CLEARWATER, Fla. — When Brian Butterfield’s time as a coach with the Arizona Diamondbacks ended in 2000, he turned to his wife Jan.
“What do you want to do?,” he asked.
Jan’s answer came without hesitation:
“Let’s go home.”
They’ve been in Maine ever since — except for those nearly eight months out of the year when Butterfield is coaching somewhere.
For the first time in his career, that somewhere is New England. Butterfield, 56, born in Bangor and raised in Orono, is the new third base coach of the Boston Red Sox.
“There is something about New England that is awfully special, and there is something about the Boston Red Sox that is always special,” Butterfield said before Sunday’s exhibition game with the Philadelphia Phillies. “It’s been a very easy transition.”
The transition comes after 11 years as a coach for the Toronto Blue Jays.
“People treated me awfully well in Toronto. Wonderful city. It’s tough to leave,” he said. “On the flip side, I always dreamed of being in this organization. There’s only one stipulation. You have to be good. I wasn’t good enough to play in Boston. So I feel I’m doing the second best thing.”
Butterfield never reached the majors, his pro baseball career ending in Triple-A. Moving on to the coaching side was a natural. Butterfield has always been in baseball, beginning when he hung around the University of Maine baseball team, which his father, the late Jack Butterfield, coached.
Brian Butterfield played for Orono High (Class of ’75) and then the University of Maine. Longing for warmer weather, Butterfield transferred to Valencia Community College in Orlando and then Florida Southern in Lakeland.
In the pros, he played for both the Yankees and Padres organizations, before becoming a minor league coach with the Yankees in 1984. He joined Buck Showalter’s New York staff in 1994. He was with Showalter in 2000 in Arizona when both were let go by the Diamondbacks.
Having lived in Tampa and then Arizona, it was then that Brian and Jan, a Presque Isle native, decided to come back to Maine to live in the off-season.
“That’s where family is,” said Butterfield, who now lives in Standish.
In baseball, Butterfield re-joined the Yankees organization before the Blue Jays opportunity came up in 2002. Butterfield worked for several managers, including John Farrell the past two years. When Farrell was named Boston’s manager, he called Butterfield.
“I tried to get the best qualified people,” Farrell said. “Butter is one of the best third base coaches in the game. One of the best infield instructors. Not just from a technical standpoint, but how he establishes rapports and routines with individual infielders.
“Endless energy. Just a very, very good baseball guy.”
He’s a baseball guy who is a football nut. Butterfield intently follows his favorite team, the New England Patriots, who came one game short of reaching the Super Bowl.
“They had a great year. I think when it gets to that point in the season, when you’re in the playoffs, the team that makes more plays, wins. Baltimore made more plays,” he said.
Any similarities to baseball?
“The NFL is tough, a 16-game schedule. Teams need depth to endure. It’s even more so in our sport — 162 (games),” Butterfield said.
“You’re going to have some good times and some bad times. I like the character in our clubhouse. That character pulls you out of those down times.”
Not surprisingly, Butterfield is optimistic about the season.”
“I like us going in. I really do. I know a bunch of teams feel confident this time of year. It’s a matter of time before we find out.
“But I like the group of people. I think character wins out. We have the right type of leadership in the clubhouse where we can endure the tough times and battle for 162.”
The toughest part for Butterfield may be ticket requests from friends and family.
“I know I’m going to have some people angry at me,” he said. “I can’t accommodate everyone. I’ve told family members that they get first priority.”
Family and baseball. Living and (now) working in New England, Butterfield has it all.
Kevin Thomas — 791-6411