing up a base, throwing to the right base, taking the right angle on certain balls, reading balls off the bat -- he's always had something to share."
After Kirby's post-Tabb baseball career got underway in 1982 at the Apprentice School, he developed work habits that have kept him around professional baseball for 24 of the last 28 years, including an eight-year stint in the minor leagues before he played his first major-league game.
"I was planning on being a mechanic," said Kirby -- who also ran for more than 3,500 yards as a running back at Tabb -- of his aspirations at Apprentice if he'd ended up being a baseball flop. "If things didn't work out (in baseball), that's what I was going to do, but I wasn't going to let anybody out-compete me."
Selected by the Dodgers in the 13th round of the '83 draft, Kirby would go on to toil in the minor leagues until '91. During that time, Kirby took careful mental notes. After all, he was getting first-rate hitting instruction.
Maury Wills taught Kirby the fine points of bunting and base-stealing. Charlie Manuel, who was years from becoming the manager of the Philadelphia Phillies, showed Kirby how to develop a swing from the ground up. Von Joshua gave Kirby the tools to start driving the ball a bit.
When Kirby finally made it to the major leagues in '91 with the Indians, he'd stick around for portions of the next eight seasons, compiling a .252 career batting average in primarily a fourth outfielder role and appearing in the '95 World Series with the Indians.
The defensive and base-running sides of Kirby's game came a little more naturally. Speed and instincts always have been Kirby family traits, further evidenced by younger brother Terry's record-setting career as a high school running back at Tabb and the University of Virginia, and his 10 seasons in the NFL.
"(Wayne) is a blueprint for what a coach is supposed to be," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "I can't imagine why he hasn't gotten an opportunity (to be a base coach or manage in the major leagues) before now. Wayne is a guy that no matter what kind of challenge he has in front of him, he's going to figure it out. I found out real quickly I could forget about what Wayne was responsible for. He's going to take care of it and I'm not going to have to worry about it."
As a first base coach, Kirby routinely spends 10 to 12 hours a day around the ballpark. His job description includes scouting opponents, communicating and organizing signs with other coaches, working with outfielders on defense and, most important, watching the back of all Orioles' base runners.
"I'm their eyes," said Kirby regarding his relationship with a hitter. "I don't want them to run out of the batter's box and keep their eyes on the ball. I see what's going on. I know the outfielders' arms. I also read pitchers very well. I know good counts to run on, all the pick-off moves. I can tell if a ball is hit real deep and if the outfielder is coasting, I'll tell (a base-runner) to come back and tag. I also have to pick up (third base coach) Willie (Randolph). He's got his signs. There's all types of things going on all the time."
Showalter got to know Kirby well in 2006, when Showalter was in his final season as manager of the Rangers. Kirby had spent the previous four years as a coach in Cleveland's minor-league system, but he parted ways with the Indians after the '05 season due to a dispute in coaching philosophy.
Kirby remembers riding around the Rangers' spring training facility in Surprise, Ariz., in 2006 with Showalter on a golf cart from diamond-to-diamond. A mutual respect was forged.
"He'd get me in the cart and ask me what happened over in Cleveland," said Kirby, who lives in Las Vegas in the offseason with his wife, Cara, of 17 years, and their three daughters, ages 4, 12 and 16. "He'd pick my brain. He was probably interviewing me."
Though the results haven't come for the Orioles, who were 42-60 heading into Saturday's game at the New York Yankees, Kirby still has managed to establish himself as an asset. He's looking less the part of a player these days and more of a manager -- slightly portly figure and all.
"I spent enough time during my playing days avoiding beer," he said. "When I became a coach, I discovered beer is food."
But he insists becoming a manager someday doesn't drive him. Teaching does.
"I really don't think about it much," Kirby said. "If it happens, it happens, but I love what I'm doing right now. The biggest thing to me is that teaching is a lost art. To me, it's the most important part of my job."Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun