Ron Roenicke keeps a low profile while guiding the pennant-seeking Brewers
Ron Roenicke often stands a foot or two behind the dugout steps during a game, the first-year manager of the Milwaukee Brewers staying out of the spotlight as he calls the shots.
Roenicke keeps a similar modest profile when he ventures out in this city that’s buzzing with pennant fever because the Roenicke-led Brewers are one of baseball’s hottest teams.
“Hey, congratulations,” people who stop him say. Roenicke’s polite reply: “We’ve got a long way to go.”
It’s an attitude he learned from his former boss, Angels Manager Mike Scioscia.
Before taking the helm of the Brewers, his first job as a manager, Roenicke was an Angels coach for 11 years.
Before that, many of Roenicke’s years in professional baseball were spent as a player, minor league manager and coach in the Dodgers organization.
The Covina native, who turns 55 Friday, now guides a Brewers team that’s surging.
Milwaukee is 73-51 and has won 19 of 21 games —- including wins over the Dodgers on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday — to take a seven-game lead over the second-place St. Louis Cardinals in the National League Central.
The Brewers have been especially tough at Miller Park, with a record of 47-15. The team has a strong starting pitching rotation that includes Zack Greinke, Shaun Marcum and veteran Randy Wolf, and offensive power with All-Stars Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder.
As a result, Roenicke (pronounced REN-eh-kee) is a leading candidate for NL manager of the year along with two other former Dodgers, Kirk Gibson of the Arizona Diamondbacks and Charlie Manuel of the Philadelphia Phillies.
Roenicke also is the latest graduate of Scioscia’s staff to enjoy success. San Diego Padres Manager Bud Black was the NL manager of the year in 2010 after the team finished a close second in the NL West, and Joe Maddon and his Tampa Bay Rays won the American League pennant in 2008.
“I learned under [Scioscia] it’s just a game at a time,” Roenicke said. “When you’re going good, you keep it going as long as you can, but don’t worry about the next series. That’s really helped me.
“Honestly — and you guys think I’m kidding — but there are some times I have no idea who we’re playing in the next series. It’s better that way.”
Scioscia said “it’s not a fluke” that the Brewers are playing well because Roenicke “brought them together.”
As manager, “your success rate is going to be contingent on your talent, and I think Ron is a great evaluator, great communicator and he’s a great teacher,” Scioscia said.
With the Brewers’ success, Roenicke is the toast of the town. But he’ll mostly stay out of public view, his players said.
“He’s pretty quiet and I don’t think he’s seeking out the spotlight in that regard because that’s just who he is,” veteran Brewers infielder Craig Counsell said. “He’s a baseball guy. He loves being in the dugout in the game and running the show.”
Milwaukee got off to a mediocre start — the Brewers were 51/2 games out of first place in early May — before hitting stride.
“There were times where he was like, ‘What’s going on?’ ” Wolf said. “I could see he was frustrated. But he never panicked; he never lost it.”
Wolf said Roenicke made it clear in spring training that the Brewers “were here not to compete, but to win,” and that Roenicke preached being aggressive “on the field, on the bases, [on] defense, at the plate.”
“He set the tone early that he doesn’t care if we get thrown out going for that extra base as long as you’re trying to take that extra base,” Wolf said.
It also didn’t hurt that Milwaukee obtained Greinke and Marcum in the off-season, “which was icing on the cake,” Wolf said. “Those are two acquisitions that make [Roenicke’s] job a lot easier.”
Roenicke said he stresses that his players can make mistakes “without looking over your shoulder wondering what [management is] saying. You’re more relaxed and more confident when you make a play instead of worrying.”
There will be enough to worry about as Milwaukee tries to stay ahead of the Cardinals, and the teams play each other six more times this season.
In the meantime, “People say, ‘Are you having fun?’ ” Roenicke said. “I would say I’m enjoying it. I enjoy the challenge. There’s a lot going on.”
Times staff writer Mike DiGiovanna contributed to this report.
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