It was 27 seasons ago when Bobby Meacham last roamed the baseball field in downtown Buffalo. The 1989 season with the Buffalo Bisons would be his penultimate as a player and as he recalled those days playing for Terry Collins, there's an ever-so-slight undertone that Meacham might not have been the easiest guy for Collins to manage.
It wasn't just a stroll down memory lane for Meacham, who Tuesday was formally introduced as the Buffalo Bisons manager for the 2017 season, but also a bit of self-reflective critique. His ability to see the struggles of a current player and relate it to his own baseball journey has made Meacham a valuable mentor in the Toronto Blue Jays organization.
But first, that trip down memory lane and playing for Collins, the current manager of the New York Mets, back in Buffalo in 1989.
"I didn't like him at the beginning," Meacham said. "But Terry inspired me to look ahead to what can be for these guys. It's tough when guys get sent back down to this level after playing in the Major Leagues. It was the situation I was dealing with. He did a good job handling me and also helping guys on the way up who are so eager to get past this level they sometimes miss some of the process. ... I want to be the kind of manager he was for me and inspire people to get better and be better every day."
Meacham was a first-round draft pick (eighth overall) by St. Louis in 1981 but he played all of his 457 Major League with the New York Yankees (1983-88) including serving as the team's everyday shortstop in 1985.
Along with those 457 big-league games were also 460 games played at Triple-A.
That's a key part of his story and part of his approach to working with the next generation of ball players. He began his coaching career in 1991 and through six coaching stints in MLB and minor-league managing gigs, he has honed his ability to turn his experiences into teachable moments.
"My job is to help them put it all together because it’s there," Meacham said. "Sometimes we get scattered because of what could have been up there and what is now here. Disappointment, hopelessness kind of creeps in to guys when they get sent down. I remember those feelings. I think I can help these guys to jump-start things and get back to where they need to be.
"I was a No. 1 pick, too. I was supposed to be pretty good, too. But I like to point out I only played five years in the big leagues. Working as hard as I could every day and busting my tail still I only played five years. That has to hit home with them. They need to not only be really good but they’ve got to work really hard and contribute in a way the big league club needs them to. Since I understand that, hopefully I can kind of bring that across."
He's done something right in bringing those messages to the lower levels of the Toronto Blue Jays organization. He joined the Jays in 2013 as manager for Single-A Dunedin and spent the last three years managing Double-A New Hampshire where in 2015 he earned the Bobby Mattick Award for excellence in player development within the Blue Jays organization.
Meacham is the second former Bison to manager the team, joining Torey Lovullo who managed the Herd from 2006-08.
But there's another footnote on Meacham's hiring – he is the first African American manager of the Buffalo Bisons in the club’s 133-year history.
"Truthfully it struck me," Meacham said. "Wow, that's telling. It's kind of interesting but you just hope there's people around that realize there's a lot of different kind of people who can do what I do just given the opportunity. You wonder why am I the first, why has it taken so long but you also go, 'I can see why' sometimes. Let's try to make it so that footnote doesn't have to be there anymore. Hopefully I can represent not only black Americans but represent people that work hard at what they do and are able to get the opportunity to do it at a higher level."