“No one understands the process of going from prospect to big league responsible teammate and player than Buck Showalter,” Mets vice president J.P. Ricciardi says. Indeed, in Showalter’s last season with the Yankees, he brought Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera and Jorge Posada to the majors, which prepared them for the run of four world championships in five years.
“It never would have worked the way it did if Don Mattingly weren’t in that clubhouse,” Showalter says. “Those guys got to Yankee Stadium, looked at Donnie in the room and all said, ‘that’s the way you’re supposed to act.”
Last year, Showalter made the decision to bring up Manny Machado for the run to the Orioles’ first postseason appearance since 1997. Showalter had the minor league staff work him at third. “But I think what really made it work was having J.J. Hardy right next to him,” Showalter says. “J.J. adopted him, showed him how to play and what to do.”
To this day, Hardy and Machado warm up and stretch together.
When Adam Jones, who has reached star level in Baltimore, was with Team USA in the World Baseball Classic, he expressed how pleased he was that Willie Bloomquist was chosen for the team.
“I owe a lot to Bloomquist,” Jones said. “When I got to Seattle, I thought I was something special. First draft pick. Big money. You wouldn’t have liked me.
“I didn’t hustle the way I should have on a couple of ground balls and Willie got all over me. I mean, he killed me. I watched the way he played, hustling all the time, and learned from him. If he hadn’t cared enough to do it, I wouldn’t be here in this tournament.”
Kevin Towers and Kirk Gibson took heat this winter for trying to fill out the Diamondbacks’ 25-man roster with team guys. Martin Prado, one of the most popular and respected Braves. J.J. Putz. Eric Hinske, even if he’s hitting .174. Miguel Montero makes sure he catches every bullpen session of every starting pitcher in spring training.
“Baseball teams are not rotisserie teams,” Towers says. “There are a lot of down periods during the season that teams that have talent, especially pitching, and the right mix of 25 players can get through.”
When Dustin Pedroia got to Boston in the second half of the 2006 season, Alex Cora was a .238 hitter and blogger target. He was also called “the smartest baseball player in the game” by Paul Lo Duca and Jim Tracy when he was with the Dodgers. Pedroia was the scouts’ punching bag. But at Arizona State, coach Pat Murphy considered him “the best leader I’ve ever been around.” In fact, the year after he signed with the Red Sox and the Sun Devils finally made the College World Series, all the ASU players wrote “Pedroia” on their caps.
Cora and Pedroia were a perfect mix. Cora got Pedroia and other young infielders to take infield practice every day at 3:30, not having to duck batting practice line drives. It still carries. When Jose Iglesias arrived for his first spring training in 2011, Pedroia worked with him every day, and when Iglesias didn’t get to the right spot in drills, Pedroia would take him aside and say: “Here, I’m Fidel Castro.”
Pedroia had Iglesius to his house for cookouts two or three nights a week. Then in April, after a road trip, Pedroia called Iglesias out in front of a media member by asking, “What would you think if I told you Iggy took the bus to the park in Oakland rather than getting out early?” Lesson learned.
As much as I love the stats, even I would confess that this stuff doesn’t show up in a box score – but, it’s huge.