By: Brian Frank
This is the second Conversations with the Herd with Jeff Ware. The first conversation can be read here.
Jeff Ware is a familiar face to Buffalo baseball fans. He was the Bisons pitching coach for two seasons, and also served as Buffalo’s interim manager from July 13, 2022, until the end of the season. This year, Ware has moved up to the parent club, working as the Blue Jays assistant pitching coach. He recently spoke with The Herd Chronicles at Rogers Centre.
“Being pitching coach was great, I’ve been doing that for many, many years,” Ware said of his time with the Bisons. “The manager thing kind of took me by surprise last year. Once Casey (Candaele) came up here, I took over the helm there and just kind of continued to do what he was doing as a manager, which is playing hard, winning, and having fun.”
Ware managing the Herd last season. Photo Credit: Brian M. Frank, The Herd Chronicles
“But having that responsibility to run the entire club was really cool, something that I hadn’t really thought of doing, because I’d just always been so deeply involved in the pitching. I learned a lot. The biggest thing I really enjoyed was that I got to work more with the position players. As a pitching coach, ninety-five percent of your time is spent with the pitchers. You have conversations with the position players and things like that, but as a manager you start talking a little bit more about defense, a little bit more about strategy. Not a whole lot about hitting – I don’t know too much about that, but that’s why we’ve got hitting coaches. But to get to interact and talk about teaching young guys the game and to get them to play it at a higher level was really great and a really good experience for me.”
Now Ware takes his experience to Rogers Center, where he once took the mound for the Blue Jays. Ware pitched in the Blue Jays system from 1992 to 1996 and pitched in eighteen games for the Blue Jays from 1995 to 1996, including making nine starts.
“It’s been over twenty-five years since the last time I was here as a player,” Ware said. “I have been back a couple times as a coordinator just to visit or help out here and there. But to come here as a full-time coach, it’s really exciting to get back and put a Blue Jays uniform back on. It’s been great to get back to work at this level.”
Ware is very familiar with Blue Jays manager John Schneider. The two have known each other since 2014 when they coached together in Low-A ball.
“The start of my first year with the organization, in Vancouver,” Ware said of when he first became acquainted with Schneider. “We were in the Northwest League, short season. He was the manager, I was the pitching coach. Then the following year we were in Lansing together, again manager and pitching coach – but we were roommates that year. We lived in off-campus housing, just off Michigan State University. We just became really, really close. We had a lot of things in common, obviously other than baseball. We just kind of continued to grow. I saw him some in the offseason too.”
“Just a lot of the same interests, a lot of the same likes, the same intent, the same love of the game and desire to get players better," he continued, talking about his and Schneider's relationship. "And then just growing as coaches too, because both (Blue Jays president and CEO) Mark (Shapiro) and (Blue Jays general manager) Ross (Atkins) came over and our organization started going in a different direction, which we both loved, and we wanted to be a part of it. We’ve kind of grown together.”
Pete Walker (left) and Jeff Ware in the bullpen prior to a Blue Jays game. Photo Credit: Brian Frank, The Herd Chronicles
Ware also has a history with longtime Blue Jays pitching coach Pete Walker.
“When I first got to the organization, I didn’t really know him,” Ware said. “I knew him as a player, but not personally. Once I got into the (Blue Jays minor-league pitching) coordinator role, that’s when I got to know Pete quite a bit. Then we started talking a lot, especially in spring training – you know, as a coordinator, you’re in spring training with the major-league team. I really got to know Pete then, and we kind of hit it off. We had a lot of the same interests and a lot of the same passion for the game. We were both traditional-type pitching guys, who grew into what baseball is coming into now. We feel like we have the best of both worlds.”
In his new role with the Blue Jays, Ware works closely with Walker.
“Running the bullpen in game is probably the most specific duty I have,” he explained of his role as assistant pitching coach. “Then just helping Pete out with whatever he needs. We have a lot of the same background, so we talk about game situations, we talk about guys’ stuff, we talk about how guys can get better, what they can improve on – whether it’s from a traditional standpoint or from an analytical standpoint. Whether it’s mechanical or whether it’s improving pitches, it’s kind of a wide variety of things, but we enjoy talking baseball, talking shop. We talk to each other just to help get the guys better.”
Ware is stationed in the bullpen during games, which means he gets to experience the brand new elevated bullpen at Rogers Centre first hand.
“They’re amazing,” he said. “I’m glad they’re our home bullpens. The fan interaction has been really cool. They’re right there with us when guys are warming up. Every now and then when guys are warming up, I’ll take a peek in the stands, and I can see how engaged the fans are, watching these guys warm up. So, it’s really, really cool. A great experience that the fans can have – and Toronto has such great fans. It’s been really cool to hear them cheer for us during our home opening week of the season.”
“It is a long walk from down below,” he added about the bullpens with a chuckle. “I’ve got to go up two flights of stairs to get to the top. So, I’m getting used to that and definitely getting my steps in, that’s for sure."
Ware and Blue Jays ace Alek Manoah in the new Rogers Centre bullpen. Photo Credit: Brian Frank, The Herd Chronicles
Ware joins a Blue Jays team with one goal this season – winning a World Series.
“It’s a great time to be a Blue Jay, for sure,” he said. “Me, Schneider, Pete, Gil (Kim) – there’s so many guys in this organization that have put a lot in, since Mark and Ross took over, building the foundation, building the culture that we want to have to get a World Series championship and bring that back to Canada. It’s really cool to be a part of it. I feel like we’re in a really good spot to compete for a championship right now, and it’s a really exciting time to be a Blue Jay.”