HOUSTON — Two hours before taking the field for an afternoon game at Minute Maid Park, Houston Astros players are crowded around the clubhouse television watching the World Cup.
All-Star second baseman Jose Altuve is sitting front and center. Rookie George Springer is decked out in a Houston Dynamo jersey. Monroe native Alex Presley is getting into every kick.
While players are enjoying their free time watching soccer, down the hall in the Astros coaches office, Natchitoches native Pat Listach is focused on identifying where B.J. Upton is most likely to hit the ball on an 0-2 count with runners on first and third.
Baseball has been Listach’s life for more than four decades, and with the first pitch against the Braves just hours away, there isn’t much that can get in the way of that.
Hired as the Astros third-base and infield coach before the 2014 season, Listach has settled in nicely to his role as a coach, mentor and continuous student of the game.
“Baseball is what I know and what I love,” Listach said. “Fortunately, I’ve been able to do what I love for almost 50 years, and I realize how fortunate I am to be in that position.”
The former American League Rookie of the Year has played, managed and coached all over baseball since being drafted out of Arizona State by the Milwaukee Brewers in 1988.
Now 46 years old, Listach is back in Houston, where he ended his playing career in 1997 and has lived the past 20 years.
“It has definitely been good to be able to work at home and live at home,” Listach said. “A lot of people don’t have that luxury. A lot of people go to work everyday and they are upset. I come to the ballpark every day in a good mood, and I’m just having fun.”
Listach works with the Astros’ young infielders on defensive positioning, studying film and opposing batter patterns, while also helping fellow coach Tarrik Brock on baserunning.
“Pat has been tremendous with our infielders,” Astros manager Bo Porter said. “You look at the play of Jose Altuve and the strides Jonathan Villar has made defensively. Pat does a great job of making sure those guys are prepared.”
Altuve, who leads the American League in stolen bases, has learned a lot from Listach, who stole 54 bases in his rookie campaign in Milwaukee.
“Pat is a guy that has been around the league, and he knows what he is doing,” Altuve said. “He is a guy that liked to play the game aggressively, and we like that about him.”
Listach, who has lots of family in Baton Rouge, has been around baseball his entire life. His grandfather, Nora Listach, played in the Negro Leagues for the Kansas City Monarchs. Listach’s first cousin, Derek Price, has been Southern’s equipment manager for the past 20 years.
Listach said he grew up watching and often playing with other Louisiana baseball stars like J.R. Richard, Vida Blue, Will Clark, Ron Guidry, Lee Smith, Ben McDonald, Darryl Hamilton and Russ Springer.
When it came to picking a college, Listach considered several state schools, but the opportunity to play right away was not available in Baton Rouge.
“I was interested in LSU coming out of high school, but they already had signed a junior-college guy to play shortstop,” Listach said. “If I had gone to LSU, I would have been on the bench for two years. I took the opportunity to play and get some experience.
“It’s funny, now when I see Skip Bertman he always says ‘Sorry it didn’t work out because we would have loved to have you.’ I don’t regret it, but I wish I could have stayed home and played.”
After a solid career at Arizona State, Listach was drafted by the Brewers, despite having two big-name young shortstops already on the roster. Sitting on the depth chart behind then-shortstop Gary Sheffield and Bill Spiers, Listach was not sure of his future.
“I remember saying ‘They have Bill Spiers and Gary Sheffield in front of me, I’m never going to play in the big leagues. I thought I would be in the minor leagues all my life.”
Instead, the Brewers traded Sheffield to San Diego and an early season injury to Spiers gave Listach the opportunity he needed.
“All of a sudden, I was the No. 1, and you have to be ready when you get that chance,” Listach said. “I think what a lot of people don’t realize is how lucky you have to be. You have to be good, but you also need a good break in the game to succeed.”
While a trade and an injury gave him the break, it was his play on the field that helped him succeed his first year.
“I got off to a good start,” Listach said. “In my first game, I got three hits. Next day, I get two more. My manager, Phil Garner, calls me in his office and says ‘Heck of a start, but Spiers is going to play tomorrow, so enjoy it while you can.’
“Well, I got a start a few days later, got a few more hits and Phil says, ‘I got to keep putting you out there’, and that’s what he did.”
Listach went on to bat .290 in his first season with 90 runs scored, 54 stolen bases and the AL Rookie of the Year honor. Listach proudly displays the award in his game room.
“It is a very special honor,” Listach said. “I didn’t realize how big of a deal it was earlier in my career, but I realize how special it is now. Just to be considered in the same category with Jackie Robinson is special.”
A knee injury derailed Listach’s career earlier than he would have liked. The Brewers traded Listach to Houston in 1997, which became his sixth and final season playing in the majors.
Listach didn’t stay away for long, however, stepping in as a minor-league coach and manager.
In 2008, Listach was honored as Pacific Coast League Manager of the Year for leading the Iowa Cubs to an 83-59 record and a playoff appearance.
Listach made it back to the majors in 2009 as a coach with the Nationals before joining the Cubs’ big league coaching staff two years later.
He moved to the Dodgers organization in 2013, but when the opportunity opened in Houston last winter, Listach took the opportunity to move home.
“He is like a second manager over there at third base,” Porter said. “I’ve been over there before and you have to be able to think alongside the manager, and he has done a tremendous job.”
Listach said he would love the opportunity to manage at the big league level one day.
“I’ve interviewed for some managerial jobs but haven’t gotten them,” Listach said. “Just to be considered is something special. You are talking about being one of 30 people in the world. But I’m one of only 30 third base coaches in all of (major league) baseball. I’m very lucky.”
Regardless of where his coaching career takes him next, Listach said he would love to end up back where he started when he steps away from the game.
“I think eventually I will go back to Louisiana to retire,” Listach said. “I love the state. I love the people. I love the food.”
Right now, the bigger love remains baseball, as Listach continues to be a part of the game he has played since he was young.
“It’s been a good career, and I’m still having fun,” Listach said. “As long as they keep giving me a uniform, I’ll keep going out there.”