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The A’s have him

It’s not every day Billy Beane calls you up and offers you a job.

OK, so it was actually new Oakland Athletics manager Bob Geren that made the call, but when the dust settled Nevada County’s Ty Van Burkleo had himself a new job in the Bay Area.

Formerly the roving hitting instructor for the Anaheim Angels, Van Burkleo got permission to interview in early December with Beane, Geren and a few others in the Athletics organization. A few days later, Geren made the call and the offer.

Van Burkleo eagerly accepted.

Then all he had to do before reporting for spring training in February was open his new pizza place in Roseville.

“He’s just one of those A-type personalities that there’s not enough time on the planet for him to do everything he wants to do,” said Ty’s wife, Chris. “He wants to be a baseball player and open a restaurant and be a farmer.

“That’s why we’re here is so he could farm. First it was avocados, then Christmas trees, then grapes. He just wants to do tons of everything.”

The interview

“I didn’t know anyone in the organization, but the position looked great because instead of working with 80 guys I’d be working with 13-14 guys every day,” Van Burkleo said. “I can really get into the mental side of the game and build relationships and trust with them.”

Van Burkleo met with Vice President and General Manager Beane and manager Geren for a three-hour interview, but “didn’t feel like I was in an interrogation room at all. We were all very open and everyone was very easy to talk to. They were all good people. It was pretty neat.”

Beane agreed.

“He just seemed to have an air of self-confidence and a great demeanor,” Beane said during a phone interview. “He seems like a guy who is very self-confident without being arrogant. He has his own ideas on what a hitting instructor should or could be.”

Most that have followed the Athletics have either read or are at least familiar with Michael Lewis’ book “Moneyball, The Art of Winning an Unfair Game.” Van Burkleo was no different.

“Billy Beane built that offense from the ground up,” Van Burkleo said. “They grind up starting pitching. Five innings into the game most pitchers are reaching their 100-pitch count. Because of patience, they’re getting into the bullpen early.”

At the start, Van Burkleo wasn’t completely sure he and Beane would be on the same page offensively.

“Early in the count, if they get something to drive I’m going to have them drive it,” Van Burkleo said. “‘Moneyball’ opened a lot of people’s eyes to the importance of each plate appearance. After reading that, I wasn’t so sure our philosophies were the same.”

So how can the two reach the same view on hitting?

“My philosophy is aggressive, intent on driving the ball,” Van Burkleo said. “But it takes a good pitch to do that. If you see that early in the count, you can take that swing and have success.

“However, plate discipline is huge. You can’t swing at pitches in the dirt. Players are good hitters with plate discipline, the ability to control the count and they have to be able to hit with two strikes.

“I went into the interview with the intention of not telling him what I thought he wanted to hear, but telling him my philosophy. Three hours later, after I’d done that, It felt great. I said, ‘Wow, I really feel like I’ve got a shot at this.'”

From Beane’s perspective, it was an even easier decision.

“I’d seen him play as a player and was familiar with his name,” Beane said. “Then, over the course of the winter, I’d heard a number of different people from all different angles mention his name. Everyone that came in contact with him just raved about him.

“He seems like a good man and we’re glad he’s here.”

Playing career

Van Burkleo has been involved in baseball for much of his life and was signed by the Milwaukee Brewers in 1981 to start his professional career.

“I signed young with Milwaukee and was released,” Van Burkleo said. “I struggled to hit. You were kind of expected to figure it out on your own back then. I had some ability, but I had no clue how to be a consistent hitter.”

Back then, he explained, there was just the manager. No hitting instructor or pitching coach or helping hands. The manager’s job was to work with the hitters, work with the pitchers and manage the team at the same time.

“They really had their hands full,” Van Burkleo said.

After he was released by the Brewers, the first-baseman by trade then had a stint with the Angels in which he had a cup of coffee in the big leagues in 1993.

“I came to the Angels and started to come around a little bit, but that was about the time (star first-baseman) Wally Joyner was coming through there, so they moved me to the outfield,” Van Burkleo said.

“Then in mid summer, out of the blue, this team from Japan called and asked about purchasing my contract. (The Angels) said no initially, but then gave me a chance to make my own decision.

“I was making minor-league money with a wife and, at the time, an 18-month-old daughter.”

Van Burkleo agreed to open a dialog with Japan’s Seibu team, and Seibu sent a couple scouts to watch Van Burkleo play.

“They saw two games and I hit a home run in both games as well as a couple other hits. I played really well in both games. Then, the day after they left, I struck out four times. I decided at that point someone was trying to tell me something.”

A year later, Van Burkleo found himself with Player of the Year honors in Japan after racking up 38 homers, 90 RBIs and hitting .268.

“It was a good experience overall,” Van Burkleo said. “I just tried to embrace the culture there as much as I could.

Van Burkleo spent five years overseas before returning home to stints with the Angels and Colorado Rockies.

Now Van Burkleo is in a position to be able to help those that are in the same position he found himself in all those years ago when he had to work things out on his own.

“Doing what I do now I think helps make sure no one slips through the cracks once they have the knowledge and gain the confidence,” Van Burkleo said. “They’ll find that something works in BP (batting practice), but not in a game, and they have someone there to explain why.

“That helps so much to have someone to explain the mental end of things.”

The trip to Nevada County

After his playing career wrapped up, Van Burkleo found himself with a young family living in Phoenix working for the Arizona Diamondbacks as a coach in the rookie leagues.

“Phoenix was growing faster than we wanted and we just weren’t comfortable raising kids there,” Van Burkleo said. “My wife and I just wanted to buy some sort of gentlemen’s ranch in San Diego County and grow avocados, so we asked a friend of ours about putting the house in Phoenix on the market.”

About a month later, before officially putting the house up for sale, the Realtor said someone was interested in buying the house.

“We sold it before it ever went on the market and had to be out by June 3,” Van Burkleo said.

After working with the Diamondback’s rookie team in Leftwich, Alberta, Canada, for the summer, Van Burkleo dropped his wife and kids off with his mother-in-law in Reno while he spent three weeks on the job in the Dominican Republic.

During that three weeks, Chris spent time driving around Northern California.

“She said we should go up there,” Van Burkleo said. “I thought, ‘what the heck,’ we can go rural up there instead of San Diego County.”

Van Burkleo called his parents in Southern California and asked what they thought of Northern California. They told him they’d just put a down payment on a house in Roseville.

Van Burkleo first found a spot he liked in Nevada City off Uren Street, but that deal fell through. In the meantime, spring was coming and Van Burkleo’s Realtor sent him photos of a place in south county. The problem was, Van Burkleo was working in Victorville on the high desert outside of Los Angeles.

“It was beautiful,” Van Burkleo said of the south county property. “We just loved it. I told the Realtor we were interested and she said we’d better get up here quick because there was a lot of interest in it. I told my wife, ‘get everyone ready, we’re going up there.'”

The family met at the property at 7 a.m. the next morning.

“I told the Realtor, ‘OK, I’ll take it.’ Then we drove back to Victorville and did BP.”

The property was just that and nothing more when Van Burkleo bought it. He has since built a cabin, including septic system.

Keeping busy

Van Burkleo joked that with the house built, he was ready for another project. That’s when the pizza place presented itself.

“We had just finished the house, so I asked my wife about opening a restaurant and she responded positively,” Van Burkleo said with a smile. “That was the biggest hurdle.”

With the new job with the A’s on the horizon and his baseball future secured, Van Burkleo said he was looking for “passive income.” He said once the baseball season starts, he won’t have much to do with the restaurant until the season is over. Until he leaves for spring training, however, he spent plenty of time in Roseville.

“His interests almost manifest more and more as he gets older,” Chris Van Burkleo said. “The more he learns, the more he loves it. Baseball is always a passion, that was long-standing, but everything else has come in the last 10 years.”

Chris said Ty is also interested in furniture making and fly fishing.

“He wanted to turn the living room into his fly-tie room and I said, ‘no,'” Chris said. “And his idea of a vacation is on a river while mine is on a beach. We may end up having to take separate vacations.”

In the grand scheme of things, though, Chris has heard and seen it all.

“I’ve been a baseball wife for a long time,” she said. “We’ve been together since high school, so I’m quite used to that. It’s all I’ve ever known.

“It’s tough him being gone as much as he is, but during the offseason he has the best job in the world.”

To contact Sports Writer Ross Maak, e-mail rossm@theunion.com or call 477-4244.

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