John McGrath

John McGrath: New Seattle Mariners manager Scott Servais likes to combine his strikes with hikes

Scott Servais, right, is introduced as the new manager of the Seattle Mariners by general manager Jerry Dipoto, left, on Oct. 26 in Seattle
Scott Servais, right, is introduced as the new manager of the Seattle Mariners by general manager Jerry Dipoto, left, on Oct. 26 in Seattle The Associated Press

A few minutes after stressing how candor will be an essential communication tool in his new job as Seattle Mariners manager, Scott Servais chose not to deny a rumor that had the potential to fester as a dirty little secret.

“I am a shareholder,” he admitted, “for the Green Bay Packers.”

Servais grew up in the western Wisconsin village of Coon Valley — population: 500 — where backing the Packers is as popular a cold-weather recreation as ice fishing. But Servais’ interest in football goes well beyond zealous fandom.

“I look at myself as a football coach in a baseball uniform,” Servais said during his introductory press conference Monday at Safeco Field. “I’ve used that line before and I’ve gotten some weird looks. What I mean 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.”

While it’s reasonable to assume spring training will remain free of the air horns, whistles and hip-hop music blaring at Seahawks practices, Servais is serious about cross-pollinating some aspects of football with baseball.

“In football,” he said, “the game is won at the line of scrimmage. Where is the line of scrimmage in baseball? The line of scrimmage in baseball is the strike zone. You have to control the strike zone, whether you’re on the mound or in the batter’s box. Controlling the strike zone means swinging at good pitches, getting deep in counts and walking maybe a little bit more.

“On the flip side, controlling the strike zone means keeping the pitch count down, getting deeper into games and having a chance to win games as the starting pitcher. That’s where it counts: in the strike zone.”

In a broader sense, Servais believes that championships in both sports are a product of an environment where great expectations are tangible.

“I go back to what Bill Walsh and other successful coaches have done and how they’ve done it,” Servais went on. “I’ve already started developing a relationship here with some of the Seahawks people and have very strong relationships with what goes on in Green Bay. They have a culture. Right or wrong, they have a culture.

“Pete Carroll has done a fantastic job here building the same thing. That’s why they’re going to sustain success. It’s going to happen over and over and over. There’s a certain way they do it. It’s what happens in New England and what happens with the St. Louis Cardinals. The players come, they know what the expectations are and they perform right away. Other organizations don’t quite have that. Getting to that place takes some time, no doubt, but it really comes down to trust in people. That’s definitely something we can do.”

Football fascinates Servais, but make no mistake: His heart belongs to baseball, thanks to some family ties. One uncle, Ed Servais, served as head baseball coach at Creighton University — Servais’ alma mater — and another uncle, Mark Servais, is a veteran scout working for the Chicago Cubs.

During an 11-year, big league career as a catcher, Servais had a yearning to manage that never quite turned into a burning because of commitments on the home front. But now that his three kids are grown, the longtime front-office executive can’t wait to return to the dugout.

Servais noted two ex-skippers he regards as influential — Jim Riggleman (Cubs) and Dusty Baker (San Francisco Giants) — along with Clint Hurdle, a Colorado Rockies coach eventually promoted to manager. From afar, he admired Atlanta Braves Hall of Famer Bobby Cox, another former player whose ascent to manager included a detour through the front office.

As Servais saw it, Cox mastered the task of assimilating the poise and wherewithal he got from older players with the energy and enthusiasm offered by younger players. Surviving a 162-game regular season requires an equal measure of both.

And yet, the more Servais talks about baseball, the more football rears its helmet.

“I’m not gonna lie,” he said. “I want to see how the Seahawks do some things. I’ve already contacted those people and am looking forward to it. I’m willing to try things. I’m not about ‘I’ve got all the answers.’ I don’t. But they’re out there.”

Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto, who became a close friend of Servais’ while they were on the disabled list and dealing with sunset-of-career issues in Colorado, knows all about the new manager’s football-coach-in-a-baseball-uniform mentality.

“What Scott means, in that regard, is that he’s detailed, he’s disciplined and he’s organized,” Dipoto said. “The one thing I can say about Scott is that more than any baseball person I’ve been around, he loves to practice. That’s something more associated with football rather than baseball.

“He loves to practice.”

Servais cut to the chase.

“I wish we started tomorrow,” he said. “I’m ready to roll.”

john.mcgrath@thenewstribune.com

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