Hey, baseball fans: Pitchers and catchers report Feb. 18, and the waiting is the hardest part--trust us, we know. So to help tide you over, we sat down with Buck Showalter, renowned manager of the Baltimore Orioles, as he prepares for Spring Training in Sarasota.
What can we look forward to this season?
“Oh, I don’t know. You tell me. Wish I knew. I know we’ll be as good as we’re capable of being. My curiosity is like everybody else’s. I’m not one of those guys that needs to know about something before it happens. Life doesn’t work that way. Our biggest difference between 2014 and 2015 was our starting pitching. We actually scored more runs without [Nick] Markakis and [Nelson] Cruz [who left after the 2014 season]. We caught the ball well again [last year], just inconsistent starting pitching. If we can pitch better than that, we’ll have some fun this summer.”
How would you describe the team’s style of play?
Our style of play is according to our players. I don’t ask them to adjust to me. Take a guy that can’t run, I don’t tell him all of a sudden I want you to steal bases. You adjust to them.
Outs are precious. There are certainly absolutes for us. You know, you gotta catch the baseball. Making the average play is not good enough anymore, unless you carry a lot of bat. I don’t want one of those guys that drives in one and lets in two. That math don’t work too good. And pitchers gotta throw it over the plate. Make people earn things. Keep the ball in the park. Catch it when you’re supposed to catch it and you’ll be in most of the games.
We have to know who we are and who we’re not.
More importantly, quit talking about it and show somebody.
How do you survive the long season?
That’s what people miss. I chuckle when I hear a football coach say, ‘Geez, we really didn’t seem ready to play this week.’ You play once a week. We play seven days a week from, you know, March till sometime at the end of October. It’s a different sport, it’s a grind sport. It takes a lot of discipline on and off the field in order to get through a season. I’ve done it for 30 years and it’s still a challenge. And I have to get ready, physically, mentally and emotionally, just like the players. We feed off each other.
Players, we basically pick their friends for them for six months. The last thing I tell them [at the end of the season], is, ‘ I want you as far away as you can get.’ That’s why these travel squads, amateur baseball teams are so bad—see so many Tommy John’s [elbow surgeries] kids 14, 15 years old, from playing baseball year-round. We don’t even do that with professional athletes. Most of the bios of the players up here are multi-sport athletes. Be well-rounded. Our guys, I want them to get as far away as they can. Helps them keep a grip on reality throughout the season.
When are you happiest as a manager?
Well, when we’re the last team standing. We’ve gotten close.
I think you get real joy from seeing guys improve and seeing things come to fruition. It’s so much a longer period [of development]. In the minor leagues and in amateur ball, you could get things in a day or two. Here there’s a process you can’t cheat. These are the best 600 players in the world. They all have some ability, it’s just that the separator is so fine. And you try from my standpoint help them keep from stepping on their tail, give them some shortcuts. Some things they just have to experience on their own. When it gets to a point, they’re going to have to fail a little bit, and that’s painful.
What do you think of Sarasota?
People talk about the beaches, but I get up in the dark and I go home in the dark, I don’t see the water. I don’t eat out—I eat here [in the clubhouse] at about 4 or 5 o’clock after everybody’s left. And I go home and go to bed. I hear it’s a great city.
I do think Sarasota’s been a great fit [for the team]. It’s Baltimore south. That’s why that field out there says Camden Yard South.