From Colombia to Hyattsville, Mike Toomey uses baseball to better kids’ lives
(This is the final installment of a three-part series on Mike Toomey, a Hyattsville resident who has joined Steve Miller’s baseball coaching staff at DeMatha. Part one highlighted Toomey’s start in professional baseball and his contributions to the Kansas City Royals winning the 2015 World Series. Part two featured his parents’ role in his success.)
By CHRIS McMANES — Mike Toomey has traveled around the world teaching, scouting and coaching baseball. He has a nearly inexhaustible amount of frequent flyer miles and hotel loyalty points. That’s what you get when you spend about 200 nights a year on the road.
Toomey, who retired in October 2018 as a special assistant to Kansas City Royals General Manager Dayton Moore, is now an assistant baseball coach at DeMatha Catholic High School.
“I’ve been all over to see baseball,” Toomey said. “But right now, at this stage of my life, I’m glad to be back home in Hyattsville.”
For 36 years, Toomey scoured the globe in search of high-skill baseball players. He counts Korea, Japan, Canada, Panama, Italy, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Venezuela, Colombia and the Dominican Republic among his international destinations.
“In my eyes, Mike is one of the greatest ambassador in baseball,” said first-year Stags baseball coach Steve Miller. “It’s fortunate he’s in Maryland. He’s helped a tremendous amount of people over the years, including a lot of young kids in the Washington metro area.
“He’s a great ambassador for Maryland, the DMV and Major League Baseball.”
One of the things Toomey is most proud of came in 2006 when he, Rafael Miranda and Carlos Chavarria started the Colombian Baseball Foundation in Cartagena, Colombia. Toomey goes there two to three times a year
“We teach life skills to about 200 kids who participate in our programs and keep them off the street and on the up-and-up,” Toomey said. “What we really try to do is enhance their lives.”
Toomey, who coached for two seasons (1980-81) in the minor leagues, signed one the foundation’s first players, Sugar Ray Marimon, to a pro contract. He was assigned to the Dominican Summer League. Marimon played professionally 10 years and finished his career in Korea. In 2015, he appeared in 16 games for the Atlanta Braves.
“When I first saw Sugar Ray play, I said, ‘I’m going to sign that guy.’ And I did,”
Toomey said. “[The foundation] wasn’t set up particularly to develop Major League players, although we’ve had some kids sign pro contracts, including five [in 2018].”
Some of the players get to travel to other South American cities. For many, it’s their first time outside Colombia.
“We’ve sent teams to play in other countries,” Toomey said. “It’s quite an experience for them.”
Toomey collects used baseball equipment for his foundation from organizations in the DMV. DeMatha, under former coach Sean O’Connor, has contributed often, as has Miller.
Se habla Español
Toomey feels right at home in Colombia, partly because he speaks Spanish, a skill that has served him well.
With the ability to speak to Latin American athletes and their parents in their native language, Toomey had a leg up in recruiting. People tend to feel more comfortable working with someone they can speak to and understand. Talented players from Mexico and countries to the south sign pro contracts as young as 14.
Gene Mato, an agent who represents a few Latin American players, recently told The Washington Post:
“When an American speaks to a Latin player in Spanish, it almost acts like a hypothetical olive branch. I have seen firsthand the advantages of speaking and understanding a teammate’s first language. It automatically brings down walls that can hinder camaraderie between players in the clubhouse.”
Toomey chose an unconventional route to learn Spanish. He began by watching Spanish-language cartoons and Telenovelas.
“I’d have a notebook with me and follow the captions,” said Toomey, who also read side-by-side English and Spanish parallel-text books. “Being able to speak Spanish was a real boost to my career.”
Since retiring from Kansas City in 2018, “Tooms” spends a lot of time with his mom, Rita, in the same Nicholson Street home he grew up in. Several mornings a week, you can catch him having breakfast at the Riverdale Park McDonald’s on U.S. Route 1. He and his friend, Henry Dunn, like to talk baseball. The Washington Nationals are always a hot topic of conversation.
While Toomey can place his order in Spanish, he’s the only one with a World Series ring. He also has league championship rings from the New York Mets (2000), San Francisco Giants (1989) and his favorite, the 2014 American league champion Royals.
Toomey is most at home doing one-on-one or group instruction. He can teach hundreds of drills in hitting, pitching, bunting, fielding and baserunning. No matter what deficiency a player might have, he has a good idea how to fix it.
Josh Young can attest to that. The sophomore from College Park remembers Toomey giving him an individual batting lesson – on a holiday.
“He helped me a lot with my swing,” Young said. “We hit off the tee for a good hour, and I got a lot of reps. It was very enjoyable. He’s a lot of fun to work with – very positive reinforcement.”
Catholic University Head Coach Ross Natoli, who played for Toomey at George Washington, agrees with Young.
“What resonates with me about Mike is he always finds a way to find a positive in any situation, no matter how adverse,” Natoli said. “He always provides great support and suggestions on the path to be successful.”
In addition to his extensive knowledge of the game, Toomey has several types of bats and equipment to help him teach the game.
“He has a lot of different tools that he uses to work with players,” said Young, who also played this summer on St. Jerome’s 15U team. “He really helped me.”
Toomey keeps his players’ attention with unbridled enthusiasm and stories of working with big-league players. The Stags concluded their six-week fall practice Oct. 25.
“He used examples of MLB players to fix problems in my swing,” Young said. “He stressed getting good rhythm at the plate and being relaxed. Those were my key takeaways.”
In early August, Toomey instructed Young to lower his hands when swinging. “Josh was really hitting the heck out of the ball after that,” he said.
Toomey has worked with senior Jack Bulger on hitting to the opposite field and improving his swings on off-speed pitches. Bulger, who hit .545 for DeMatha in 2019 and concluded his summer in Korea playing for the 18U National Team, saw very few fastballs toward the end of the season. Toomey had him work with a shorter bat.
“He helped me stay back on the off-speed and slower pitches,” Bulger said.
Bulger, a first-team All-Met selection from Bowie, has committed to play for reigning NCAA champion Vanderbilt. He finds Toomey’s enthusiasm inspiring.
“The positivity he brings to the field every day is incredible,” he said. “There aren’t many people who love being around the game and the players as much as he does.”
Advice to Young Players
Toomey says too many baseball players are disappointed if they don’t get a Division I college scholarship. He likes to point out three guys who attended junior college and went on to enjoy long careers: Los Angeles Dodgers Hall of Famer Mike Piazza; Boston Red Sox slugger J.D. Martinez; and 2015 National League MVP Bryce Harper (Philadelphia Phillies).
“I tell kids you don’t have to go to a Division I school,” said Toomey, who played at Montgomery College before transferring to George Washington. “Go somewhere you’re going to play and get a good education. Go to the school you were going to go to even if there wasn’t a baseball program.”
After graduating from GW in 1974 with a degree in physical education, Toomey taught for a year at College Gardens Elementary School in Rockville.
“Deep down, like all of us coaches, he’s a consummate teacher,” Natoli said. “He really knows how to get through to a player, another coach, a supervisor. He gets to the essence of simplifying what he saw and sharing it with you.
“I always feel like I’m a better person and coach anytime I’m around him.”
Chris McManes (mick-maynz) is an assistant baseball coach at DeMatha.