By Steve Mims
Springfield’s pitchers will get a big-league boost this summer.
The Drifters announced that Alan Embree has been hired as their pitching coach for the 2023 West Coast League season.
The 52-year old Northwest native spent 16 years pitching in the major leagues between 1992 and 2009.
“That was more than a decade ago so it will take a little bit of time to get into that with the players,” Embree said. “Once they do their homework on the coaches, I do think I bring something to the table that could be an asset later in their life.”
Embree was attracted by the opportunity to work with Springfield head coach Tommy Richards as the two have been friends for more than a decade.
When Embree’s playing career ended, he moved to Central Oregon to coach at Summit and Sisters high schools. He spent his summers coaching in the WCL with the Bend Elks, who were owned by Richards’ parents.
Last year, Embree returned to the WCL as head coach of the Cowlitz Black Bears.
“I leaned on Alan when I was a player and leaned on him as a young coach, trying to learn from him, and I’ve leaned on him as a mentor,” Richards said. “He has a ton of experience. Last year, when we competed against each other, we’d be looking in each other’s dugout having a pseudo conversation. It will be good to get him on our side because he will add a ton of value to the Drifters and to my career as a coach.”
Embree joked that “I’d like to say Tommy is like a little brother to me, but it’s probably more of a father figure in all reality. I love Tommy’s family and he is just a kid that I want to be around. I want the best for him, I think he’s a really bright coach.”
After Richards wrapped up his college career at Washington State in 2012, he had Tommy John surgery during the offseason and rehabbed in Bend.
“Alan was my throwing partner when I was coming back from that,” Richards recalled. “He’s a guy that I was around a lot.”
Embree was born in The Dalles and graduated from Prairie High School in Vancouver, Wash. before being drafted in the fifth round of the 1989 MLB Draft by Cleveland. He debuted with the Indians in 1992 and later played for Atlanta, San Francisco, San Diego, Boston, Oakland, and Colorado as well as the White Sox and Yankees.
The 6-foot-2 left-handed reliever pitched in 882 games, compiling a 39-45 record with a 4.59 ERA and four saves. In 2004, he appeared in 11 postseason games while helping Boston win the World Series.
“He has done a lot of great things,” Richards said. “He had a long career and that doesn’t happen by accident. He worked real hard and had a great skill set, but you don’t stay in the big leagues for 16 years based off skill set. You have to be respected and do things the right way.”
Embree has nearly a decade of experience in the WCL, but made his first trip to the new Hamlin Field last year when the Black Bears won two of three games against the Drifters early in the season.
“We came down here last year and I was thinking ‘Where did this place come from?’,” Embree said. “All of a sudden there was this beautiful ballpark. I knew this could be something special. I am a Northwest boy, so this is an awesome opportunity.”
The Drifters and Black Bears split six games last year after Springfield won two out of three in Cowlitz during July.
“Tommy did a good job with that team, they were tough at the end of the season,” Embree said. “I saw great improvement.
I had a blast coaching against him, I liked his style managing the game. I am just here to help him in any way that I can.”
Embree coached in Bend when the Elks won the 2015 WCL title.
“I have been fortunate to win championships at all levels,” he said. “I am hoping to bring that winning attitude to Springfield. With the ownership willing to do whatever it takes to win, it seems like a very appealing destination along with the relationship I have with Tommy.”
The Drifters open their second season at home on June 2nd against Port Angeles. Tickets are on sale for all 28 home games.
“I think if we put a winning product on the field, we will get fans in the seats,” Embree said. “I think the second year also brings familiarity, people know there is a West Coast League game going on in town.”