Under Bochy, camp loose and relaxed
New skipper getting to know his players, and vice versa
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- The widely held notion that Spring Training lasts too long won't receive Bruce Bochy's endorsement this year.Joining the San Francisco Giants after managing the San Diego Padres for 12 seasons, Bochy considers every minute precious as he begins immersing himself in a new organization. "I'll be honest -- I'm glad Spring Training is six or seven weeks long," said Bochy, 51. "It certainly gives me more time to get to know the players and, on their side, to get to know me." This much is evident through Saturday, two days before position players are due to report to camp and after only three pitchers-and-catchers workouts: Bochy maintains a focused yet forgiving atmosphere. Workouts have ended on schedule, which isn't always the case under an incoming manager or when an excess of pitchers clogs practice diamonds. Meanwhile, several players -- speaking privately to avoid offending former manager Felipe Alou, who remains a special assistant to general manager Brian Sabean -- said that they feel more relaxed than in recent years. "It's pretty early, but I definitely want these guys loose and relaxed," Bochy said. "The best way to play this game is to have the looseness and freedom it takes to show your talents. We're going to be demanding on keeping the bar high on how we do things and the fundamentals, but at the same time, we want these guys being the players they are." Bochy's experience as a fringe player has kept him cognizant of this. He caught professionally for 14 seasons, spending all or part of nine of them in the Majors. He hit .239 while appearing in just 358 big-league games during that span. "He remembers how hard the game was to play," said third-base coach Tim Flannery, who held that role under Bochy from 1996 to 2002, in San Diego. "That's what makes him such a great manager." Bochy seems more than capable of coping with the inevitable distractions once Barry Bonds arrives in camp. The carefree mood will change dramatically on Tuesday, when dozens of reporters are expected to invade Scottsdale Stadium to quiz Bonds about his pursuit of Hank Aaron's home-run record and his numerous off-field issues. "It's not going to be hard," Bochy said of dealing with the impending circus. "Sure, there's going to be Barry chasing a milestone, but we're hoping not to lose sight of what we're trying to do, and that's win ballgames."
Due to turn 43 on July 24 and playing on two troublesome knees, Bonds will need plenty of care. Bochy is prepared to provide that, having gained experience with aging superstars by managing Tony Gwynn at the end of his Hall of Fame career."I have to rely on the training staff here to see where we are with Barry, really, on a daily basis," he said. "I certainly don't want to overdo it with Barry. You get to a point of diminishing returns." Barry Zito's altered pitching delivery, which mushroomed into a national story, enabled Bochy to warm up for the Bonds fuss. Bochy has calmly repeated that the left-hander has the right to experiment as he sees fit, provided he doesn't endanger his $126 million arm. Asked whether he had urged Zito to revert to his customary form, which the pitcher did on Saturday, Bochy replied, "Absolutely not at all." Bochy has balanced command with delegation of duty. He has conducted many of the PFP (pitchers' fielding practice) drills, making them anything but routine with his mere presence. On Saturday, however, coaches assumed more of the load. And pitchers have sensed that pitching coach Dave Righetti is being given more autonomy. Said Flannery, "'Boch' comes from a military family, so he's a full chain-of-command guy. If you're in charge of baserunning and somebody messes up on the bases, he comes to you. Same way with pitching. Whatever you've been hired to do, that's what you're in charge of, and it's great. You feel responsibility and feel like you can say whatever you have to say to get things done, because you're going to have to answer to him in the end." Flannery added that Bochy approaches players in similar fashion. "He manages a lot when the games aren't going on," he said. "He manages in the backs of airplanes. He'll call guys in his office when he needs to talk to them and they will know, if they don't know already, that you don't mistake kindness for weakness." Bochy may not know it, but the National League West titles he won with the Padres in the previous two seasons already have given him a label among players. "He's a winner," left-hander Steve Kline said. "It's like taking a veteran off a World Series team. We took a manager off a team that's been in the playoffs the last two years."
Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.