Ruben Amaro Jr. eager for a different view of baseball
The television people called first, executives from two networks eager to hire him as a studio analyst.
A friend brought up the idea of trading on his name recognition by going into the lucrative business of commercial real estate. That idea made sense for a day or two because, really, who doesn’t love money?
Other teams got in touch, offering front office or scouting positions that fit a person of his experience.
Ruben Amaro Jr. did not lack for opportunities after the Philadelphia Phillies fired him as general manager in September. He could have very easily settled into a comfortable job and lived at home with his family.
Instead, Amaro will report to spring training with the Red Sox as their new first base coach. He turns 51 next week and will again be a rookie, learning a new, decidedly blue-collar role and getting paid far less for the season than what ace pitcher David Price earns over a few days.
In baseball’s insular world, the news came as a shock. General managers are the game’s crown princes, men charged with building rosters and managing nine-figure payrolls. They don’t become first base coaches.
“This is about as unusual a career path as you’ve ever seen in baseball. I bet there has never been anyone in the history of the game who has gone from being a general manager to first base coach,” said ESPN’s Jayson Stark, who has covered baseball in Philadelphia since 1979 and knows Amaro well. “This is something new.”
It was a move Amaro had been considering.
“When I was let go, it was like one door closed and another one opened up,” Amaro said. “I’m still in decent health; I’m fairly young. I wanted to scratch that itch to get back on the dirt. I wanted to understand the player a little better.
“It’s a significantly different world from when I was playing and what motivates a player and what is going on off the field. I want a better understanding of that. Hopefully this is something I like.”
Amaro, who has not been in uniform since 1998, understands he is taking an unconventional path.
“I don’t feel all that comfortable,” he said. “But it’s a neat challenge. To get this opportunity, I feel real fortunate. I’m excited and nervous, a little anxious.”
The Red Sox don’t feel they are taking a risk given Amaro’s background in baseball.
He played four years at Stanford and was a starting outfielder on the 1987 College World Series championship team. Amaro was drafted by the California Angels that year and played 12 years of professional ball, including parts of eight seasons in the majors.
Amaro also comes from one of baseball’s most celebrated families. His father, Ruben Sr., was an accomplished shortstop who played 11 seasons in the majors before becoming a scout, coach, minor league manager, and executive. Older brother David played in the minors.
His grandfather, the late Santos Amaro, was a star in Cuba before playing in Mexico and being elected to that nation’s baseball hall of fame.
“Ruben has a lot of playing experience and has been around the game his whole life. He has the attributes you’re looking to find,” Red Sox director of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski said. “Everything we looked at was exemplary.”
There also were connections to the Red Sox. At various stops in his playing career, Amaro was a teammate of manager John Farrell, bench coach Torey Lovullo, hitting coach Chili Davis, and assistant hitting coach Victor Rodriguez.
“I’ve played with or against most of the coaches on the staff,” Amaro said. “It’s kind of bizarre. There’s a togetherness when you play with somebody. I’m humbly hoping to be able to learn some things.”
Amaro was Philadelphia’s assistant general manager for 10 years following his playing career and was promoted to GM before the 2009 season. The Phillies went to the World Series that year and had the best record in baseball over the two seasons that followed.
A steady decline started in 2012. Amaro was criticized for poor roster moves and largely ignoring the growing importance of statistical analysis in the game. The Phillies were 63-99 last season, 27 games out of first.
The Globe unintentionally helped connect Amaro to the Red Sox.
National baseball writer Nick Cafardo reported in a notes column on Oct. 4 that Amaro was interested in an on-field position. Dombrowski read the item the same day first base coach Arnie Beyeler was fired.
Farrell called Amaro to gauge his interest and he was hired three weeks later.
Before he joined the Red Sox as a pitching coach in 2007, Farrell was a minor league executive with the Indians. He understood the lure of wanting to get back on the field, but also made sure Amaro knew what would be expected.
“We didn’t go into this lightly,” Farrell said.
The life of a coach is not a glamorous one. They report to the park six or seven hours before first pitch to break down video, review detailed scouting reports, or work with players. Beyond coaching first base, Amaro will work with the outfielders and instruct players on base running.
Amaro has been working out in recent weeks with his nephew Andrew, a Phillies prospect, to get ready for throwing batting practice and hitting fungoes.
Amaro has called veteran major league coaches Larry Bowa and Davey Lopes for advice. He also got some insight on Boston from former Sox manager Terry Francona, now with the Cleveland Indians.
“I want to help the Red Sox win games, that’s the immediate goal,” Amaro said. “I’m happy to learn. I know I’ll pick up a lot as I go, but I want to do as good a job as I can right away. I understand I’m there for the players.”
The long-term goal is to become a manager. Latino players made up nearly 30 percent of Opening Day rosters last season but only one manager, Atlanta’s Fredi Gonzalez, fit into that demographic. Amaro wants to help change that.
“The game is becoming more and more international and there just aren’t that many Latin American managers,” he said. “That’s really strange. If that’s something down the road for me, I feel I have a little bit of a unique skill set. But that’s down the road. I have to see how this season goes first.”
Sacrifices are being made. Amaro, who has lived in Philadelphia for 20 years, will have an apartment in Boston during the season and be away from his family for the first time.
His wife, Jami, will have to travel to see him. Amaro also is close to his two daughters from a previous marriage, Andrea and Sophia.
“It won’t be easy for my wife. We’re recently married. She went from not knowing anything about baseball to marrying a GM who wasn’t around a lot to now literally not being around,” he said. “There are challenges there.”
There are other questions that won’t be answered until the grind of the season sets in.
Amaro spent six years as a high-ranking executive with a major market team. He had dozens of subordinates and made decisions that affected a popular franchise. Now he’s the least experienced coach on a team coming off consecutive last-place finishes.
Amaro was a big deal on Broad Street. He won’t be on Brookline Ave.
“When you’re a GM, you have to have some level of ego to have success,” he said. “I get it, they’re taking a chance putting me on the field. This is new for me. I have a lot to learn and adjust to.”