When Chad Bentz made his major league debut last week as a Montreal Expos relief pitcher, he became the second Alaskan and first from Juneau to make it to the big leagues as a player.
But there's another Juneau-Douglas High School graduate who's been on a major league payroll for six years.
Tim Kissner, who graduated from JDHS in 1989 (10 years before Bentz), is the Northwest Area Scouting Supervisor for the Philadelphia Phillies. He oversees the Phillies' scouting operations for western Canada (from Ontario to British Columbia), Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Alaska and Hawaii.
"I'd much rather be in Chad's shoes," Kissner said in a Sunday phone interview from his home in Edmonds, Wash. "That is so cool."
Getting into scouting was a way for Kissner to stay connected with the game he loves.
Kissner was a baseball player in high school, then he went on to play at Mendocino Junior College in Ukiah, Calif., becoming the first of many Juneau players to go to that school. In 1993-94, he played outfield for Oregon State.
He played for the Anchorage Glacier Pilots of the Alaska League in 1991-92, then was an assistant coach for the Glacier Pilots in 1998 when former Mendocino (and current Northern Colorado) coach Kevin Smallcomb managed the team. He was an assistant coach for the University of Kansas and in the Cape Cod League, and he played a year of independent pro baseball before returning to Oregon State to earn a masters degree.
"Staying in baseball was something I wanted to do," Kissner said. "I enjoyed coaching, but not forever."
Kissner got into scouting on the suggestion of Rene Lachemann - the current Seattle Mariners bench coach and a former manager for the Mariners and Florida Marlins - who lived next door to Kissner's grandparents in Phoenix, Ariz. After spending a month as a batting practice pitcher for the St. Louis Cardinals, Lachemann helped Kissner land an interview with the Phillies.
"There is a scout school run by Major League Baseball, but I never went," Kissner said.
The Phillies hired Kissner in 1998 as a scout covering parts of Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana and Canada. In September 1999 he was hired by the Cleveland Indians as an area supervisor for the Southeastern United States (northern Florida, Mississippi and Alabama). He returned to the Phillies in November 2000 when he was given his current position.
"When I came back to the Phillies it was a lateral move," Kissner said. "I believed in the direction we're going, and it was a chance to scout where I'm from."
Kissner's parents now live in Pendleton, Ore., so the move gave him a chance to visit them more often. He has a sister and brother living in Juneau, so he gets to see them when he comes back to Alaska.
"I went to Anchorage a couple of years ago to watch Brandon Joseph," Kissner said about a former Dimond High football and basketball player the Phillies later drafted based on his athleticism. "And when I visited Juneau for a couple of days in January I watched (current JDHS player) Zach Mixson pitch and gave him a few suggestions."
When Kissner evaluates athletes he looks at five specific tools for position players - field, arm, running, hitting and power - and three main tools for pitchers - velocity, arm action/mechanics and the breaking ball (which he said is a big separator when deciding which players have the potential to make it).
"(Mental) makeup is a separate category," Kissner said. "The less your tools, the better your makeup better be."
Kissner said Milwaukee Brewers shortstop-third baseman Craig Counsell is a perfect example of a player with solid - but not spectacular - tools who is in the major leagues primarily because of his makeup. Counsell is a sharp, gutsy player who was a big part of the Arizona Diamondbacks' World Series victory in 2001 and the first Florida Marlins title in 1997.
Baseball scouting is an inexact science, which is one reason there are 50 rounds in the annual major league draft. You have successes such as Mike Piazza, who was a 63rd-round courtesy pick by the Los Angeles Dodgers because Piazza's father was a friend of Tommy Lasorda's (the draft went to 50 rounds a few years later). And there are failures like Brien Taylor, who was the top pick overall in the 1989 draft by the New York Yankees but never made it out of the minor leagues.
"It's difficult because there's a big difference from when you're 18 to 23 years old," Kissner said. "We're looking for athletic bodies that will get a lot bigger and stronger. We look for projection."
Kissner has a masters degree and he's a former player and coach, but he said that's not what's needed to be a good scout.
"You don't have to have been a good player to scout," Kissner said. "You just have to be around the game a lot and be able to make comparisons - like this player reminds me a lot of another player I saw two years ago."
Scouting is a full-time job for Kissner, who estimated he spends on average 150 nights a year in hotel rooms. When he took the Cleveland job, Kissner estimated he drove about 35,000 miles the previous spring and summer working for the Phillies. While he didn't reveal his own salary, he said he was comfortable. Kissner said the starting salary for scouts usually is in the mid-$30,000 range and the top guys - the director of scouting or assistant general manager of scouting/player development - can make about $400,000.
As for the players from Alaska, they're starting to make a name for themselves. Four players - including JDHS graduates Joe Ayers and Zach Kohan - were picked in last year's draft and many players are earning NCAA Division I scholarships.
Besides Kissner, another former Alaskan - Susitna Valley High School graduate Tommy Allison, who played American Legion baseball for Bartlett - is an area scout for the Milwaukee Brewers and the Brewers picked three Alaskans in last year's draft (former Dimond pitcher Brian Montalbo, Ayers and Kohan).
"The kids in Alaska have more opportunity," Kissner said. "The talent level is not necessarily better, but the players are going Outside (to camps) more and they're getting a chance to play.
"It's neat to see baseball in Alaska doing better and the kids getting some notoriety."
Charles Bingham can be reached at email@example.com.