When the Giants take the field next month at Scottsdale Stadium, Ron Wotus will begin his 23rd consecutive season on the big league coaching staff, a feat that is impressive for much more than simple longevity.
Wotus was the only member of Bruce Bochy's staff to be brought back by Gabe Kapler. Before that he jumped from Felipe Alou to Bochy, and Dusty Baker to Alou. He is working with his fourth Giants manager because of a commitment to hard work, preparation, communication and competitiveness, traits that Wotus first started to hone as a star at Bacon Academy in Colchester, Conn.
Wotus has spent most of his life in professional baseball, but the skillset that he still leans on today first became a part of his life on a different patch of grass. He carries with him the lessons taught by John McKiernan, his high school soccer coach.
"I have such great memories of playing soccer. It was by far my favorite sport, and it's because of John," Wotus said. "If he wasn't my coach, there's no way it would have been my favorite sport. He's special. He knows how to connect, he knows how to relate, he's got a great sense of humor, he's super-competitive, but he's got that great balance that all the good ones have. And he cares."
Wotus has spent his professional life helping to develop players like Brandon Crawford, Joe Panik and Brandon Belt, and on Thursday night he'll get a chance to honor the man who taught him so much of what he still passes on. Wotus will honor McKiernan at the sixth annual Coaching Corps Game Changer Awards, which will air Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. on NBC Sports Bay Area.
When Wotus was called and asked to honor an instrumental coach in his life, he immediately turned to his wife, Laurie. He knew what he wanted to do.
"I got emotional and she immediately said, 'You have to honor John,'" Wotus said. "This is over 45 years ago that we met. All these years that have passed, you really realize how important he was to your life."
Wotus met McKiernan in middle school, and the latter immediately knew that there was something different about the young boy who would go on to play four years of varsity baseball, soccer and basketball at Bacon Academy, a small school with a graduating class of about 100 students.
"You could see (in fifth grade) that he was very gifted," McKiernan said. "He lit up the room when he was in it ... He was always so happy to be on the field or the court or the diamond. He just loved athletics and he loved competing and he was always prepared and ready to go. Whatever we were doing he seemed to enjoy, except maybe he didn't like all the running we did in soccer. I think he could have done without that."
All that running still sticks with Wotus four-plus decades later. He remembers McKiernan's soccer team doing heavy conditioning work. It was necessary for the small-school team.
"What he said to us was that we may not have the most skill on the field, but we'll be the best conditioned and we'll make up for any lack of skill that we have," Wotus said. "That stuck with me. Don't be out-conditioned, don't be outworked, don't be out-prepared. I think that's the foundation of my approach as a coach. You have to give it your all and you're going to prepare. It's the preparation that's important, and then you go out and compete."
The competing part was easy for Wotus, a three-sport star. McKiernan coached the junior varsity basketball team but never had Wotus there because he was put on varsity right away, eventually earning all-state honors. The Pirates selected Wotus in the 16th round of the 1979 draft and he ended up playing 32 games in the big leagues. It was on the soccer field, however, that Wotus made his biggest prep impact. He was an All-New England center forward for Bacon, scoring 89 career goals, which stood as a state record for more than two decades.
McKiernan remembers Wotus for much more than the prolific numbers. He said Wotus constantly pushed to make sure his teammates were recognized and brought intensity no matter the score.
"He never thought that we were out of a game," McKiernan said.
Wotus matched his production with dependability.
In four years, he never missed a practice in any of his three sports, and he sat out just one game in his high school career, the result of a sprained ankle. With a tournament coming up, McKiernan held his star out of the final game of the season so he could get back to 100 percent.
"He tried to sneak into the game a few times," McKiernan said. "I had to pull him back."
The relationship that was built during soccer practices and hundreds of games of horse on the basketball court has lasted to this day. McKiernan has been out to San Francisco a couple of times to visit Wotus, who was the bench coach for all three title teams. Occasionally he'll plan a cross-country road trip that allows him to visit Wotus in a visiting city.
Wotus is getting ready for his 33rd year in the Giants organization. Before he gets back to baseball, he'll take a moment to honor the man who made such an impact during his soccer career. It was an easy choice to give the award to McKiernan.
"John, he was the guy. The way I coach now, I think of him often," Wotus said. "I try to emulate him in a lot of ways."
You can donate to the "Coaching Corps Game Changer Awards," here.
“Coaching Corps Game Changer Awards” presented by Levi’s airs Tuesday, January 28 at 7:30 p.m. on NBC Sports Bay Area