It all starts Saturday for Scott Servais, the opportunity to take the field as a big-league manager after years of wondering whether he’d ever get the chance.
The Mariners commence official spring drills for the 28 pitchers and seven catchers on their camp roster at 8:40 a.m. (PST) at the Peoria Sports Complex. The first full-squad workout for all 58 players is Feb. 25.
And Servias, at 48, is promising a camp routine far different from the norm.
“I look at myself as a football coach in a baseball uniform,” he said. “I used that line in the (job) interviews, and I got some weird looks.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The News Tribune
“What I meant by that is I think football coaches are the most prepared and detailed of any of the coaches because they practice so much. They have to be.”
At least initially, Servais plans to hold lots of meetings.
“There’ll be more talks — what I call a chalk-talk session — because we have so many new players and staff,” he said. “We need to get them in a room and use the technology that we have, whether it’s a video or just getting up and diagramming plays.”
Yep … diagramming plays. Catchers have a 15-minute “chalk talk” scheduled Saturday before heading to the field; the pitchers are slotted for a 30-minute session.
“I said it when I took the job that I love football, and that’s what they do in football.,” Servais noted. “They break it down because they practice all the time. The attention to the detail is where we’re headed here.
“We will be prepared to play. What the results are going to be … I don’t know. But I like our team, and I can say that we’ll be prepared every day.”
Hiring Servais to replace manager Lloyd McClendon might be general manager Jerry Dipoto’s biggest offseason gamble. Servais spent most of his post-playing career in a series of front-office positions with Texas and the Los Angeles Angels.
While Servais played 11 years as a big-league catcher with four clubs from 1991-2001, he has never been a full-time manager or coach in the major or minor leagues.
That didn’t bother Dipoto.
“What Scott has done throughout the course of his career is wear many hats,” he said. “I think he’s worn each one of them well. What he’s been doing is preparing to wear the hat that he gets to wear today.
“He has managed people. He has managed players. He has managed situations.”
Now he gets to manage the Mariners.
“I think, when you look at the game and how the game’s evolved, it is about managing people and creating an environment that they feel good about coming to work every day and a certain culture along with that,” Servais said.
“That’s what I think I can bring to the Mariners. It’s about the players and putting them in a position to win. It’s been a different path that I’ve taken to get here. I feel fortunate, and I’m really excited about getting started.”
The Mariners sought to ease Servais’ transition to on-field duties by hiring a staff heavy with experience.
Third-base coach Manny Acta managed previously at Washington and Cleveland. Bench coach Tim Bogar served as an interim manager in 2014 at Texas, has six years of big-league experience as a coach and five as a minor-league manager.
Pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre, Jr., previously held that position for nearly two years at Arizona. Hitting coach Edgar Martinez, a franchise legend, drew high marks last season from players after replacing Howard Johnson.
“I’m smart enough to know what I don’t know,” Servais said. “I’ll lean on the coaching staff. Those guys are really going to have a voice. What I do know is dealing with players and how to connect with them.
“The key is to get players to trust you, and it takes time to build trust. It will take time here, too.”
Accompanying that trust, Servais said, is a need to change the organization’s culture, a process that is already under way but one that will accelerate now that the big-league club is back in uniform.
“This is going to be much different than what we’ve seen in other camps,” he vowed, “and there’s a reason. We’re trying to get a different result. I think if you want to get a different result, you’ve got to do something different.
“I know it’s a pet peeve of mine when I hear somebody say, ‘Well, we don’t do that here. We’ve never done that before. We do it this way.’
“You’ve got to be open to change. Change is uncomfortable, you’re not used to it, but if you’re talking about changing the culture, you’ve got to do something different.”
Expect a lot of team-building exercises.
“We’ll have a few more team meetings,” Servais confirmed, “getting together as a group regularly, and that’s not so much to talk a lot of baseball. It’s to get to know each other.
“We have to create a family-type atmosphere around our team, and to do that, you’ve got to get to know about each other, where we come from and how they’re wired.”
If that sounds like Winger, Ziskey and the rest of the “Stripes” platoon circled around Sgt. Hulka in the barracks at boot camp ... well, maybe it’s not too dissimilar.
“First thing is to let the players know how much I care about them as people,” Servais said. “Got to earn their trust. I’ve got to build equity with them, otherwise they’re not going to really buy in to what we’re doing.”
Servais acknowledges it could be a challenge to sell his new approach to a club dominated by veteran players — six of the Mariners’ nine projected starters are older than 30. His experience in player development only helps so much.
“It’s different dealing with 18-, 19-year-olds, even a 21-year-old college guy who just put a Mariners uniform on for the first time,” Servais said, “versus a seasoned veteran, major-league player. You’ve got to earn their trust.
“So the big thing is to connect with them, get to know more about them, and along the way start putting our system in place — our system being how we want to play, how we want to practice, and the detail that’s going to go into that.
“That’s really what’s going to be the focus the first couple weeks, and once you get into the games, you see how guys react, get a feel for what they can do on the field.
“We have a lot of new players here, and I’m new at this as well, so there’s definitely a lot to look forward to, and to get on top of, in spring training.”
Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners