Chemistry class: New managers test for right mix amid virus

PITTSBURGH (AP) – Derek Shelton you need your freedom. Perhaps now more than ever. Fortunately for the Pittsburgh Pirates manager's first year, bank technician Donnie Kelly made a point of supplying it.

Every day, Kelly creates a meticulous schedule, designed to find a way for separate groups of players to work during the most unusual training ground in major league history. SheltonThe name is not on it. While Shelton jokes, it's because Kelly doesn't want him to "screw it up", the truth is SheltonKelly's omission is Kelly's way of doing her boss a favor.


Instead of being connected to being in a certain place at a certain time, Shelton instead, he can float from place to place as he tries to catch up with the kind of relationship building that should happen organically during the languid days of spring training.

When Major League Baseball closed for more than three months in mid-March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it forced Shelton and fellow novice managers to be creative when it comes to creating the necessary bonds to become something more than just a team in name.

It's a path David Ross of the Cubs, Luis Rojas, of the Mets, and Jayce Tingler, of the Padres, are trying to find out.


Shelton he would fail Zoom's weekly meetings with the initial rotation every Wednesday, laughing suggested that he do so to give him an excuse to stop teaching his daughter in fourth grade math. He played the base frequently on the phone. Still, it is not the same as being together physically. That's what it does SheltonInformal roaming is just as important, especially for a year like no other.

There is an ongoing struggle with the spread of the coronavirus, the heightened sensitivity to social justice after George Floyd's death while in police custody. And the ensuing current of an impending labor dispute between players and owners and a series of rule changes.


Navigating the way forward, given the current environment, is difficult enough for established managers, not to mention the guys who are still finding their feet on the new show. The decidedly easygoing, Shelton, a lover of 90s alternative rock, continues to focus on empathy.

"I just want to make sure that I am talking to them, I am aware of what they are going through" Shelton said. "It's not just baseball stuff, because we're dealing with so much more than baseball stuff right now. You want to make sure your families are okay. If your wives or kids are here, how do they feel. How are they coping? with testing. It's just general conversation, communication. But at least try to stay in front of everyone during the day. "

Tingler made a point of visiting as many San Diego players as possible during the off-season. The 39-year-old man got to exercise with the star Manny Machado, touching the tendon of the process. He had a break when many of the Fathers met informally before the season officially restarted.

"Being able to connect with people and see them work on a daily basis has been a blessing," said Tingler. "You usually go into the season and it's a whirlwind."

The whirlwind began in January for Rojas, who was abruptly promoted by New York less than a month before spring training began, after the Mets fired Carlos Beltran for his role in the Houston Astros robbery scandal. Although Rojas has a lot of institutional knowledge thanks to a long history of managing the team's agricultural system before joining the big league club last year as a quality control coach, the shift in responsibilities left him confused.

Rojas, 38, the youngest manager in the category, read a book by Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski to help him get ready. Your message to a team hoping to play this season? I'm here for you all the time.

"This is one of my great values ​​that I tell the boys: we need to communicate too much," said Rojas, who can always call his father – former player and coach Felipe Alou – for advice. “I mean, we call it that. Just to make sure that everyone knows what's going on and that everyone knows what their role is, how things are going and what to expect ".

Even though it is easier said than done during a period when players are required to comply with more than 100 pages of health protocol and spit out copious amounts of saliva into a tube every day as part of the COVID-19 test. Managers in 2020 meet in equal parts as an instructor, confidant and amateur medical professional. Oh, and they need to find a way to succeed in the field in the process.

If there is a saving grace for newcomers, it is that their more established brothers are facing some of the same concerns for the first time. Cleveland's Terry Francona may have two World Series rings at home and nearly two decades on the bench, but he doesn't have a manual on how to deal with the aftermath of a pandemic.

The same goes for several renowned managers in new places for the first time, with Joe Angdon of the Angels, Joe Girardi of the Phillies and Mike Matheny of the Royals among them.

"I think that every manager now has the same challenge, obviously, preparing the team and complying with the protocol, keeping everyone healthy is the number one priority," said Rojas.

Even so, the field of action is not quite balanced for all first year managers. Ross earned the nickname "Grandpa Rossy" for helping young Cubs win their first championship in 108 years in 2016. Much of the core of this team – third from base Kris Bryant and first head from base Anthony Rizzo – remains on the Northside, providing Ross with a lot of influence at the club when he became Chicago manager last October.

"Having a little experience just eliminates some of the relationship things you need to build when you don't know someone" Ross said. "Some of the guys I'm new to are checking out a little more, getting to know their personalities. I have to spend a little more time understanding how they think, their emotions when they're good (and) when they're bad and part of your story and talk to them before you give them some kind of difficult truths that you might want to give them. "

These hard truths will soon become evident. As the camp – even an unprecedented one like this – establishes itself at a familiar pace, a sense of normality is returning. The "culture" that each is trying to establish will follow, even if it is a little later than usual.

"To say that we would start on February 15th and the culture would be created or on May 1st this year, regardless of whether we play or on July 3rd, there would be a culture that we wanted (not true)," Shelton said. "It is something that will continue to grow, but I am very happy with the foundation that we are starting to build".


AP Sports writers Mike Fitzpatrick, Andrew Seligman and Bernie Wilson contributed to this report.


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