Bryan Kloppe’s path to becoming manager of a professional baseball team began at a very young age.
The Phoenix-area native grew up learning the intricacies of the game, literally at the feet of some of baseball’s sharpest minds.
During his youth Kloppe (rhymes with puppy) served for eight years as bat boy for Major League Baseball Spring Training and the Arizona Fall League.
Kloppe used the knowledge he gained from that experience to earn his first managerial job two years ago, when he took over the reins of the Pecos League’s Roswell Invaders.
This season, the 28-year-old is the managing the Bakersfield Train Robbers, a second-year Pecos League franchise that plays its home games at Sam Lynn Ballpark.
“I worked for Tony Pena, Tommy John, Tom Foley, Buck Showalter, and Ron Washington,” Kloppe said. “I spent hundreds of games on the top step next to Major League managers. You learn a ton.”
The Train Robbers’ season began May 24 and runs to July 26. During that two-month time frame, the team, comprised of players unattached to Major League organizations, will play 65 games in 65 days.
A handful of local players have appeared in games for the Train Robbers this season including former Garces and CSUB standout Nick Vehlewald, former Bakersfield High and Bakersfield College pitcher Ryan Stapp, former Liberty High and CSUB hurler Zach Arneson, and Mira Monte alum David Ruiz.
Vehlewald and Arneson are the only two of the quartet still with the team.
For Kloppe, Bakersfield is totally new territory. He had never been to Kern County prior to taking the job as manager of the Train Robbers.
“I had spent four years in Roswell,” Kloppe said. “I loved the people in Roswell. I loved being in Roswell. It’s a great town, but I just wanted to do something different for my resume.”
Kloppe started filling out his baseball resume before he even started school. He began playing tee-ball at age 4.
Kloppe went on to play at Millennium High School in Goodyear, Ariz., a suburb of Phoenix.
During his prep career he saw limited action — 2 for 8 with a home run, a double and one inning pitched.
“We had 25 kids on the team my senior year and 14 of them played college and four went pro,” Kloppe said.
After graduating from high school in 2008, Kloppe attended Manhattan Christian College in Kansas.
During his time there he pitched in 75 games and registered 20 wins. Kloppe’s senior year he helped MCC reach the National Christian College Association World Series, hurling 12 shutout innings over consecutive days to earn a pair of wins.
Following college, Kloppe spent a summer playing the Walter Johnson League in Kansas, which proved to be a positive experience for him.
“I went 5-0 and I got all the Division I guys who were superstars out all the time,” Kloppe said. “I said, ‘Hey, I’m not that bad. Maybe I’ll get a shot at this.'”
From there Kloppe moved on to Texas to play in the United League. His manager there was Ozzie Canseco, twin brother of former Oakland A’s slugger Jose Canseco.
Despite helping the team when a championship, Kloppe was released after two years.
He then joined the Roswell, playing two years and winning another championship before being asked by Pecos League commissioner Andrew Dunn to become the club’s manager.
Though he was only 25 years old, Kloppe didn’t hesitate to accept the job offer.
“I’m a side-armer that tops out at 83 (miles per hour),” Kloppe said. “…It was too good of an opportunity to pass up.”
During Kloppe’s first year at the helm of the Invaders they made the playoffs and broke virtually every offensive record in league history.
Last year he guided Roswell to the Pecos League Championship Series.
That success aside, winning games is not Kloppe’s top priority.
“My first goal is always to get players moved up,” Kloppe said. “That’s my primary focus. That’s the most important thing. Nobody’s dream is to have a career in the Pecos League. We want to get guys out to the Big Leagues, ultimately.”
Kloppe describes his ideal managerial style to be a mix of former Major League skipper Tony La Russa and current MLB managers Buck Showalter (Baltimore Orioles) and Joe Maddon (Chicago Cubs).
“I really like (former Baltimore Orioles manager) Earl Weaver’s philosophy of pitching, defense, and three-run home runs,” Kloppe said.
Kloppe, whose wife Amy is from Australia, has spent the last four years playing winter ball Down Under.
The 6-foot-3 right-hander suffered a labrum injury in December. He is currently rehabbing the ailing shoulder on his pitching arm but hopes to take the mound and throw for one inning for the Train Robbers before the season is over.
In the meantime, Kloppe hopes local baseball fans will come out and support his team, which holds a meet-and-greet after every game.
During that time, fans can talk and take pictures with the players and get autographs.
The accessibility of the players is just one reason Kloppe thinks fans should come out to see the Train Robbers this summer.
“We have a huge opportunity to make this something special,” Kloppe said “People just need to know we’re here. We have a really great group of guys that are fun to be around and fun to watch play.”