It took Stu Cole more than 25 years to get a permanent job in the Major Leagues, but once the former Charlotte 49er reached baseball’s pinnacle he felt it was well worth the journey.
Cole spent most of his nine-year professional playing career in the minor leagues and played in nine major league games for the Kansas City Royals in 1991. He has coached and managed for minor league teams in the Colorado Rockies organization since 1996.
In 2013, Cole got the call to the big leagues. The South Mecklenburg High graduate is in his second season as the Rockies’ third base coach.
“Once I finished playing I still wanted to stay in baseball and give back,” said Cole, 48, speaking by phone in Denver between home games against the Pittsburgh Pirates last weekend. “The Rockies gave me that opportunity in 1996. It was a long journey to get to the big leagues, but once you get here’s it’s definitely worth it.”
Cole hopes he gets the chance to manage in the majors at some point, but doesn’t dwell on it. He just knows he’ll appreciate it if the time comes.
As a member of Colorado’s field staff, Cole coaches the team’s infielders, including shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, the National League’s top all-star vote getter this year. Under Cole’s guidance, Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado won a Gold Glove in 2013, making him the first Rockies third baseman to do so.
Cole was first drafted by the Pirates out of high school in 1984 but he opted to play for the 49ers. During his junior year in 1987, Cole led Charlotte in batting average (.301), runs (38), and homers (7) and was named to the Sun Belt’s all-conference team.
A good word
He was drafted in the third round by Kansas City that year and played six seasons with the Royals organization. Cole finished his playing career with Colorado’s Triple A team in 1995.
Cole says Rick Mathews, the Rockies’ pitching coordinator at the time, put in a good word with the organization, which led to his coaching and managing career.
Cole spent 12 seasons managing at the minor league’s different levels. At Modesto (Calif.) in 2005, Cole oversaw the development of Colorado’s No. 1 draft pick, Tulowitzki.
The following season, Cole and Tulowitzki were both promoted to Double-A. From there, Tulowitzki advanced to the majors. Cole considers him a good friend.
“When we drafted him … right out of college, you could see his work ethic and the way he approached the game as a pro,” said Cole. “I didn’t think he’d be in the minor leagues that long. He was going to be a special player and you could see that when he came to play with us.”
Cole managed in over 1,600 minor league games and was the California League Manager of the Year in 2003. Cole guided the Rockies’ Triple-A team in Colorado Springs for three-and-a-half years before progressing to the major leagues.
“I took the same mindset as a player, to try and climb the ladder,” said Cole. “Knowing how difficult it was for each level, knowing how much you had to learn and to get better, each level I moved up I knew the completion was going to be a little bit better.”
Cole says the best thing about coaching, even in the major leagues, is helping players get better. While in the minors and majors, he has helped develop players like Brad Hawpe, Garrett Atkins and Matt Holliday.
“Just like everything else in life you try to put forth your best effort every year, every day,” said Cole. “You go out there and try to make someone better. That’s what I focused on when I was down there (in the minors) until now. In this game you can’t dwell on the past because you have to have a short term memory. You have to try to stay positive and try to help these guys so they can go out and do their best each day.”
These days, Cole doesn’t limit his guidance to major leaguers. He and his family still live in Charlotte and his children, Victoria and Stu Jr., attend Rocky River High, where Stu Jr. is a second baseman, outfielder and pitcher.
The Cole children spend two months in the summer in Denver with their dad and Stu Jr. sometimes gets to practice his hitting and fielding at the Rockies’ Coors Field.
Cole says his schedule keeps him away from UNC Charlotte and the 49ers baseball program. But he did take a ride to campus a few years ago with former teammate Danny Montgomery to check out the new Robert and Mariam Hayes Stadium.
“We saw how different the field looks,” said Cole. “It’s gorgeous, a much better, beautiful ballpark than what we played on.”