Retiring Brett Butler’s jersey
Brett Butler played hardnosed, scrappy major-league baseball for four different teams including San Francisco and Los Angeles, and for 17 years he showed unyielding determination to make his mark on America’s pastime.
As a minor league baseball manager — five of those years in Reno — Butler brought another perspective to the game, one as a coach but the other as a father-figure developing his players for the next step of their lives. As the first manager of a new franchise beginning in Reno in 2009, Butler led the Aces to a Triple-A World Series in 2012. Because of what he brought to the game in Reno, the Aces retired Butler’s jersey in a pregame ceremony Tuesday at Greater Nevada Field before the season’s home opener against Albuquerque.
RENO HONORS BUTLER
Near the pitcher’s mound, Butler thanked the Reno fans for their support. When he arrived in 2009, professional minor league baseball in Reno had been absent for 17 years. Butler said he and his family didn’t know what to expect.
“You made us feel like family, and you welcomed us here,” Butler said. “Reno is a second home to me.”
Reno Mayor Hillary Schieve said Butler was a special man who brought something special to Reno. She declared Tuesday as Brett Butler Day before reading a proclamation.
Additionally, Butler’s jersey number of 2 was unveiled next to Jackie Robinson’s No. 42 along the home dugout side.
“It was a surprise and real humbling,” Butler said when the Aces told him earlier this year they wanted to retire his jersey. “They said they wanted to do it, and I asked why.”
Soon, Butler learned from the Aces how he touched the Northern Nevada community during his managerial stint. First, he was well known to Reno as a San Francisco Giants player who finished his career batting .290 with 2,375 hits and 558 stolen bases. Once retired he continued to make an impression during the next phase of his baseball career. The Aces said he made a big impact to the fans, the city and the players.
“It is humbling for me,” Butler repeated. “Quite frankly, this is something I will treasure.”
Butler, who turns 60 in June, quenched the thirst of a community who had a storied history in supporting minor league baseball teams, and he produced. The Aces won a Pacific Coast League championship in 2012 and then captured the Triple-A World Series against Pawtucket. The Biggest Little City in the World was sitting on top of the universe, looking down from its throne, savoring its latest conquest.
Overall, in his five years at the helm, Butler led the Aces to a 366-352 record including an 81-63 mark in 2012. All Butler did was re-energize the love of baseball in Reno.
At one time during the past 60 years, the Dodgers, Indians, Padres and Twins all took turns at having a minor league team in Reno at the old Moana Stadium in southwest Reno. Times had changed before Butler arrived in Reno eight years ago. The new owners built a new downtown stadium under the shadow of the Reno skyline. Reno left Tucson for the High Desert.
Butler said it was a special time to see a new stadium attract an average of 6,000 fans to a game, sometimes as many as 7,500 to 8,000.
“We had 25 players, but the fans were the 26th player. They were like your family away from them,” Butler said. “The guys played well in a new stadium and had new uniforms. After coming from Tucson, the newness was a wonderful thing.”
During his tenure, Butler said he was blessed with good coaches. Mike Parrott, who pitched for the Seattle Mariners for six seasons, worked with the young arms. The former Boston Red Sox infielder brought his no-nonsense work ethic to Reno to develop the hitters.
“I knew the hitters were always prepared,” Butler added.
In Butler’s fifth and final year with Reno, former major-league player Greg Gross became the new hitting coach. Butler said Gross had a special way of working with the hitters and knew how to talk to the young players.
“He let me do what I did with the hitters, and I did meddle with the team,” Gross said with a laugh. “It was a good match.”
THAT CHAMPIONSHIP SEASON
Within four seasons, Butler meshed together a team of veterans and rookies.
“We only had eight guys from the original roster who played in the World Series. Nine had also played in the major leagues,” Butler recalled. “At the end of the season when the big leagues expand their rosters, they will take your best players.”
Snatched up to the Diamondbacks was Adam Eaton, the league’s most valuable player and rookie of the year.
Outfielder A.J. Pollock, who now plays for Arizona remained, and the rest is history as he led Reno to the season-ending championship.
“He had a hard thing to do, losing players all the time and guys going up and down (to the D–backs),” Gross said. “For them to go that distance was a pretty unique accomplishment.”
GIVING BACK TO THE COMMUNITY
That World Series win for Butler wasn’t the only thing he gave Reno. He gave his time especially to children fighting cancer. Butler, then 38 and playing with the Dodgers, fought throat cancer and defeated it with surgery and radiation in 1996.
Audrey Hill, the Aces’ director of marketing, said Butler reached out to the community. She said the Aces partnered with the Northern Nevada Children’s Cancer Foundation in 2010.
“Once a home stand ended, a child would come out and get the VIP (very important person) treatment,” she said.
Children and their parents would meet Butler, and as a cancer survivor, he genuinely took a personal interest in the family and the child’s cancer. Hill said the youngster threw out the first pitch and accompanied Butler to the plate meeting with the lineup card and stood with him during the national anthem. The family received premium tickets to sit behind the plate. The tradition has continued although Butler left Reno four years ago.
“The impact was so great on those children who are a part of that foundation and is a highlight for all the trials and tribulations they have been through,” Hill said.
RIGHT MAN AT RIGHT TIME
Aces President Eric Edelstein came to Reno in Butler’s last season as manager, yet he said Butler was the right man at the right time to bring baseball back to Northern Nevada. Edelstein said the new Reno skipper cared as a player, coach and manager.
“He was willing to be part of the community,” Edelstein recalled. “He helped put his personality on the franchise. He did his job by advancing players to the major league and brining wins to Reno. To have a person of his stature and notoriety on a small market put a grip on Reno being a firm Triple-A market.”
And since Butler had played for two West Coast teams, Edelstein said that was a bonus because Reno fans started to know Butler more as a manager than player. Butler agrees player development is essential to the next level and how a manager handles his ballplayers determines their future.
“Actually it was tough. I had to know their strengths and weaknesses and which buttons to push,” Butler said. “We were all on the same page. Produce to win and prepare players for the parent club. I loved that challenge.”