Brad Ausmus climbed the steps that lead into the Angels’ dugout Thursday afternoon, heading toward the field to observe batting practice, and then came to an abrupt stop.
In the dugout, an array of TV cameras and microphones and recorders were set up and awaiting his arrival, eager to capture the image and first words of the Angels’ manager before the team’s home opener. Ausmus seemed surprised at the size of the crowd. Or that it was there at all. Yes, he was told, you’re supposed to go there. He glanced at the group and turned away.
“I just put gum in,” he said, before politely disposing of it and making his way to the seat that had been saved for him in the center of the throng.
Ausmus made his debut as the team’s manager last week, but Thursday was his first game on the job at Angel Stadium. It was a significant moment. A strange moment too.
Before Thursday, the last time the Angels had played a home opener with someone other than Mike Scioscia as their manager was on April 6, 1999, when Terry Collins was in charge for a 6-5 victory over the Cleveland Indians.
Collins didn’t finish that season, tearfully resigning by “mutual agreement” with then-general manager Bill Bavasi on Sept. 2 after bickering players mutinied and everything spiraled out of control. Bench coach Joe Maddon finished what was a 70-92 season. Two months later. Bavasi was replaced by Bill Stoneman, who hired Scioscia. The rest was history — and 19 seasons of stability in the manager’s seat — until Scioscia announced at the end of last season that he would not return.
It was time, both for him and for the Angels. They had grown stale. The moment was right for a new face, a new voice. But it was still jarring to see someone else in the middle of that media scrum on Thursday, someone else introduced as the Angels’ manager during the pregame ceremony.
“I’ve been here for a long time. I’ve had one manager,” said right fielder Kole Calhoun, who is in his eighth season in Anaheim. “Definitely different.
“Is that a bad thing? Is that a good thing? I don’t really know the answer to that, honestly, so far,” Calhoun said before his first-inning home run accounted for the Angels’ first run in their 11-4 loss to the Texas Rangers on a chilly April evening. “But I know I like him as a guy and so far he’s letting us play free, and that’s all you could really ask for in a manager.”
It’s difficult to tell what kind of manager Ausmus will be. Thursday’s game was only the seventh of 162, and it’s too early for any patterns to have emerged on how he will handle various situations. And the Angels haven’t gotten enough runners on base to gauge whether he will want runners to be aggressive. It doesn’t help that they’ve lost Justin Upton (toe) and Shohei Ohtani (Tommy John surgery) to injuries.
At the news conference last October when Ausmus was introduced as the manager, he spoke of making sure his team plays the right way and said, “I’m not here to be Mike Scioscia.” That’s fine. But who is he as a manager?
“I don’t know, to be honest,” second baseman Tommy La Stella said. “I know the guy knows a great deal about the game, obviously. He’s very well respected around baseball. But as far as managerial style, it would be tough for me to say. It’s only been a couple of days and it’s tough to get an idea in spring training.”
Calhoun’s initial impressions of Ausmus’ personality are favorable. “He’s a good guy. A guy you like to play for. A players’ manager, I guess you could say,” Calhoun said. “It’s been fun playing for him. We’re starting off kind of not on the foot we would have loved to, but there’s really no panic in him. He understands the grind of a season and that we’ve got  left and a lot of the year in front of us and so there’s really no panic in him so far. So it’s definitely nice from a players’ perspective, because it could be the other way.”
Where Scioscia was outgoing and chatty, Ausmus seems reserved. That’s not good or bad, just different. “This guy played the game for almost 20 years. He understands changes in the game. He understands data in the game. He understands the modern-type player. But he’s not a stranger to his gut feelings, which I respect a lot,” said former major league infielder Jose Mota, an analyst on Fox Sports West’s pre- and postgame shows. “I got a sense of that in spring training that he goes with his gut. He knows what the new trend is but he also has a sense of what’s better for the team at that time and what’s better for a player. It’s not too early to tell.”
Ausmus was calm before his home debut. He said he did a lot of work on Wednesday, a day off, and arrived at Angel Stadium around lunchtime. “I’ve been kind of crossing my Ts and dotting my I’s and getting ready,” he said.