Eugene hitting coach Howe can relate

EUGENE: As a 29-year-old first-year hitting instructor for the Eugene Emeralds, it's difficult for Matt Howe to shake the title of "Art Howe's son."                      

That's not to say he doesn't value the title.

After all, if you ask Matt what he'll bring to the table in his first year with the Padres' organization, he'll likely list many qualities he attributes to his father Art, a familiar name around Major League Baseball after 30 years as a player and manager.

"He's had a big influence on me," Matt Howe said of his father. "I kind of like to model myself after him as far as temperament."

That temperament is one of a relaxed, mild-mannered nature, much like the one many saw from Art.

"I'm not a real high-energy guy," Matt Howe revealed. "People will say good things and bad things about that. Some guys like big fiery guys that get in your face and fire guys up. Trust me, I have that in me. But I think if you're a guy that's like that, then when you really mean it, they're not going to know it because you're always yelling at them. So if you're kind of a mild-mannered guy, and you get in someone's face, they're going to be like, ‘I need to shape up'."

Howe can also attribute much of his vast amounts of professional experience to his father. By Matt's ninth birthday, Art was concluding his playing career, which included stints with the Pittsburgh Pirates, Houston Astros and St. Louis Cardinals. In 1989, Art landed his first managerial position when the Astros hired him.

Art spent five seasons in Houston (1989-1993), seven in Oakland (1996-2002), and two with the New York Mets, where he ended his career in 2004.

While his father was with Oakland in 1998, Matt was drafted by the Athletics in the 29th round following his collegiate career at Texas Christian University.

Like his current coaching career, Howe's playing career began in the Northwest League, with the now defunct Southern Oregon Timberjacks. Howe, a lifetime .261 hitter in the minor leagues, eventually advanced to Double-A before he was released by the Athletics in 2004 and an injury forced him to retire in 2005 after spending time in the independent Northern League. But where one opportunity ended, another began for Howe.

With the Athletics, Howe met current Padres' Vice President of Scouting and Player Development, Grady Fuson, and after applying for a job with Fuson and the Padres, Howe finally received a call about the opening in Eugene after former hitting instructor Joe Ferguson left for personal reasons.

"Of course, everybody knows his father, Art, so he's got some baseball experience there," the Emeralds' first-year manager Doug Dascenzo said. "He's also played for the Oakland Athletics, and some of the things that (Fuson) implemented in the system, we're currently running with the San Diego organization. So, the combination of that, I think he (Howe) is going to bring a lot of stuff to Eugene. Matt's only been with us for three or four weeks now and from what I've seen he's going to do a tremendous job."

Howe enters his first professional coaching job at the ripe age of 29, but many players view his youthfulness as a benefit.

"I think it's an advantage because he knows exactly what we're going through," first basemen Casey Smith said. "He just came out of it. He knows the ups and downs of the game, and his dad was a big league manager so he has experience there too, even though he is young."

Howe said his age could work both for and against him.

"It has its advantages and disadvantages. Same thing as being an older coach has its advantages and disadvantages," Howe said. "I think the advantages are: I'm fresh out of the game, and I can relate to these younger players on a personal level. Obviously as you get older and you have more experience as a coach, they might take what you have to say right off the bat. As for a younger guy, it might take a little bit longer for them to really respect what I have to say." Howe and the Emeralds' recently concluded the team's first ever mini-camp, which gave players and coaches a week to practice shortly after spring training in Arizona. The season officially starts June 19 against Boise.

Howe said he used the extended week of practice trying to integrate the players into the Padres' system by stressing the organization's hitting philosophies, which includes selective patience at the plate, such as not swinging at a strike if it is a pitchers' pitch.

"He's a big help," Smith said. "He's a great guy. He's been really supportive, and he knows our hitting philosophy in this organization really well. I think he's going to add a lot of life to the team."

Howe also likes what he is seeing from the players.

"We have a great group of guys, a fun group of guys," Howe said. "Obviously I know the guys that came from Arizona that we were working with. Good group of guys, some good hitters there, some power. And these young guys so far – I've only seen them throughout the two or three days – but they can swing the bat a little bit. I'm excited about working with them and seeing what they can do."

Aside from baseball, the transition to Eugene for Howe, from his home in Houston, has been a rather smooth one, something he attributes to spending nearly his entire life around the unpredictable game of baseball.

Howe also recalled mostly fond memories of Eugene from his Northwest League playing tenure – from the historic Civic Stadium to the passionate fans.

Howe's wife Maggie and 16-month-old daughter Averi are set to spend the summer with Howe in Eugene.

As for Art, Matt said he intends to visit Eugene to see a few games from a season that marks the beginning of his son's coaching career – a career Matt hopes will benefit many players.

"Ultimately we want them to make it to the major leagues and hopefully with the Padres organization," Howe said of his players. "I've picked up quite a bit from growing up in the game and obviously playing professionally. I've been through this level and higher levels. I know what it takes to get there and I'm here to help these guys get there."

But, like the players, Howe has career aspirations for himself as well.

"Obviously, I want to be a great hitting coach, advance through the system, possibly get into managing or up in the player development area," Howe admitted. "Just go as far as I can go, see what I can do. I'm just here to work as hard as I can, open some eyes, and say ‘hey, he's a hard worker. We want him around as long as we can have him'."

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