Tucked beneath a bed in a old house in Natchitoches, Louisiana, Charlotte Ann Bushnell found a suitcase.
She and her husband traveled north from Lake Charles to tend to her childhood home, where she grew up with two brothers many years ago.
While tidying up, Bushnell discovered what her mother, Mary, had stored away before she died in 2012.
“It’s not your carry-on suitcase,” said Bushnell, now 56. “It’s a big suitcase.”
She opened it and found a pile of newspaper articles, neatly laminated, chronicling the journey her youngest brother, Pat Listach, had in baseball.
“He told my mother once, ‘This is the best life I could have.’ He was able to play it, and make a career of it,” Bushnell said.
Listach, 49, is entering his third season managing the Tacoma Rainiers, the Triple-A affiliate of the Seattle Mariners.
He has coached and played professionally for several MLB organizations for nearly three decades, traveling across the continental United States, and to Puerto Rico and Mexico.
But long before any of that, he played sandlot games in Natchitoches, a small city in central Louisiana.
“You could walk down any block and there was a baseball game going on,” Listach said. “That was my first love.”
He played in the summer, when he wasn’t working with his uncle at the local paper mill.
In the fall, he and his older brother, Nora Listach III, now 60, would organize neighborhood games — but not until the leaves surrounding the oak tree in their front yard had been raked.
“I could tell at a young age he was going to be something,” Nora Listach said. “He saw our parents, and how hard they worked. They instilled in him a work ethic.”
He had the talent, too. Nora Listach said his younger brother could fly. He could hit, he was fast — he just had it.
Pat Listach left Louisiana after he graduated from Natchitoches Central High School to play at McLennan Community College in Waco, Texas, then was off to NCAA Division I powerhouse Arizona State University, setting himself up to be a major league prospect.
“For someone to get where he has, coming from a small town like that, it lets you know you can do anything you want to do,” Nora Listach said.
“It’s not where you come from, it’s where you go.”
FAST START TO SHORT PLAYING CAREER
Pat Listach remembers his first breakthrough moment in the majors as if it happened yesterday.
From the third-base box, Duffy Dyer flashed the steal sign, and Listach was stunned.
It was the bottom of the ninth inning at County Stadium in Milwaukee, and the Brewers trailed the Minnesota Twins, 5-4.
Listach, making his major league debut that April evening in 1992, came in to pinch run. He was 24 — drafted in the fifth round by the Brewers four years earlier — and nervous.
“I felt like second base was a mile away,” Listach said.
He ran, and said he wasn’t sure he’d ever get there. But he was safe. He scored on a Paul Molitor single to tie the game before BJ Surhoff won it with a walk-off grand slam.
That kindled a banner season that Listach, who played 149 games, didn’t think would happen.
The Brewers had, after all, drafted two first-round shortstops before him in Gary Sheffield (1986) and Bill Spiers (1987).
“I’m sitting there thinking, ‘I’ve got Gary Sheffield and Billy Spiers in front of me — I’ll never play in the big leagues,’ ” Listach said.
But Sheffield was traded to San Diego earlier that spring, Spiers was injured, and suddenly Listach had a spot.
“You need a good break, but when your break happens, you’ve got to be ready for it,” he said. “I was ready.”
Listach hit .290 and stole 54 bases — second in the American League to Cleveland Indians rookie Kenny Lofton — on his way to being crowned the league’s rookie of the year.
It would be Listach’s best year in the majors. Four years later, an injury derailed his playing career.
Still with Milwaukee in 1996, he fouled a ball off his foot two days before being traded to the New York Yankees.
After the trade, he met with new manager Joe Torre and owner George Steinbrenner, saying his foot still hurt, all while taking batting practice and running through defensive drills.
But the foot just wasn’t right. Inconclusive X-rays led to an MRI, which revealed a broken bone that ended his season.
He was returned to Milwaukee. The Yankees went on to win the World Series that year.
Listach said he wasn’t the same player after that. He retired before the 1999 season, but couldn’t leave the game.
“I didn’t want to be away,” he said.
THE PLAYERS’ COACH
It appeared Listach had natural leadership skills, even back in high school.
Bushnell tells a story about how their mother, who taught English at Natchitoches Central, heard how competitive her youngest son had become on the baseball field.
Listach played infield, was a relief pitcher and apparently felt he knew how to win better than the coach, Randy Davis.
Hearing of her son’s antics, Listach’s mother approached Davis to advise him not to let her son run the show.
Davis’ reaction was priceless, and revealing: The coach said if he did not listen to his star player, they probably would lose.
Listach was already figuring out how to manage a ball club.
He got his first professional coaching job in 2000 as a hitting coach with Single-A Lansing, and spent the next eight years coaching in the Chicago Cubs organization.
Listach was named the Pacific Coast League manager of the year with Triple-A Iowa in 2008.
He made his major league coaching debut in 2009 as a third-base coach with the Washington Nationals, and held various positions in the Cubs, Los Angeles Dodgers and Houston organizations before arriving in Tacoma in 2015.
While managing the Rainiers, he’s established a reputation for his ability to relate to the players because he’s been there, too.
He knows how to get dirty from his own playing days. He knows how to break news —good and bad — because he fluctuated between the major and minor leagues.
“He’s just a great players’ coach,” Rainiers infielder Tyler Smith said. “Everyone loves being around him. He just brings a good energy to the field every day.”
Listach goes to the ballpark early — 10 a.m. a lot of days, sometimes sooner — and is respected for his effort.
“I devote every ounce of my energy into development and teaching and winning a ballgame,” he said.
Shawn O’Malley, a former Rainiers infielder, joined the organization in 2015 and said Listach is one of the best managers he’s had.
Last summer, O’Malley had returned to the Rainiers for a rehab stint from a hand injury. When the team traveled to play the 51s in Las Vegas, it was too hot for batting practice, but O’Malley was trying to get back in the swing of things.
He asked Listach to go outside — the temperature was pushing 105 degrees, as O’Malley remembers it — and hit ground balls so he could take some infield.
“He was out there for three days hitting me ground balls,” O’Malley said. “He’s the kind of guy that if you want to put in the work, he’s going to put in the work with you.”
Listach’s ability to communicate with young players is one of his most praised qualities.
“He cares about you,” O’Malley said. “If something’s going on in your personal life, he’s more than willing to do anything he can to help. Which, for me, is huge.
“It’s not just a business-oriented thing. He’s actually a caring person with a huge heart.”
TACOMA NOW, BUT FUTURE IN MAJORS?
Tacoma completed 201 transactions last season. When the Rainiers entered the playoffs, only two players from the opening day lineup — Stefen Romero and Daniel Robertson — were still there.
But even with all of the movement, Listach led the Rainiers to a PCL Pacific Northern Division title last season — the club’s first since 2010.
“He has a really good way about him at what I think is the most difficult level to be a manager,” Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto said during spring training.
“The Triple-A level as a manager, when you’re caught in between, you have a lot of prospects on their way up to the big leagues, and you have some on their way back down.”
Listach said he enjoys the level at which he manages. But there is the potential for something bigger.
“I think the sky’s the limit for Pat,” O’Malley said. “I think, someday, he will be a big league manager.”
Listach is a known commodity, Dipoto said. He said he thinks Listach is as good a candidate as anyone to be a major league staffer.
“Pat will be on a big league staff at some point,” Dipoto said. “Whether he’s a major league manager, that’s kind of like being a major league player — beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and you’ve got to be in the right place at the right time.”
Listach has been so many places already. His wife, Cari, can list the places the two have been since they met in 2003 — Washington, D.C.; Chicago; Houston; Des Moines, Iowa; Knoxville and Jackson in Tennessee, and now Tacoma.
You take away something great each time, she said.
“It’s always fun,” Cari Listach said. “It’s been a ride. Nobody can fully understand what life is like in baseball. You’re constantly like, ‘Where is home?’
“I don’t know. I know we have a home, but during the season, home is where he is to me.”
For him, home has always been where baseball is.
“When you talk about love of the game, that’s Pat Listach,” she said.
Pat Listach said his brother, who lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, says it best — can you imagine all of the places baseball has taken you?
“It’s been a good ride,” he said. “I’ve seen a lot through baseball.”