PADRES: Goodbye, Buddy Black.
Buddy Black was fired today.
Canned. Let go. Adios.
Yesterday he was managing a ballclub, today he is (hopefully) throwing back whiskey shots on a tropical island.
WATCH: Preller on Black firing & inconsistency; Dave Roberts on managing #Padres; plus what I saw/heard in clubhouse: http://t.co/VUWxA9mCzA
— Annie Heilbrunn (@annieheilbrunn) June 16, 2015
I’ve always respected Buddy. He’s authentic, genuine. He cares about people. He cares deeply about his players. He is smart, funny and easily likable. I know those last two traits don’t necessarily make a great manager, but I’ll follow that up by saying players respected Buddy. He was a player’s manager. They didn’t give up on him. They played hard for him every night.
Whereas football is super secretive and access keeps getting more and more restricted, baseball is a place where you chat with the manager twice a day — and rather than being at a podium, you just sit with him. The conversation goes many directions … Sometimes you’ll be talking about a player, the next thing you know you’ll be hearing a (not for public consumption) story from when Buddy was pitching or when he shared a clubhouse with the opposing manager or what not. It’s just great. Buddy was the best at it. He also made it a point to learn all the names of the reporters who covered the team — (okay, you might not care, but that says a lot about a person) — and to try and explain things in a way that was sincere and helpful. Those dugout chats with Buddy are easily some of my favorites moments about baseball.
Ultimately, I think Buddy was just the sacrificial lamb. This move was made to make the players feel accountable, responsible; to feel that they had just gotten their manager fired, so they better step up their game. They better win.
Black isn’t Preller’s guy. He was here when Preller got here. This season wasn’t going to work for Black unless the Padres were first place in the division. Never mind that he was having to get creative with the infield because of holes in the roster or the logjam at certain positions; never mind that general manager A.J. Preller signed players in the offseason that, while “stars,” may be on a downward slope (perhaps there is a reason the Dodgers are paying Matt Kemp to play for the Padres?!); never mind that a team that has a mostly new roster may need more time to gel; never mind that expectations were perhaps impossible to meet; and never mind that the Padres were only, um, four games back in the Wild Card and six back in the division.
I’m not paid enough to know if this was the “right” move. I’m not a general manager. I know these things happen in the world of professional sports. They happen every day. Perhaps the Padres will turn it around and go on a 10-game winning tear to lead the division, and this will be the reason why. Perhaps.
Pressure is now on Preller to find the manager he thinks will get this team to the Promised Land (i.e., the playoffs).
Bringing the Vlog back.
I thought I’d bring the Vlog back. Why not?
(Are they even called “Vlogs” these days? Is that so 2005?)
I plan to draw a lot in my Vlogs now. You’re really going to see my artistic ability shine through in these things.
In this Vlog, I talk about the first day of Chargers minicamp, Manti Te’o and the media hoard, a little Pagano, and some Padres. Check it out. What do you think?
Kyle Blanks and Happy Time.
Whenever I chat with Padres outfielder Kyle Blanks, I always walk away from the conversation feeling a little bit smarter about life. The guy has mad perspective. It could be the multiple injuries he’s had, or the tough road he’s faced since his major league debut in 2009, or the fact that his middle name is Nathaniel. People named Nathaniel always have pretty good perspective, don’t you think?
No? Just me? Okay.
A few weeks ago, I was talking with Cameron Maybin about his wrist injury, and when I asked Cam if he was frustrated about not playing, he told me to go ask Kyle about a thing called “Happy Time” in baseball. … So I did.
Happy Time is, in essence, looking for the positive in a situation. Baseball is a game of failure, a game where even when you’re succeeding, you’re still failing in so many ways. It’s probably the only sport that exposes that failure on a daily basis. Now, add that to the frustration of going through multiple season-ending surgeries like Kyle did, and it can make for one bitter, negative ball player.
Kyle refused to be that guy.
Instead, he started to look for the good in the bad. Instead of beating himself up about going 0-4, for example, he focused on something he did well … and then he let the bad stuff go. He didn’t dwell, he didn’t commiserate … he let go of the last at-bat, the last surgery, the last setback, the last WHATEVER … and he moved on and focused on the positive.
Sports draws so many parallels to life. As Kyle was talking to me about his approach, I thought of several areas in my own life where I’m guilty of pushing too hard or wanting to beat myself up about something I could have done better. And when has that ever helped? It hasn’t. If anything, it just paralyzes me more.
I think about how tough it is, especially in baseball, to make it as a professional athlete. Kyle’s story is so incredible … Not just because he overcame his physical injuries, but because he overcame his mental ones. He’s had some bad luck since making it to the majors at age 22, and he could have stayed bitter or resentful in a lot of ways. But he just worked and persisted and matured with every resistance.
Most players, if they have overcome a slump, credit the comeback to relaxing a little bit. “Not living and dying by every pitch, at-bat, etc” is what I hear a lot. But there is a HUGE difference between saying that and really being about it when adversity hits. And I love that a 6-foot-6, 260-pound slugger like Kyle Blanks isn’t afraid to embrace what he calls the “Happy System.” 😉
Here he is talking about it:
Yas-Mania … The real deal?
Oh, the blog.
It hates me. I’ve so neglected it.
Here’s the thing … Every day, I’m like, “Oh my gosh! Such and such happened today! What a great post for the blog!”
And then something comes up … like hosting a nightly show, editing or shooting a package, a presser at Chargers or Padres, or a flat tire.
Spent the weekend in Tuscon chatting with Padres catcher Yasmani Grandal, who is gearing up to join the team on May 28th after serving a 50-game suspension for using performance enhancing drugs. His return sparks a number of questions: Will he be the same player as he was last year, now that he’s not on PEDs? What kind of response will he get in the clubhouse? Is he the starting catcher and Nick Hundley the backup? What of John Baker? Will fans still wear “YasMania” t-shirts????
You see what I mean.
Yasmani was respectful, classy and seemingly honest. He said the suspension has been tough on him, that he felt helpless at times, especially when the team was losing. He said he and Nick Hundley have chatted since Hundley called him an “unproven guy who had a couple good months on steroids” and added that the two are professionals and they’ve worked through the issue. But Yaz still acknowledges that he doesn’t expect teammates to welcome him back with open arms, at least not immediately.
It’s also easy to see that he is really, really sick of talking about the whole situation. 😉
Here’s a few pics from the trip:
Cameron Maybin and Yasmani Grandal both doing work in Triple-A Tuscon.
The view on the way to Tuscon. Just miles and miles of desert and shacks and boarded up houses and sad looking horses.
Because I’m an idiot.
In the meantime …
I’m back from my week-long road trip with the Padres and will give you guys a post shortly about how all of THAT went. In the meantime …
So recently, the Padres had an extra-innings game on a night when I was clearly delirious and sleep-deprived. Here’s how it went:
The Padres are going into extra innings. Oy vey!
In between innings, I’ll take a little nap.
Uh-oh. Security was NOT happy about my snooze.
Inning Twelve. Catcher John Baker is on second base! Meditating.
The game is over after 13 innings! The Padres WIN! Yeah!
Mojo and March Madness
Most people, when talking about the Padres and their struggles last season, mention that elusive word: Chemistry.
Chemistry, like mixing two liquids in science class and getting a gas. Chemistry, like that thing I hear two people have sometimes when they are on a date. Or DON’T have (See: “Woman fakes illness and exits date during middle of dinner”).
Chemistry is an intangible, and you either got it or you don’t. Clubhouse swag, if you will. Mojo.
We don’t know if the Padres will find it or not this season, but any manager will tell you it helps. A lot. It’s usually paired with winning, and I think it’s a chicken or egg situation … Does the chemistry come first, then the winning? Or vice versa?
In the short time I’ve been at Spring Training, I’ve felt it. Swag. It’s not loud or egotistical or pretentious. It’s quiet, comfortable in its own skin.
Buddy Black does a lot during the club’s time in Peoria to encourage camaraderie. During the team’s morning meetings, he introduces new players by sharing something that most teammates wouldn’t know (like the fact that the player used to dress up for rodeos or be on his high school dance team or WHATEVER). He also is part of the annual basketball shoot-out, a tournament-style competition (a la “March Madness) between coaches and players.
Lest any of you tweet or Facebook me and say something silly like, “These players should be in the batting cages instead of on the basketball court,” … Sit down, take a deep breath, hit yourself in the head once and RELAX. This happens before practice starts and doesn’t cripple the team — it builds it.
Today, the tournament came down to two teams: The starting pitchers against the coaching staff. To see who won, scroll to the bottom.
Enjoy the pics!
Okay, so this one was taken yesterday, when the teams were still being whittled down. I love this shot. Remember — Will Venable played basketball for Princeton University. Cory Luebke was a hoops star in high school (along with baseball and football).
The players don’t really “defend” … they sorta stand there and raise their arms (c’mon, no one wants to get hurt). What they DO do is distract. Mark Kotsay is mostly in charge of this. Here he is with a leaf blower, which he aims at players as they take their shot.
Then there’s the bullhorn. Self-explanatory.
But nothing compares to the truck. I don’t know who the truck belongs to, but I can tell you it has a horn on it that is unlike any horn I’ve ever heard. My ears are STILL ringing from it 10 hours later. Big Truck Must Have Loud Noise, I guess. Anyways, it gets blasted whenever a player is about to shoot.
The only time there is silence is when Buddy has the ball. If the Skipper is shooting, there are no horns, no leaf blowers, nothing. Just respect.
Teammates watching the game held face signs, just like this Dave Roberts one.
So who won? The starting pitchers. Cheers to Joe Wieland, Tim Stauffer, Corey Luebke, and Dustin Moseley!
Heigh-Ho, Heigh-Ho, Back To Peoria I Go …
So here I am, back in Peoria, for Round Two of my Spring Training adventure.
Ahh, Peoria. Thank you for not closing down any of your 3,927 chain restaurants and shops. Thank you for driving up prices in hotels near the Peoria Sports Complex, so that I have to stay in a seedy neighborhood in a shady part of Phoenix where some dude asked me if I wanted to see his knife while I was pumping gas at a nearby station. Thank you for making your stoplights into a Russian Roulette game. And thank you for being sticky icky hot, so that I’m sweaty and wondering if I smell or have makeup running down my face or hair sticking to the back of my neck.
But I digress.
No, really … I like Peoria. I do. I like Spring Training. I like the drive on 8 East to get here (just me, my music, my random thoughts and usually an obscene gesture from a trucker at some point) … I LOVE being at the complex, because it’s pretty and fresh and it’s just a bunch of guys playing baseball. It’s awesome. Honestly, if you’ve never been here but you like baseball even REMOTELY, you need to make it out next year. You’ll love it. I feel like it’s the way the sport is meant to be — just a bunch of fellas out on the grass, playing the game they love. The clubhouse is happy, the coaches are happy, the fans are happy.
It’s a hopeful time. I’m a fan of hope.
I like this group of Padres. There is character, there is scrappyness, there is a blending of old traditions and new Mojo. I dig it. You’ve got Mark Kotsay organizing some player bonding time, you’ve got Tim Stauffer pranking Huston Street, you’ve got new catcher John Baker getting into intelligent debates with Carlos Quentin. Like I said … character.
Oh, and they can play a little, too.
While we know Spring Training games are “meaningless”, it’s still worth pointing out that the Padres won 12 of their last 15 games before being blanked today by Chicago. It’s important because of MOMENTUM. I like momentum. I’m a fan of momentum. When I’m shopping, and I find three or four cute things, it gives me the momentum to keep going and find some more. And that’s always fun.
Again, I digress.
Will Venable told me this morning that while he doesn’t like to look back, he remembers Spring Training of 2010, the Spring Training before the season in which the Padres went 90-72 and placed second in the NL West. He said the team won a lot of consecutive games during Spring Training 2010, and that got things rolling for the season. In 2011, the team never got it going during their time in Peoria, and never got it going during the regular season either. So again … Spring Training wins are good for confidence, for camaraderie, and (say it with me now) for momentum. FEELING what it feels like to WIN. (Something I don’t do a whole lot, but I hear it’s awesome. Just ask Charlie Sheen.)
Since we’re talking about Venable, let’s point out how he got two more hits against the Cubs today and raised his batting average to .372, the best on the team. He told me he fixed a few mechanics and feels a lot more control at the plate right now, and also said working with new Padres hitting coach Phil Plantier has helped. Plantier focuses on the positive, Venable said, and when he encourages players to concentrate on the things they do RIGHT, it’s easier to form and maintain good habits. We all need a little Phil in our lives, dontcha think? (By the way, during Round One of Spring Training, Plantier and I talked hitting.)
Lots more to come this week. I’ve got come cool photos and videos, but my internet connection at Hotel Shady is not the best, so it’ll wait for now. I can feel you all on the edge of your seats. Simmer, simmer. Patience.
Spring Training Sights
View from the Press Box during the Padres-Mariners charity game.
One of the best things about Spring Training are the mornings. They are so crisp, so fresh in Peoria, and this year, it seemed like the grass was greener … Cause it was. Arizona got more rain, which meant prettier fields. It’s such a cool, relaxing feeling.
Jonathan Galvez getting his hair cut by a barber that Cam Maybin brought to Spring Training. More on that later.
One of the reasons I enjoy reliever Andrew Cashner.
This is what I do for kicks during Spring Training.
This is another thing I do. I bought these during my stay. They were calling my name. It’s an exciting life I lead, huh?
Nick Hundley’s locker. Every season, the players compete in fantasy football. Former eighth-inning specialist Mike Adams started the trophy tradition. Hundley (and pitching coach Darren Balsley) were the 2011 winners.
The starting lineup for the second Spring Training game.
Ok — normally these two rows are EMPTY in the press box. But during the Mariners games, there is a contingency of Japanese press there for Ichiro Suzuki and Hisashi Iwakuma. As soon as those two are out of the game, the Japanese press disappears too.
Me after a ridiculously long drive to Peoria, in which my phone had a hardware malfunction in the middle of the desert and wouldn’t turn on. I lost everything — all my contacts and self-proclaimed wonderful photos of mountains and such that I had taken on the drive up. Anyways, I used a payphone at a rest stop in the desert three times. THAT’s kinda cool, right? Then I went to a Sprint store in PHX, where the employee took one look at my phone and proclaimed, “You’re screwed.” … ‘Nuff said.