The Red Sox named Will Venable as their new bench coach on Nov. 20. But he has yet to step foot in Boston and doesn’t expect to until the home opener.
In fact, Venable hasn’t been to Fenway Park since July 4, 2013, when he was playing for the San Diego Padres and went 2 for 4 with a walk and double.
“I’m anxious to get back there. But right now it’s Zoom calls like everybody else in the COVID era,” Venable said during a recent conversation from his home in Texas. “Laying low with the family at home and getting as much done as I can on the computer and the phone.”
There’s plenty to do, starting with further building his relationship with manager Alex Cora.
Venable, 38, and Cora, 45, played against each other several times but were never teammates and knew each other only in passing.
Venable, who was the third base coach of the Cubs, was a candidate to manage the Sox in October and impressed chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom so much that he offered him a spot on the staff after the decision was made to bring Cora back.
Cora didn’t need to be convinced. Cubs manager David Ross, his former Red Sox teammate, spoke highly of Venable. So did Dodgers manager Dave Roberts.
“People in the industry are high on him,” Cora said. “With us, it has been a very easy conversation. He pays attention and he’s hungry to keep getting better.”
Cora had a traditional bench coach from 2018-19 in Ron Roenicke, an older, former major league manager he had known for years. But that model wasn’t needed this time.
In Carlos Febles and Ramon Vazquez, Cora has two former minor league managers on the staff. The Sox also will have Jason Varitek in the dugout this season.
“I feel good about who we have,” Cora said. “Take away the titles, we’re all just Red Sox coaches. I’m glad to have somebody like Will coming in from a different organization to give us a new perspective.”
Said Venable: “For somebody I didn’t have a pre-existing relationship with, Alex has been awesome. I’m picking his brain, learning about the players. He’s worked really hard to catch me up.”
Venable played more basketball than baseball at Princeton, finishing with 1,010 career points from 2001-05. But he turned to baseball after being a seventh-round pick of the Padres in 2005.
That his father, Max, had a 12-year career in the majors played a significant role in that decision, too.
An outfielder with more speed than power, Venable played in the majors from 2008-16. His eight seasons with the Padres proved particularly instrumental.
Those years, while often fruitless on the field, exposed Venable to people who became friends and mentors, putting him on a path that eventually led to his being hired by the Red Sox.
Chris Young, now GM of the Rangers, pitched for the Padres during that time. Rick Renteria, who went on to manage the Cubs and White Sox, was on the coaching staff.
Outfielder Chris Denorfia is now a minor league manager and catcher Nick Hundley is working for Major League Baseball’s operations department.
Roberts got his start in coaching with the Padres in 2011. Outside of his father, Venable said Roberts has had the greatest impact on him professionally.
“We had a good group of guys and Will was part of that,” said Jed Hoyer, who was San Diego’s general manager from 2010-11 before joining the Cubs in the same position.
“He was curious about different aspects of the game and really bright. A lot of people saw him as somebody who would stay in the game. He had a way about him.”
But when Venable retired from playing after the 2016 season, he was unsure of what would come next. He initially decided to return to school and enrolled in an MBA program at North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagher Business School.
“I knew enough that I wanted to stay in baseball,” Venable said. “That’s what I knew and where my network was. All the relationships I built were with baseball people. But I thought business school made sense.”
That’s when his network interceded. Roberts encouraged Venable to get back involved in baseball, which led to Hoyer offering Venable a position as a special assistant in 2017.
He worked in different aspects of the organization before being named Joe Maddon’s first base coach in 2018.
“I had left it open-ended in terms of what Will would do,” Hoyer said. “We wanted him working for us in some way, whether it was in scouting or player development or in the front office. But when Brandon Hyde went to the Orioles [to manage] that opened up a spot on the coaching staff.”
Venable coached two seasons under Maddon and one for Ross.
“Very different approaches,” Venable said. “But they get to a very similar spot in terms of getting the best out of players and building relationships with people. I feel fortunate being able to work for them.”
Venable sees his role with the Red Sox being open-ended. He joked about refilling the printer paper if that was what Cora needed.
“Have a willingness and humility to do what needs to be done in that moment,” he said. “You have to be able to speak to different areas and have a leadership role in different areas. I’ll throw BP and pick up the baseballs. There’s no task too small for the bench coach.”
Those who know him well see Venable taking another step up soon.
“This is 100-percent a good move for him to work with Alex, Chaim, and the people in Boston,” Hoyer said. “This will be valuable for him. Will is somebody who is going to move up in the game.”