Tag: Bruce Bochy

Padres’ Nevin preparing for a future as a manager (2002)

SAN DIEGO — Phil Nevin is at the peak of his career His $34 million contract kicks in next year, giving him financial security for life.

Yet Nevin already is thinking about his next job.

No worries for Padres fans. Nevin didn’t spend the Monday off-day poring over the want ads. He’s not going anywhere any time soon.

But Nevin’s playing days will end eventually, and he knows exactly what he wants to do then. In fact, every day he spends in uniform is training for his next goal. Every baseball experience is recorded in his mental files, ready to be used on the next job.

What is that job?

“I’d like to manage someday,” said Nevin, the Padres’ first baseman. “It’s something I’ve always wanted to do. Honestly, I couldn’t imagine my life without baseball, whether I’m playing or not.

“I think I took this game for granted for a long time. First and foremost, I think it would be fun. I love the mental side of the game. And it’s a way to give back.”

Phil Nevin in charge of a big-league ballclub? The same Phil Nevin who can turn any piece of equipment into a projectile with one flare of his temper? The same Phil Nevin who has been tossed from a game this year? The same Phil Nevin who launched into a public tirade in the dugout at Pac Bell Park last season? The same Phil Nevin who once tore apart the Astros’ clubhouse when he was demoted to the minors? The same Phil Nevin who turned a rookie’s wardrobe into ashes late last season?

Yup, the same Phil Nevin.

And to those who watch him on a daily basis, there’s nothing surprising about it.

“Let me tell you,” said Padres manager Bruce Bochy, “Nevin knows the game. He loves the game. He knows the league, the players. When I talk to him and listen to his comments, you can tell he’s got a great feel for the game.

“I think he’d be a great manager.”

Then Bochy couldn’t resist putting tongue in cheek.

“I don’t know how many games he’d stay in,” he added.

Even if it’s more perception than reality, Nevin knows his reputation as a hothead — even if it was earned mostly by youthful indiscretions — is something he will have to address once he seriously seeks a dugout job. There are a few Billy Martin types who have thrived as managers, but they are vastly outnumbered by the Tom Kelly, Walter Alston types who have the patience and staying power to deal with the bad times as well as the good.

Take Larry Bowa, for example. Like Nevin, he was a fiery player who left it all on the field. But he was a terrible manager when he got his first shot with the Padres in 1987. He lasted less than 1 1/2 seasons and had to wait another 13 years for a second chance. Bowa toned down his act, though he hardly has become milquetoast, and earned National League manager of the year honors with the Phillies last year.

“I don’t think I’d be a Larry Bowa kind of guy,” Nevin said. “No disrespect there. He’s fiery and all. But I think the important part of managing is communicating.”

One thing Bowa was not prepared for when he first became a manager was failure. For all his intensity, Bowa spent his entire big-league career as a star. He was a started in his rookie year and remained one for 15 seasons, becoming a backup only in his final season.

Nevin, on the other hand, has been humbled by the game. He understands failure, but he also has experienced what it takes to succeed at the highest level.

He came in cocky, then was knocked down. Form being a college player of the year and first overall draft pick, Nevin had to learn to survive as a utilityman just to avoid the minor leagues. He became a part-time catcher, causing him to view the game in a new way. No longer was he focused only on his responsibilities, but he came to understand what should be happening everywhere on the field.

Even after breaking out as a star with the Padres, he has remembered the tough times. He remains a student of the game. He took advantage of being around Tony Gwynn for three seasons. He bends Bochy’s ear whenever possible. First-base coach Alan Trammell, another who might become a big-league manager someday, is a big influence.

“I feel like I’ve played for some great managers — Sparky Anderson, Buddy Bell, especially the guy here (Bochy),” Nevin said. “I find myself watching the game and strategizing, playing along with what the other guys do. It’s just fun, and it keeps you in the game mentally.”

It just might keep Nevin in the game for decades to come.

Published in the North County Times on April 30, 2002.

Hoffman’s greatest role was ‘teammate’ (2011)

Great closers, it is said, are fearless, have ice water in their veins and all that claptrap.

There’s not an ounce of truth to that for the man who has saved more major league games than any other pitcher. Trevor Hoffman was motivated by his fear.

“Your teammates work hard for eight innings to get that lead,” he once said. “The last thing you want to do is come into the game and (mess) the bed.”

Not even 601 career saves erased that fear. Rather than deny his fear, Hoffman embraced it. Failure in his job meant a loss for his team, almost always, so Hoffman worked as hard as he could to minimize those failures.

To Hoffman, getting that save was his obligation to his teammates. And being a good teammate was as important to him as anything he did in baseball.

“The most coveted title that I carried was ‘teammate’,” Hoffman said at his retirement news conference Wednesday at Petco Park in San Diego. “It’s rewarding that I had an opportunity to have an impact on the people I was around as a teammate every day, striving to become better and working toward a common goal as a team.”

Hoffman’s baseball legacy is secure. His bewildering changeup ranks among the best single pitches in baseball lore. His “Hells Bells” entrance is a lasting memory, “the coolest thing in the game,” former Marlins manager John Boles once said.

The stats call for Cooperstown: 18 seasons, seven All-Star selections, the record 601 saves, a 2.87 ERA and 9.4 strikeouts per nine innings.

Those aren’t the lasting memories for those who had a chance to share a clubhouse with him, however.

“It’s incredible what he accomplished in this game,” said reigning World Series champion manager Bruce Bochy, who was Hoffman’s manager for 13 seasons with the San Diego Padres.

“What’s even more impressive is the person that he was. I consider myself fortunate to have had Trevor as my closer all those years in San Diego. He is the best teammate that I’ve ever seen. He really looked after his teammates.”

Nobody knows that as well as Mark Merila. The Padres bullpen catcher from 1996 to 2006 and now a member of the coaching support staff, Merila was welcomed to the big leagues by Hoffman and given a sense of belonging.

Merila was a good college infielder, good enough to be a college All-American at Minnesota and a member of the U.S. national team. But he was stricken by a brain tumor during his final college season. Although treatment got rid of the tumor, Merila’s playing career was cut short, and the Padres offered the job as bullpen catcher.

Having never caught before, or been on a big-league field, Merila was unsure of himself. Hoffman went out of his way to reassure him that he belonged. Hoffman taught Merila the ropes. And after every save, he waited in the dugout until Merila and the bullpen coach made the walk back from the bullpen with the equipment bags, long after other teammates had retreated to the clubhouse.

Hoffman always shook their hands after a save, just as he had with his other teammates after the final out.

“He let us know we were part of those saves. That meant a lot,” Merila said.

“He’s played with Rickey Henderson, Tony Gwynn, Hall of Famers, but he treats everyone the same. Doesn’t matter if it’s me or a clubhouse attendant or Tony Gwynn, he treated us all like we are working together, and we all play a part in the success of the team.”

There were plenty of other small gestures. Fellow pitchers with the Padres, and later the Brewers, were invited to try to keep up with Hoffman’s daily work routine, his marathon-like afternoon runs.

In spring training, he called over the new faces, the ones wearing Nos. 73 or 81 or the like, for long chats to help them get comfortable with their surroundings.

In 2003, when he missed several trips while recovering from shoulder surgery, he greeted the team upon its arrival at Qualcomm Stadium with catered meals.

And there were deeper moments.

Merila had gone a decade free of cancer. But his brain tumor recurred in 2006. It grew into his thalamus and was inoperable. He tried to make it through that season, but the tumor started to affect his motor function. He was slowly losing control of the right side of his body. That meant he could catch just fine with his left hand, but he couldn’t throw the ball where he wanted to.

The Padres brought in another bullpen catcher, who worked with most of the other pitchers down the stretch as the team reached the playoffs. Hoffman would have none of it. Merila was his guy.

That was true right down to Hoffman’s final playoff appearance. As Hoffman warmed up to enter Game 3 of the 2006 National League Division Series, Merila’s return throws were erratic.

“The best catches made in that game probably were by him, jumping up to get my throws,” Merila said.

Merila tried to put a stop to it, to call in the other catcher. Hoffman told him: “Just throw it, and I’ll go get it.”

In that pressure-packed moment, readying to go into a game that could have ended the Padres’ season, Hoffman put his teammate ahead of himself.

“He was having his struggles,” Hoffman recalled Wednesday. “He was worried about messing up my routine. You know what? There’s bigger things than going out there to pitch. Let’s take a step back and have some fun. That’s what we’re supposed to be doing, even though it’s a big moment. Let’s get through this.

“He didn’t have to take himself so seriously. He was doing fine. He just needed to hear it.”

Hoffman did get the save that night, his final playoff appearance. It also was the last time Merila was able to catch a warm-up session, for Hoffman or anyone else.

He endured radiation treatments throughout 2007 and then a full year of experimental chemotherapy. Many days, he didn’t have the energy to get out of bed. But he made every effort to stay up long enough to watch the Padres on TV. If Hoffman pitched and got a save, one of the two would call the other after the game for a quick congratulations.

It was a virtual handshake since Merila couldn’t walk from the bullpen to the dugout anymore.

Merila was in a group of 100 patients to receive the experimental treatment, which had been used for colon cancer patients but never tried on a brain tumor. It stopped the growth of his tumor, and Merila has regained much of his mobility.

There are no promises for a full recovery, however.

Merila, 39, has set small goals. Get to the ballpark today. Watch a game from the bullpen, instead of the clubhouse. Play with his three young children.

Hoffman’s retirement announcment, however, has emboldened Merila to set a larger goal. He now is intent on a visit to Cooperstown. The first year Hoffman, 43, could be inducted into the Hall of Fame is 2016.

“That’s my goal now, to be there when he goes into the Hall of Fame,” Merila said. “That’s a long way away for me. I usually take it day by day. But I’m going to do everything I can to be there.”

He, no doubt, will be joined by many teammates.

Published on foxsports.com on Jan. 12, 2011.

Big-game Boomer lives up to reputation (2006)

PHOENIX — David Wells has won one game in his second stint as a Padre. He sure picked the right game to win.

The man with the reputation as a big-game pitcher was both big and game Saturday afternoon.

He pitched the Padres into the playoffs by turning the Arizona Diamondbacks’ bats into mere fly-swatters.

In six innings of the Padres’ 3-1 victory, he allowed nary a run and only four harmless singles. Not one Arizona runner reached second base against him.

The only moment when Wells wasn’t in complete control was after the bottom of the sixth as he failed to talk manager Bruce Bochy out of taking him out of the game.

Bochy, with faith in his bullpen trio of Cla Meredith, Scott Linebrink and Trevor Hoffman, called it a day for Wells and saved a few bullets for the postseason.

“The guy never ceases to amaze me,” Bochy said. “This is an outing I’ll never forget.”

Wells’ big-game reputation was built on a 10-3 postseason record. Games such as Saturday are why general manager Kevin Towers was willing to trade a top catching prospect, George Kottaras, for only a few weeks of service by Wells. And such games are why Bochy wasn’t worried about the fact Wells missed his last start because of the gout, has battled other injuries all season and hadn’t won in four starts since the Padres reacquired him.

Heck, Wells spent much of the game Friday night in the trainer’s room after his back stiffened. Bochy, however, knew what he had once he got a look at Wells in the morning.

“He was locked in and focused,” Bochy said. “He was here early and ready. The bad thing is that meant we had to listen to his music — three hours of Metallica.”

The clubhouse may have been rocking, but Wells silenced the crowd at Chase Field once he took the mound. His second inning tookall of five pitches, his third only six.

“This is what I live for,” Wells said. “This is what I’ve played for is the opportunity to pitch in a big game when it counted. There’s nothing better.”

Make no mistake, this was big. Had Wells failed Saturday, the Padres might be facing a must-win game today. The Phillies failed to fold in the wild-card chase, so it might have been an all-or-nothing affair today. Instead, Woody Williams will pitch with the game determining the division champion and playoff position rather than the postseason itself.

Big difference.

Wells had a ready answer for why he’s at his best when it matters most.

“I’m not afraid to fail, and that goes a long way,” he said. “Whatever happens, happens. Don’t take it home. I want the ball in the biggest games because I’m not afraid to fail. I’m not going to take it personally.”

Whether it’s the Zen of Metallica or just the experience of 632 big-league appearances, Wells has a system that works for him. By enjoying the experience and laughing at failure, he never plays tight.

Watching him pitch, it looks like he’s just lobbing the ball toward the plate. There’s not an iota of tension.

“You just play catch with your catcher,” Wells said. “Throw the ball to your spots. You just go out and have some fun and rely on your defense.”

It worked to near perfection Saturday, but Wells revealed he had a few “butterflies” before the game.

His thoughts turned to the fact that if he lost, it might be his last game. He has said this will be his last season, and he reiterated his retirement plans upon ensuring at least one October start.

But he offered a caveat.

“I’m graduating,” he said. “I’m like Junior Seau right now. But if they give you a stupid offer, how can you say no?”

That ultimate decision is for the winter. Up first is some October baseball. Then Wells plans his first visit to Africa. He’s going hunting.

Big game, of course.

Published in the North County Times on Oct. 1, 2006.