Mitch Maier, known around these parts as simply "MITCH!" played most of his professional career with the Kansas City Royals organization. Drafted in 2003, Maier moved through the minors and made his MLB debut in 2006. He split time between Omaha and Kansas City most years, except 2011, when he was with Kansas City the entire season but played so infrequently he may as well have been at summer camp.
After stints with the Red Sox and Cubs, Maier came back to the Royals as a free agent in April of 2014. It was a one year deal, leaving him in free agency again last November, trapped between laboring toward a comeback or trying something new. After extensive talks with the Royals, he chose to pursue a role in coaching.
"I was still wanting to try to play," he said. "but I weighed my options and ironed out the details, and decided it was probably best for my back and my health overall, to stop playing."
Maier doesn't have an official title. The closest thing to what he does is probably "roving instructor," but the structure of his work is different from most rovers. A typical rover might work with a minor league team for 3-4 days of practice, but during games they may be in khakis, sitting in the stands. Maier, on the other hand, sticks with a team for at least a week, and suits up to coach first base. In Omaha, his work has freed up hitting coach Tommy Gregg - who typically coaches first base - to work with the hitters in the dugout throughout the game.
Before games, he also leads drills and studies opposing hitters to get ready to position outfielders. He then studies opponents' swings during games to make additional adjustments on the fly.
Also unlike other roving instructors, Maier won't work in the low minors. He'll just work in Omaha and Northwest Arkansas, and has already mapped out his schedule for the summer. Between assignments AAA and AA, he'll get some chances to see his family in Michigan, and work in Kansas City under the tutelage of Rusty Kuntz.
"He's obviously got a great reputation for a good reason," Maier said of his mentor Kuntz. "He's smart, he's detail oriented. Not only his baseball knowledge, but the ability to get the best out of players. The room will light up when he comes in."
While Maier has been on his current Omaha assignment, he's been talking with Kuntz each day, bouncing ideas off him and seeking his advice.
"I had a foundation of how things work from a player's perspective," he said. "I knew [coaches] put in a lot of work but you don't fully grasp it until you get on this side and get to actually see what they do."
Because he's still only 32 and played alongside many current Royals, Maier said his strength is to relate to players.
"It hasn't been a year since I've stopped playing. I still know the grind, I know how hard this game is. I just did it and it's fresh. If I tell them something, they know I just did it last year and I did it for the last 12 years. They can trust it."