Asked to offer an insight into the ways new Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon has connected with his team, shortstop Brad Miller revealed the kind of small acts that earn big points with players.
“It’s mostly how he treats us day to day, the little stuff,” Miller said. “At batting practice sometimes, he’ll come out and shag balls and say, ‘I’ll get these, go on in and get your rest.’ I’ve never seen that from a manager. That kind of thing speaks really loudly to us.”
In the list of great motivational tactics employed by team leaders, “Put your feet up, boys, I’ll take care of the housework” is not exactly, “Win one for the Gipper,” but it’s nonetheless an important symbol of McClendon’s concern for his guys.
The Mariners, one of the surprises in the major leagues over the first week, had their home opener at Safeco Field on Tuesday night.
Comments from the clubhouse suggest there’s a new attitude among this edition of the Mariners — looser, more collegial — and most cite McClendon’s influence.
“With a manager who does
that kind of stuff for you, it creates a kind of bonding,” Miller said.
McClendon’s been different from the start. Shortly after being hired in the fall, he started booking flights around the country to check in with his players, introduce himself, and see how their offseason work was progressing.
As the story is told, he was asked why he didn’t summon them to individually come to him. They were busy working out, he explained, and he wanted to keep the disruption to a minimum.
On the first day of spring training, McClendon jumped to the defense of new high-priced second baseman Robinson Cano, who had drawn critical commentary regarding his work ethic when with the Yankees.
“That was definitely something because Robbie is a big part of this team and (McClendon) stepping up like that showed he believes in us and doesn’t want to get pushed around by anybody,” Miller said.
Outfielder Michael Saunders echoed Miller’s thoughts about McClendon’s support.
“It’s clear that he has our back,” Saunders said. “If you know your management, coaching staff and front office have your back, there’s a trust there. When you know they’ll go to war for you, it makes it easier for us to go to war for them, too.”
While McClendon looks and sounds like one tough dude, that’s not the posture he assumes with his players.
“We feed off his attitude,” Saunders said. “He’s very relaxed. He wants us to have fun. He wants us to play hard, so he’s not going to get angry or scold us for making aggressive mistakes.”
That approach, Saunders and Miller both agreed, makes it fun to show up to the park every day.
“It’s nice knowing you can go out there play your game and he’ll be behind us 100 percent,” Saunders said. “It seems like we’re all playing loose and together and having fun, and we opened with a great road trip.”
They certainly did.
But McClendon is smart enough to back away from any great proclamations only a week into the season.
“I know where we are as a team,” he said. “I know the improvements we need to continue to make and I know the attitude of this team. I don’t know what the future’s gonna hold, but I know we’re going to show up every day and play good, hard, sound fundamental baseball.”
That’s pretty much all he can ask.
And it’s easier to get guys to put in the work toward those goals when they’ve got a connection to their manager.
Sometimes it’s standing up for a player in the media, or maybe just helping out with shagging balls after BP.
As Miller said, those are the things that speak loudly to the players.
And at least early in this new season, the players are listening.Dave Boling: 253-597-8440 email@example.com @DaveBoling