In the middle of the
There was no pool table when the Mariners opened camp in February. How it got there provides some insight into the new manager who, like the ancient Chinese practice, is trying to bring some positive energy to a franchise that has had two winning seasons in 12 years and earned the label of one of baseball's biggest underachievers.
Scott Servais, Seattle's eighth full-time manager since 2004, arrived from the
But the former catcher played 11 seasons in the big leagues and has been around enough successful organizations to know the importance of team-building, especially for a Seattle club that, after new General Manager
Each day early in camp, Servais had players stand up during the morning meeting to discuss their backgrounds and hobbies, how they got to the big leagues, who their heroes are, what difficulties they overcame.
"It beats the heck out of a 'Hello-My-Name-Is' tag," Dipoto said.
When it was reliever Tony Zych's turn, he said he liked to play pool. Servais asked the right-hander if he was any good. Yes, Zych said. Prove it, Servais said, ordering Zych to have a pool table in the clubhouse the next day. Second baseman
The next day, Servais and Zych squared off. Servais sank his first shot and missed his next. Zych, clearly a pool shark, ran the table, much to the delight of the team.
Comedian Domingo Ayala spent a day in camp, delivering one-liners and laughs. Pitcher
When Cano's team beat Cruz's team in a situational-hitting contest, Cruz had to buy steak and shrimp — for everyone in the Mariners complex.
"We never did this kind of stuff last year; it was nonexistent," third baseman
People who believe players and teams are best measured by numbers wouldn't think a cohesive clubhouse would have much effect on the field. People who play the game believe otherwise.
"I think team chemistry is one of the most overlooked things in sports," said Mariners catcher
Servais said he has focused "about 95%" of his time this spring on team-building with the goal of "developing equity and trust with players."
How is that done?
"It takes time," Servais said. "They have to know you care about them, more than just what they do on the field. You have to get to know their families, where they came from. Players don't care what you know until they know how much you care."
Setting a positive tone is relatively easy in
"I'm going to do the same thing when we lose six straight that I'm doing when we win six straight — I'm going to be myself," Servais said. "We're going to have fun in the clubhouse, we're going to continue to talk to players, let them know where they stand."
Dipoto, the former Angels GM, knows there is an inherent risk in hiring a manager with no game-guiding experience, acknowledging that he is "putting his neck on the line" with the decision.
"That's the idea," Dipoto said, "that you're in it together."
That wasn't the case with his manager in Anaheim, where Dipoto clashed with Mike Scioscia, often over how statistical information was being used in the dugout, and resigned in July in the wake of renewed friction.
Dipoto and Servais have a deeper history. They were teammates at Colorado in 2000 and worked in the
"I've known him for 20 years," Dipoto said. "I know what he's about."
The success of other first-time manager hires — Mike Matheny with St. Louis, Brad Ausmus in his first year with Detroit, A.J. Hinch in his first try with Houston after a stint with Arizona — helped pave the way for Servais.
"So often in the past, you had to earn your stripes, go through the minor leagues or coach at every level," Dipoto said. "Scott has been in baseball for almost 30 years. He's been a farm director, managed people, caught in the league for 11 years, and I think he did those things exceptionally well. You can take a nontraditional route and still do a fantastic job."
Servais has plenty of talent to work with.
Seattle ranked 22nd in the major leagues with a .311 on-base percentage last season and was 21st in scoring despite ranking fifth in home runs. But Aoki has a track record of getting on base and adds speed ahead of the potent middle-of-the-order trio of Seager, Cano and Cruz.
New first baseman
"If you look at the roster, it's a lot more athletic," Seager said. "Scott talks a lot about controlling the strike zone, not going up there and whaling away and trying to hit home runs."
With Houston and Texas expected to battle for the