For a player who received a lot of bad publicity and criticism over the last six months, Manny Machado has looked like anything but a villain in his first month with the Padres.
“The worst of our faults is our interest in other people’s faults.” -Imam Ali
If you examine anyone close enough, especially if you are already looking for it, you will always find a crack in the armor.
When Manny Machado signed with the Padres, his talent and ability on the baseball field were not in question. He is one of the most talented players in all of baseball. What was in question was his character, his ability to be a solution and not a problem in the clubhouse and his leadership.
Allow me to paint the picture of Manny Machado, the Padre.
Granted, this is strictly based on observations I have made watching games on TV, reading interviews, and watching him in person during the two games the Friars just wrapped up in Seattle.
During those exhibition games against the Mariners, I watched Machado just about the entire time. Whether it was each pitch of his at-bats or on defense at third base, or in the dugout with the guys, I watched him like a hawk.
What I saw was anything but a villain.
Fernando Tatis did not start the second game against the Mariners and was in the dugout for the majority of the game before being subbed in late. Every time Machado came off the field, Tatis and Machado would find each other. You would think these are two high school buddies who have known each other for years. Tatis was attached to Machado at the hip, talking baseball, cracking jokes and just being in the moment, having a good time.
Tatis looks up to Machado and heaven forbid if Tatis ends up playing like Manny, you know, with four All-Star appearances and two Gold Gloves. Machado seems to have taken Tatis under his wing like Padres fans had hoped he would do the minute he signed. Perhaps Machado is one of the reasons why Tatis will be in San Diego for Opening Day instead of El Paso.
It doesn’t stop there, because the connection between Tatis and Machado came long before Machado was a Padre. Franmil Reyes also seems to have hit it off with Manny. The Padres dugout was down the third base line at T-Mobile Park in Seattle and several times, as Machado manned third base, Reyes would shout things out from the dugout (as he was that game’s DH and not in the field), making Machado chuckle between pitches. They gave each other hand signals and had “inside jokes” they laughed about throughout the game. Reyes gave Machado “the business” on several occasions, all in good fun.
Young, inexperienced players like Tatis and Reyes feel comfortable enough with Machado do act this way that can only be done genuinely. You cannot fake the kind of smiles and laughter that occurred between the three of them.
Some people think Manny Machado is standoffish to fans and players that would not usually be in his inner circle like Tatis and Reyes might be. It is likely more natural for the Latin American players to bond with and approach Machado.
Chris Paddack, a scruffy Texas native, was sitting on a bench by the railing by himself in the middle of Tuesday’s game, likely pondering his impending debut on Sunday at Petco Park. Machado came by, sat down next to him and put his arm over Paddack’s shoulder. They stayed like that for several minutes, talking and smiling. It was a different side of Machado than the one joking around with Tatis and Reyes. This time he was a bit more serious, yet still charismatic and even *gasp,* kind?
Towards the end of the game, Eric Hosmer and Machado sat together for a long time, talking baseball and, judging by the body language and laughs, other things as well. These are the two leaders of this clubhouse now, with $444 million combined devoted to them and 15 years of experience between them. It can only be a good sign that they seem to enjoy each other’s company.
Machado aside, just looking around the dugout and eavesdropping on some conversations, the 2019 San Diego Padres like each other. With Machado, that seems enhanced, not diminished. I saw Latin American and U.S.-native ballplayers rooting for each other, laughing and talking ball together.
— Nick Lee (@NickLee51) March 26, 2019
There has been zero evidence whatsoever to suggest that Machado is anything but a charismatic presence in the clubhouse and someone willing to lead this young group.
In a recent article on The Athletic by Ken Rosenthal, one of Machado’s former teammates Ryan Flaherty said:
“Manny is honestly one of the better teammates I’ve ever had…People can say what they want about the guy, but he cared. I knew when I was hitting Manny cared how I was doing. That goes a long way.”
Machado mentioned his relationship with Tatis:
“You’ve got to let the players play. Let them be free…I’m not going to come here and be like, ‘Tatis, you need to do it this way. You do need to do it that way.’ No. He’s an expert. He’s good at his job. He’s the No. 1 prospect for a reason.”
Luis Urias, who had a tough spring, hit a home run on Tuesday and one of the most excited players in the dugout was Machado, who met him enthusiastically after his triumphant return from rounding the bases. You can tell everyone was rooting for Urias to succeed, perhaps none more than Machado.
Not once the entire game was Machado sitting by himself. Not once did he disappear into the clubhouse, waiting impatiently for the game to end so they could catch their flight to San Diego. He was engaged and always with two or three players around him, hanging on his every word.
Machado seems up to the task of leading this young core into the future, a future that Padres fans have never experienced before.
Then there’s the complaint about his dealings with fans. Allow me to debunk this too.
He does stuff like this all the time. Signed more autographs and took more pictures with fans than anyone else on the Orioles. https://t.co/WC3Lj5EnX0
— Tom Lathroum (@TL8throum) March 27, 2019
— Russell Hartness (@RussellHartness) March 26, 2019
His reputation in Baltimore was that he was always generous with his time for autographs and fan interactions.
I saw something on Tuesday that only confirmed this reputation. A young fan, about 12 years old, was sitting close to me, near the Padres dugout. He and Machado met eyes, and the kid complemented Machado on his Oakley sunglasses.
An inning or so later, Machado took the time to find this same young fan in the stands and motioned for him to meet him at the end of the dugout, where there was an opening in the netting. The young fan came back to his seat, beaming ear to ear, holding one of Machado’s bats he had just finished using. For a simple complement by a kid, Machado took the time to make this fan’s day and likely much more. I looked over at this fan several times afterward and every time, he was clutching the bat like it was a teddy bear, just beaming. The young fan’s dad said, pointing to Machado, “that’s how you change an image.”