Through neighborhoods gritty and grand, Bob Geren pedals to work.
That’s not so unusual these days, this being L.A. and all, where traffic snails at the pace of Pedro Baez. What makes Geren’s commute unusual is that his office is Dodger Stadium. And that his desk is 330 feet down the lines.
The team’s bench coach bikes to almost every home game, artfully dodging – as per his company’s tradition – potholes, broken glass, texting motorists and the other pitfalls of an urban commute.
His route takes him from the Pasadena theater district, to Los Robles, then down through South Pasadena and to the Arroyo Seco bike path. From there, he takes Griffin Avenue. He crosses Avenue 43, enters Chinatown and takes the pedestrian bridge over the 110 to Elysian Park, which cradles the stadium.
“I feel great when I get here,” he says of the 15-mile ride, which takes him about an hour.
He has never been clipped by a car, and only once has suffered a flat tire. In 10 minutes, he had repaired the flat and was back on the road.
After the blowout, the avid cyclist switched to a heavier bike, with thicker tires less likely to succumb to the pinpricks of a city roadway.
For 7 p.m. games, he likes to arrive by noon, which makes for some short nights and quick mornings.
Like baseball itself, his ride can be a grind, especially on hot days. Doesn’t help that the last leg is uphill, O’Malley’s Mansion rising like Xanadu above the Sunset gate.
The sun is high when he arrives, the clouds usually burned away. On legs still recovering from the rigors of a catching career, he huffs, he puffs, he stands to pedal. Ooooch.
Once in the clubhouse, he showers, then goes through a pregame routine that includes chatting with players about how they’re feeling.
“I try to get a pulse of what’s going on,” the San Diego native says.
As bench coach, he is the manager’s right-hand man, helping with lineups, substitutions, anticipating not just the next play, but two or three plays ahead ... even two or three innings ahead.
Since coming aboard this year, Geren has quickly established himself as a sturdy presence, and Manager Dave Roberts praises Geren’s insights, the help he gives, the calming influence, his experience.
“Bob doesn’t just coach the players, he coaches the coaches,” Roberts says of his top assistant.
During games, Roberts will bounce his options off Geren: bunts, pitchouts, steals.
“Late in a game,” Geren says, “I might look out and say ‘do you want to play the line here?’ You want infielders in, or infielders deep? Do you want the pitcher to throw over?’”
They are the sorts of skills honed as manager of the Oakland Athletics for four-plus years, then as New York Mets bench coach for four more.
The biking came about after two knee replacements, following a five-year MLB career. With the Mets last year, he rode a stationary bike each day at the stadium, to keep the knees limber and strong.
That led to his unusual commute with the Dodgers. He found an app that showed the best route from Pasadena to the ballyard. He was soon hooked.
After games, his wife, Pam, meets him and they load the bike on their SUV for the 20-minute ride home.
Riding makes economic sense — he’s able to save gas and get by with one car.
Even more important, it gives Geren time to ponder the game ahead, to think clearly and creatively about the injuries, slumps, hot streaks, snitty fits, hubris, fatigue, frustrations and jet lag that bedevil a baseball team over the course of sports’ longest season.
Geren was interviewed for the Dodgers’ top job before Roberts was selected, then heard about the bench opening. With family still in California, and a mother about to turn 90, Geren concluded it sounded like a fine fit.
And it is.
“I’ve never been happier in my baseball career,” he says. “It’s because of the person Dave Roberts is.”
Geren admits to wanting to manage again. At 54, he is probably an ideal mix of experience and vigor, and entering what has become a prime age for managing. (Joe Maddon is 62; last year’s World Series managers were 61 and 66.)
If the Dodgers continue their winning climb, he’ll probably get another shot, leaving a sizeable hole for the team eventually to fill.
Till then, the long-distance Dodger will keep pedaling, past the traffic that sometimes rushes a little too close, over the crinkled concrete that rattles his knees, to his outdoor office on the hill.
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