Stanford returns home as Black Bears pitching coach
By Steve Ruman
Road trips are often said to be the most grueling, most difficult part of the minor league experience.
For Jason Stanford, the first road trip of his professional coaching career presented him with all the comforts of home.
Stanford, the former Cleveland Indians pitcher who now resides in Niles with his wife and three children, is a first-year pitching coach for the West Virginia Black Bears. Last night, the Black Bears opened their season at Eastwood Field against the Mahoning Valley Scrappers.
“Crazy, isn’t it,” Stanford said with a laugh. “Here I am, starting out on the road, and I get to sleep in my own bed for three nights, spend Father’s Day weekend with my wife and kids, coach in front of a whole bunch of family and friends.”
Stanford likely was more familiar with Eastwood Field than any other player or coach in uniform Friday night, Scrappers included. While with the Indians in 2005, he pitched at the stadium as part of a rehab assignment.
When his playing career ended, Stanford moved to Niles and married Niles native Kara Leonard-Stanford. He made frequent trips to Eastwood Field when he was the Howland High baseball coach (2010-12) and the Youngstown State University pitching coach (2013). He also held numerous camps and clinics at the ballpark. Stanford continues to operate a Niles-based college prep baseball organization.
Stanford pitched professionally for nine seasons with the Indians, Washington Nationals and Chicago Cubs organizations. With the Tribe, he logged a 3.61 ERA in 23 total appearances despite battling an ongoing elbow injury. He later became a on-air baseball analyst for SportsTime Ohio.
“A few years after my playing days were over, I knew I wanted to coach in some capacity,” Standford said. “I signed with the Pittsburgh Pirates organization in December and began spring training in Florida in February.”
“The Pirates are a great organization to work for. I don’t think there is one bad apple in this entire organization.”
Stanford admitted that his rookie year as a coach has been “an eye-opening and challenging experience.”
“It’s a completely different side of the game,” Stanford said. “You’re looking out after 18 players in spring training, and now around 15 on the roster. You have to pay very close attention to each player, you have to work individually with each one and prepare them on a daily basis.”
“The days are really long. It’s definitely a challenge. But I love it. I love the process of watching a kid learn the game and develop into a better player.”
Stanford estimated that at least 45 family and friends made it out to Friday’s game. The list included his wife and children, and his mom, who is visiting from Arizona.
“It’s just too cool that it worked out this way,” Stanford said. “And with West Virginia being just a few hours away, the family will be able to make it to some of our home games.”
While Stanford cherishes his opportunity to work for the Pirates organization, he admits that he’ll always have a soft spot in his heart for the Indians.
“It’s bittersweet coming back here, because the Indians to me are family,” Stanford said. “The organization was super with me during and after my career.”
Following the Black Bears’ three game set in Niles, they visit Batavia for a three game series. Stanford will then get to experience his “other” home opener next Thursday when the Black Bears host State College.