Orono native Brian Butterfield has found himself in an uncharacteristic place this year.
But he is cherishing it.
After 37 years as a coach in professional baseball, including being the Los Angeles Angels’ third base coach and infield instructor last season, Butterfield is unemployed. The Angels let him go and a potential third base coach/infield instructor job with the New York Mets went by the wayside when he refused to get vaccinated for COVID-19.
Mets manager Buck Showalter, with whom he had worked when Showalter managed the New York Yankees and Arizona Diamondbacks, had to withdraw his offer.
“My wife [Jan] and I aren’t comfortable with the state of vaccinations,” said the 65-year-old Butterfield. “I’m not going to change.”
First base coach Bruce Hines, 64, was also released by the Angels along with catching instructor Jose Molina.
“They wanted to go younger with their coaching staff,” reasoned Butterfield, who lives in Standish.
So instead of coaching, he has been following the softball and baseball careers of granddaughters Madison and Grace and grandson Mason.
They are the children of his stepson, John McGlinn, the baseball coach at Buxton’s Bonny Eagle High School, and McGlinn’s wife Kiera.
Butterfield said this year has been a “blessing.”
“I’ve learned how to live life a little more,” said the former three-sport star at Orono High and University of Maine second baseman.
Butterfield, widely regarded as one of Major League baseball’s best infield instructors, said he hasn’t received any offers but would like to return to Major League baseball in “some capacity” next season.
“It doesn’t have to be on the field. I could be an advisor,” Butterfield said.
During his time away from the game, he said he has gained a great appreciation for baseball fans.
“I wear 14 layers to watch games and I’m still freezing,” quipped Butterfield, who spent five years playing in the Yankees’ minor league system after graduating from Florida Southern.
After his playing career ended, he became a roving infield instructor in the Yankees organization and he also managed three of their minor league teams until Showalter chose him to be the Yankees’ first base coach in the 1995 season.
Showalter was fired after that season and was named the first manager of expansion Arizona Diamondbacks, who began play in 1998. Showalter brought Butterfield with him.
Showalter was fired after the 2000 season and Butterfield returned to the Yankees organization.
He became the third base coach of the Toronto Blue Jays in 2002 and spent 10 ½ years in that organization before joining Boston Red Sox manager John Farrell in 2012 and sharing a World Series championship with him in 2013.
Farrell was let go after the 2017 season and Butterfield spent four years with manager Joe Maddon, two with the Chicago Cubs and two more with the Angels.
The coronavirus forced a shortened 2020 season and created rule changes, as did the bargaining between Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association.
Butterfield is generally in favor of the changes that are being used this season, including the National League finally joining the American League in using a designated hitter.
“It was time. It was a severe disadvantage for American League teams when they played at National League parks [and couldn’t use the DH],” said Butterfield, who added that it also kept some very good hitters out of lineups because they couldn’t play in the field.
He also sees value in putting a runner at second base to start extra innings.
“It’s a better option because if you have two teams struggling to score a run, you could wind up keeping fans there for another two hours,” he said.
Three rule changes that are being discussed for future seasons include a pitch clock in which a pitcher would have to deliver a pitch within 14 seconds with nobody on base and 19 seconds with men on base, outlawing infield shifts, and implementing robots to call balls and strikes and relaying that information to the home plate umpire.
Butterfield likes the pitch clock to speed up the pace of the game and shorten the length of them but he doesn’t like the robot umps and eliminating the shifts.
“Having robots takes the human element out of the game. That’s sinful.”