51s hitting coach working way up

Ken Joyce never played professional baseball, but that hasn’t stopped him from making it to the cusp of the major leagues as a coach.

The 44-year-old is in his first season as hitting coach for the 51s (45-52), who lead the Pacific Coast League in hits (981) and are second in the league in batting average (.287) after Tuesday’s 11-6 loss to Colorado Springs at Cashman Field.

After toiling in the lower minor leagues the past 15 seasons, Joyce said “it’s huge” to finally get the chance to coach at the Triple-A level for Las Vegas.

“To me, it’s no different than being in any other field. You want to be at the top of your profession,” said Joyce, in his eighth year in the Toronto Blue Jays organization. “In baseball, it doesn’t matter what level you’re at, it can happen. It’s just like with the players, (you need to be at) the right place at the right time.”

A former player and assistant coach at the University of Southern Maine, a Division III school, Joyce was a middle school gym teacher in Maine when he landed a volunteer position with the Double-A Portland Sea Dogs in 1994.

He had baseball connections to former Toronto manager Carlos Tosca — who was Portland’s skipper at the time and, like Joyce, hadn’t played professionally either — and joined the squad as a bullpen catcher.

Within a couple of seasons, Joyce was hired as the team’s hitting coach by John Boles, the former Florida Marlins farm director, who also had no professional playing experience.

“When Boles hired me, one of the first things he said to me was I took the eight years I could’ve been riding buses (in the minors) to learn how to teach,” he said. “He said he had plenty of guys who knew baseball, but not many who could teach, so I was ahead of the game.”

Joyce, who also has managed five years in the minors, said he has only been called out once by a player, in his first season with Portland, for his lack of professional playing experience.

“He thought it was my fault he wasn’t hitting, but as I explained to him quickly, I hadn’t taken one swing for him,” he said. “The way I go about this is I let these guys know, when I first get them, that it’s a partnership between the two of us. I’m here to get them to the big leagues. And a lot of that has gone a long way.”

Las Vegas third baseman Kyle Phillips, batting .337 for Las Vegas, worked with Joyce at Double-A New Hampshire last season and said the fact he never played pro ball is “not a concern at all.”

“Because some of the best coaches are guys that never played the game,” he said. “They’re guys that sit on the outside and study the game.

“From my experience, he’s been nothing but a blessing. He’ll do anything for you on or off the field, and that’s the most important thing.”

Catcher J.P. Arencibia, one of Toronto’s top prospects with the 51s, said Joyce is “one of those rare guys who can get the best out of each person.”

Whether Joyce makes the majors or not, he said his professional coaching career has “been a good experience.”

“Considering the fact I kind of came in through the back door, I’m sitting in a good position right now,” he said.

Contact reporter Todd Dewey at tdewey@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0354.

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