Brendan Sagara has been around baseball forever, pitching at UH-Hilo from 1992 to 1996, when he went 8-2 with a 3.52 ERA as a senior.
He finished fourth in the nation among NCAA Division I Independents in wins and ERA. Sagara returned to the Vulcans as an assistant for a brief spell for six months in 2003.
Then he traveled the long road to Major League Baseball with a 12-year journey in independent pro ball, including a stint in Hawaii as the Na Koa Ikaika Maui pitching coach.
In the Curious case of where are they now?, Sagara, 47, is now a special assistant in player development and the Triple-A pitching coach for the Texas Rangers. He was hired back in January and coaches the team’s taxi squad at Globe Life Park (the former Ballpark at Arlington), which is across the street from Globe Life Field, which opened this season.
“I’m happy to be with the Rangers,” he said. “With COVID, it’s an anomaly of a role. It’s like spring training 2.0. I’m enjoying my role as part pitching coach, analyst, draft analyst in pro scouting. It’s a diverse role.”
The taxi squad is filled with the team’s top prospects and pitchers who are shuttling back and forth.
“Sometimes it’s guys who need to catch their breath, retool or sharpen back up whether it’s a pitch or approach,” Sagara said.
There’s COVID-19 tests every other day and temperature checks every day. They do positional work and long tosses and have four days of simulated games a week.
“I was in Hawaii April, May and June, before they shut everything down,” Sagara said. “I’ve been up here since June. We just try to tune in with our respective home cities. It’s a mutual obstacle that bring us closer together.”
Sagara pitched in four games for the Evansville Otters in indy ball in 1999. Then he took a long tour as a pitching coach in the bushes. He took endless bus rides in places like Indiana, Wisconsin, Missouri, Illinois, Canada and New York.
“If someone told me after I left UHH 24 years ago that I’d be in pro ball, I’d be pretty happy,” he said. “It’s not been the fastest 24 years, but when I take inventory I feel fortunate to be in my second decade of pro ball.”
The Leilehua High product is glad he made the transition from Oahu to Hilo, where he was influenced by UHH’s coaching staff.
“It’s funny. I talked to coach Joey Estrella in January and thought about the impact the program had on my life,” he said. “I had some important coaches in my life like Kallen Miyataki, Richard DeSa and Lyle Tamaribuchi.
“After Hilo, I pitched in indy ball and that opened some doors. Guys I worked with branched out into other aspects and I got my coaching experience and pro-level networking. I spent a lot of years building my resume. I played the long game to get where I got. I had to be patient and productive over a longer period of time than the next guy.
“I had a lot of athletic growth at UHH. It was one of the best decisions of my life. I probably could have gone to a bigger school as a walk-on, but I was a late bloomer. They kept running me out there as a senior, and I had a really good season. I’m thankful I went there.”
Sagara spent time as an associate scout for the New York Mets from 2006 to 2010 and as a scout for the Atlanta Braves from 2010 to 2012.
But he counts his role as a minor league pitching coach with the Miami Marlins as a big break. He organized and ran rehab assignments and served as pitching coach from 2011 to 2016 in Miami’s farm system. Sagara was promoted to assistant pitching coordinator in 2016 for the Marlins and supervised development plans, a role that gave him freedom to implement his own ideas.
“They heard good things about me and had guys in their system who I coached,” he said. “They trusted me developing their prospects. They cross check your background before they hire you as a coach on the field. One of the best pieces of advice I got was to never say no to a job.
“Miami was a pitching rich organization. They trusted me with my input and opinions. When I got there, we had great players like Marcell Ozuna, Christian Yelich, and Jose Fernandez, who was coming out of rookie ball. It was a good opportunity to work with guys and help them advance to the big leagues.”
Sagara estimates he’s helped roughly 30 minor leaguers reach the majors. One of the hot names is San Diego Padres starter Chris Paddock, who’s 2-3 with a 5.15 ERA.
Sagara has been married to his wife, Michelle, for 10 years. She lives on Oahu and visits when time allows. They don’t have children and recently had their dog pass away after 15 years.
“It’s such a good fit,” he said. “She’s independent and allows me to pursue my passion. We do a lot of FaceTime. She flies back and forth and visits periodically. When it’s the offseason, I’m at home and maximize my time then.”
Whoever is in the minor leagues, whether it’s a player or coach, the dream is always to reach the big leagues. Sagara is no different. He’s been chasing a major league job and has been interviewed by MLB clubs.
“I’ve been close. I’ve had interviews for a big league job,” he said. “To get your name tossed around and flown in is super flattering as a coordinator. I’ve been involved in a lot of different areas, administration, evaluating, running a department, coaching. The one last step is to get to the big league level.
“I’m humbled to be in those conversations. To think that 24 years ago I was pitching in Wong Stadium. To be here and talk to someone like Theo Epstein (Cubs president) is pretty crazy. I’m thankful to be in this position.”