Like many college players, Jeff Bridich dreamed of a career as a professional baseball player. That dream was never fulfilled, but Bridich found an outlet for his love of the game, first working for Major League Baseball before joining the Colorado Rockies.
Bridich was named the Rockies' senior vice president and general manager in October 2014, a decade after joining the organization.
MLB.com sat down with Bridich at Salt River Fields during the final days of Spring Training to discuss his career, why signing a shortstop/outfielder to be the Rockies' new first baseman was a good idea, and why Nolan Arenado may be one of the game's most anonymous superstars.
MLB.com: You caught and played outfield at Harvard, where you were a captain as a senior. How did your playing experience in college help you as you moved into a front-office career?
Bridich: (Laughs.) The ability to understand struggle and disappointment and having to persevere. Being a very average college player and having to do that at the same time as trying to achieve academically at a very challenging institution, there were a lot of life lessons in there. A lot of good things, too, though. Back then, we had a very good program and we were accustomed to winning a lot. Whether it was winning the league and going on to play in the NCAAs or beating bigger programs, that had become part of who we were at that time period.
Being able to see that and experience that was just important for me. How that translates to the front office, I think a couple different ways. It's funny, we didn't really think about baseball front office back then; the dream was to play. As I look back at it now, some of the things that I learned purely about the game -- and especially about pitching and some of the intricacies of that -- I came from the Midwest and we played a lot of baseball, but we didn't play certainly as much baseball as the guys on the West Coast, the guys down in Texas or the guys down in Florida, so there were a lot of things that I had to learn. I did that in college, and I hope that those things stuck with me in terms of what is important to create winning baseball.
MLB.com: You worked in the Commissioner's Office for four years. Did you think at any point during that time that you might have a career working for Major League Baseball?
Bridich: In four years there, if you're paying attention, you get a pretty good understanding of what that means: life in the Commissioner's Office and the landscape there. Granted, it's changed a lot -- I left at the end of '04 -- over the last 12, 13 years there. It's grown, it's expanded, and in ways, multiplied.
Bridich: Absolutely, a new leader. It's not the same place necessarily that it was back then. The way that I looked at it probably after three years there, I kind of knew that my expectations for myself, my hopes and dreams for myself if I was going to stay in this industry, probably were not going to be able to be met in the Commissioner's Office.
I started to brainstorm. What's the future? Where do I want to live? At that time back then, about to get engaged to be married to my college sweetheart; where did we want to live? Where do we want to raise a family? That certainly played into it, but also career-wise, what's the goal here? Some of it was needing, desiring and feeling a draw towards the competitiveness of baseball, which is kind of tamped down in the Commissioner's Office to a certain degree.
You get an unbelievable broad perspective on the industry, you make a lot of contacts and you meet a lot of people, and you're potentially dealing with a lot of different things, but you don't have that daily ownership, that daily competitive outlet that you do with a club. I felt like I needed that if I was going to try to continue in this industry. Then I was running a parallel course; other guys going elsewhere and then coming into the industry, I was, "If I can't stay in this game, if an opportunity with a club is not in the offing for me, then I am going to go back to school and get an MBA somewhere."
MLB.com: What did you learn most from Dan O'Dowd?
Bridich: We spent a long time together, so there were a lot of things. If you ask me the one thing, I think the scope of the job. The responsibility that you feel to the organization at large, it's not easy. The scope is large. It's a people game and there are a lot of people involved. The more intimate connections you can develop with those people over time or try to maintain over time, it can be key to how well your organization does.
The other thing is Dan was always pushing the envelope, trying to make sure that people weren't sitting on their laurels or being comfortable. He always wanted to try to push you into a zone of uncomfortableness, for lack of a better word, and that was to grow; to grow the organization, to grow you as an individual. I think he did that well.
MLB.com: Did you always envision he would become a big TV star one day?
Bridich: (Laughs.) I can't say that I did. But I can't claim that I have an eye for TV talent.
MLB.com: I read an interview recently where you said you try to learn from the way some NFL teams operate, including your hometown Packers. Paul DePodesta made the jump from baseball to football and has been the chief strategy officer for the Browns for the last 14 or 15 months. Do you think this could become a trend? Or do you think he's a unique case?
Bridich: I don't know. A trend? He's certainly seemingly the first to do it and make that jump. There are a lot of shared skills among the different major sports industries. There are a lot of shared experiences in terms of the types of decisions you have to make, how you have to prepare yourself to make decisions. But there are also a huge host of differences, too. There's a lot of uniqueness when you start to compare the sports industries to each other.
Not speaking for Paul, but I would imagine there was a pretty good learning curve for him, initially. He's an incredibly intelligent human being, so I imagine he equipped himself quite well pretty quickly to some of those things he had to learn. It wouldn't necessarily shock me, but it's tough to say one person is a trend. I think everybody has got their eye to seeing how this goes. The Browns are an interesting case study, anyway, regardless of Paul's involvement or not. They're uniquely situated right now in a lot of different ways to take some huge steps and make a lot of growth. It will be interesting to see what happens.
MLB.com: Do you think Statcast™ is making fans look at the game differently?
Bridich: Probably, but aren't we all? Cable television is changing; everybody is watching games on their phone or their iPads, streaming this, streaming that. Without getting into specifics, just generally the way that people are watching sports now -- it's not just baseball -- is changing. Some of that has to do with the changing landscape of television, some of it has to do with technology advances. The ease of which now we have access to very specific and immediate data points -- in-game, real-time -- it's absolutely changing it.
Some of it is great. Some of it is a lot of fun to watch. When they replay a guy making a diving catch in the gap and they can show you where he started and show you the exact path he took to get to the ball, yeah, it's kind of cool. It's understandable that fans would get excited about those things. It's purely a guess, but I would guess that those sorts of things are here to stay. I don't think they're going to revert back to 1980s grainy television watching baseball, football or basketball. I think those things are here to stay.
MLB.com: You signed Ian Desmond to play first base for a $70 million contract despite the fact that he has never played an inning there before. What made you believe that was a good fit?
Bridich: A few different things. One was just, you brought up the position. Positionally, he was never pushed out of the infield. His opportunity last year for playing time and for a contract on a very good team was the outfield, and he took it and ran with it. In short order, he became their starting center fielder, which is not an easy thing or a simple thing to do. In talking to him about that, in discussing how that all went down and the work that he put into it, it wasn't just some happy accident. The work that he put into it was huge; the belief that he had in himself, that he was going to be able to do it with no problem, go from shortstop to center field, and he did it.
The way that he talked about first base in that way, the understanding that he had of the importance of the position as it relates to a high-functioning infield, that it's not just some throwaway defensive spot, that his ability to remember the very talented defensive first baseman that he had played with -- and the less-than-talented defensive first basemen that he had played with -- and how that changed how the whole operation worked infield-wise over the course of a long season. There's a lot of other things, as well, that went into it.
There was just a sense of confidence that this was not going to be that big of a deal for this guy and we're going to be fully committed and on the same page together to make sure that he becomes the very best first baseman he can. He's a plus athlete at the age of 30-31; he's a very good athlete, he moves very well, and we felt like his athleticism and his versatility positionally once he did learn the position was going to be a great fit. Right-handed bat, a power bat.
If you look at the last few years of his career, some interesting situations -- going from Washington to Texas, playing different positions -- he still produced offensively. Adding all of that to what we felt was already a very talented offensive and defensive group, was going to be a plus. Now we didn't think he would break his hand being hit by a pitch; it's unfortunate, but all of those things combined, it seemed like a good decision for us.
MLB.com: A team in your position might have surveyed the free-agent landscape, thought about him and said, "We have a shortstop, we have a center fielder," and moved on. Do you often try to think outside the box when looking at players?
Bridich: I think this was a good example of good conversation and good brainstorming with our front office along with Buddy Black, trying to be true to the vision that we had for this team moving forward. We felt like Ian fit that vision as long as certain things, certain conditions were met about making sure the transition for him to first base went well. Commitment to the work involved in the winter time -- everybody; Ian, me, Buddy, our coaches -- and mapping that out, knowing that we were going to have time if we could sign him to create first base for him.
As long as we were going to commit to each other, create a plan and actually execute that plan; if we were going to, for lack of a better term, half-ass it, or any piece of that puzzle was not going to be fully in, then it would have given us major pause. The fact that everybody was fully on board and fully committed to it, we went out and did it. Whether it's out of the box or not, I don't know. We felt like we saw a person, a player and an athlete that was a good fit, and if we could get everybody on the same page and execute this plan, it was going to be a great fit for us.
MLB.com: People who don't watch the Rockies on a regular basis might not realize just how good Nolan Arenado's past two years have been. How much fun has it been for you to watch him blossom into the superstar that he's become?
Bridich: I think it's been just as much fun for us internally here to watch that as it has been for our fans to watch it. There's a great amount of pride for our scouts -- especially our amateur scouts. If you go back and look at his Draft video as a high schooler, you look at it and he's kind of a pudgy guy. There's still some baby fat on there, kind of a unique swing, a unique swing path. He was actually catching at the time; you see him both play third base in that video and catch. Our guys did an incredible job of saying, "OK, if this were to happen, if this were to happen, this guy could be special." For Billy Schmidt to go with a high Draft pick in a high round, "This is the guy. I believe in this guy."
For Nolan and all of our coaches, everybody around Nolan for years, to help him get to where he's at now, it's extremely rewarding. You're right; he has not gotten the same pub or the same notoriety as some other guys across the game. We get spoiled on a daily basis watching Nolan, because there are plays that we've grown so accustomed to him making -- especially defensively -- that are kind of otherworldly. When he doesn't make a routine play, it's like, "What the heck?" But he's a human being and guys make errors. He spoils us that way. That's just how good he is.
MLB.com: I feel like he and Paul Goldschmidt may the two most anonymous Top 5 players or Top 8 players in the league that we've seen in a long time.
Bridich: They're both seemingly understated. They don't get on Twitter, they're not flipping bats; they don't do a lot of things either on or off the field that call attention to themselves. They go out and they play -- and they play their butts off. It's tough to speak for Goldschmidt, but watching him for years in this division, it just seems like the focus is on the field, and that's certainly the case for Nolan. Sometimes that goes unrewarded in terms of publicity or notoriety, but if he isn't one of the top five players in the game, it's tough to imagine who the other five guys are that are better than him.
Mark Feinsand is an executive reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.