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In new role, Tewksbury welcomes opportunity to help more players

Boston Red Sox's David Ortiz speaks with Boston Red Sox sport psychologist Bob Tewksbury during a baseball game between the Portland Sea Dogs and the Connecticut Defenders, Monday, July 21, 2008, at Hadlock Field in Portland, Maine. Ortiz will play three games with the Sea Dogs as part of a rehabilitation stint for an injury to the tendon sheath of his left wrist. (AP Photo/Joel Page)

Boston Red Sox's David Ortiz speaks with Boston Red Sox sport psychologist Bob Tewksbury during a baseball game between the Portland Sea Dogs and the Connecticut Defenders, Monday, July 21, 2008, at Hadlock Field in Portland, Maine. Ortiz will play three games with the Sea Dogs as part of a rehabilitation stint for an injury to the tendon sheath of his left wrist. (AP Photo/Joel Page)

Bob Tewksbury cares, and for the last nine years the Concord resident has been using that quality as the sports psychology coach for the Red Sox. But Tewksbury is about to take his empathy to another level.

The Major League Baseball Players Association recently hired Tewksbury to fill a newly created position, director of player development. He will be doing the same thing he did for the Sox – counseling players about on-field performance, personal development, continued education, post-career transitioning and more – but now he’ll be doing it for all 30 major league teams.

“If there’s a promotion, so to speak, in this field, this would certainly be it,” Tewksbury said. “It’s taking on more responsibilities and more players and, in essence, I’m starting over again building relationships with all these players, which is going to take some time, but it’s going to be fun, too.”

Tewksbury, 53, grew up in Salisbury, went to Merrimack Valley High and had a 13-year major league career pitching for six teams – the New York Yankees, Chicago Cubs, St. Louis Cardinals, Texas Rangers, San Diego Padres and Minnesota Twins. He compiled a 110-102 record and finished third in the NL Cy Young voting in 1992 when he went 16-5 for the Cardinals.

He retired in 1998, but he never really left the game. In the winter of 1999 Tewksbury began participating in the Rookie Career Development Program, a joint MLB and MLBPA venture designed to assimilate top minor league prospects who are expected to make the leap to the big leagues. Tewksbury just finished his 15th year with the program, which runs for three days every January in Leesburg, Va. It was there that some of the first psychological seeds were planted.

“I really love being a part of that and it’s one of the events that made me think I should get some education in this psychology stuff because it comes up all the time,” Tewksbury said.

Another motivating event occurred during spring training in 1999 when Tewksbury began working for the Red Sox as a pitching consultant. The team had an outside sports psychologist at the time, and when Tewksbury met him during spring training, the wheels started spinning faster. The final push toward the psychology field came a couple of years later.

A player approached Tewksbury “in 2000 or 2001” and admitted he had a cocaine problem. Tewksbury knew he didn’t have the training to handle the situation, so he called the medical director for the players association, arranged a psychiatrist appointment, drove the player from Rhode Island to New York that night, brought him to the appointment, and drove him back to McCoy Stadium in Pawtucket, R.I., in time for batting practice.

“The team never knew about it,” Tewksbury said. “He got some treatment and ended up getting some big league time and it was one of those things that really showed me that the players need resources. There were also a lot of ethical issues that came up with that situation and it all made me realize I really need to learn more, not only about the nuts and bolts of performance psychology, but also about the ethics associated with it.”

He got to work learning more in 2003, earned a master’s degree in sports psychology and counseling from Boston University in 2004, and was named the Red Sox sports psychology coach in January of 2005. Tewksbury worked with Sox minor leaguers for his first seven years on the job, helped out in Boston for a month at the end of the 2012 season, and then Boston Manager John Farrell made him a full-time part of the big league staff last year.

Many of the homegrown Red Sox, like Dustin Pedroia, Jon Lester and Jacoby Ellsbury, knew Tewksbury from their days in the minors. So there was an existing comfort level in the clubhouse between the players and their psychology coach. But Tewksbury made sure that comfort extended beyond familiarity.

“I think the biggest thing is that they understand I care about them, not about their status, but about them as people and the path they are on,” Tewksbury said. “If you can show them that you care, they will respond favorably and in turn they continue to teach me along the way.”

The players also responded favorably to Tewksbury because he’s one of them.

“Because I played, they know they can come to me about the performance stuff and ask, ‘When you went through this, how did you feel? When that happened, what did you do?’ ” Tewksbury said. “And that’s mostly what I deal with, performance issues. After that it’s probably how to manage long-distance relationships and being away from your family. And again it comes back to that knowledge that I played for a long time and have walked in their shoes, so there’s a connection there.”

Although Tewksbury was the one who first suggested a need for this new league-wide psychology coach position, he said it wasn’t an easy decision for him to take the job and leave the Red Sox. But after talking it over with some of the health care professionals he’s worked with at Massachusetts General Hospital, and ensuring that he will be able to continue the relationships he’s built with Boston players, Tewksbury decided to make the leap.

“Bob understands the challenges players face as they navigate their way through their careers, and how to deal with those challenges. I believe Bob will quickly become a valuable resource for our membership,” said MLBPA Executive Director Tony Clark in a statement.

Tewksbury will still be based in Concord, but now he’ll spend three days each month in New York and will go to various big league cities as needed. He won’t mind the travel, however, because it will keep him connected to the game he loves and the players he cares about.

“When I retired I remember sitting in the dugout in Minnesota and thinking, ‘Okay, this is probably going to be my last year, I have no idea what I’m going to do, but I know that there’s something,’ ” he said. “I had no idea it was going to be this, but I’m thrilled that it is.”

(Tim O’Sullivan can be reached at 369-3341 or tosullivan@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @timosullivan20.)

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