With expectations high for the season ahead, Padres’ manager Jayce Tingler is putting a premium on getting the little things right.
The words cut through a brisk Arizona morning, the message coarse, but delivered in a measured, restrained tone. Instructing nearly the entirety of the Padres’ major-league position-player roster on base running, first-year San Diego manager Jayce Tingler had his team’s attention.
“My pet peeve…I hate (expletive) (expletive) (expletive) when guys go to the backside (of first base),” Tingler told his players on a backfield in Peoria, referring to his preferred (and not preferred) technique of getting back on a pickoff attempt.
He then elaborated, telling his squad how he would like to see it done, even down to the most minute of details, before each of them — veterans and star players alike — ran through the drill themselves.
A good example as any of the energy, intensity, and attention to detail Tingler has brought to the Padres as their new manager.
— James E. Clark 3 (@EVT_JClark) February 26, 2020
“I’m just trying to be myself and who I am,” Tingler said of his managerial style on Wednesday. “And if that comes off (as energetic and intense), so be it. But I just want to make sure that I’m being true to who I am.”
In late February, it’s hard to evaluate the impact of any team’s new manager. Judgements far and wide from fans and ownership alike will likely come this summer as the team navigates what could shape up to be a watershed season for the franchise. But if early accounts are any indication, the 39-year-old is off to a good start, at least in terms of connecting with his team.
“Really intense, really, focused, really driven to win,” newly acquired outfielder Trent Grisham said regarding Tingler’s presence thus far. “(He has) a lot of feel as a manager, so I like it so far.”
Second baseman/utility player Ty France shared Grisham’s sentiment.
“Having Jayce as a leader, so far, it feels like he’s here for us, and he’s ready to run through a wall for us,” France said. “It motivates us. It fires us up. He’s made it very clear that we’re here to work this year.”
That work France mentioned has ranged from the typical spring training routines to time spent on the more nuanced parts of the game, perhaps a departure from what spring training had consisted of for San Diego in past seasons.
“I think there’s a lot more intent and focus behind (taking care of the little things),” France said when asked to compare last year’s Padres camp to his current one. “They’re really harping on that this year, doing it with intent and purpose. I definitely think it’s making a difference.”
It’s this focus on little things, executing in even the smallest aspects of the game that has seemingly characterized Padres camp so far. On a small backfield designed for infield practice, new coach Bobbie Dickerson spent a significant amount of time beating ground balls at first baseman Eric Hosmer. The first baseman recorded a career-high amount of errors and a career-low fielding percentage last season, drilling him on his technique as he picked short hops out of the dirt. With a distinctive southern twang, Dickerson offered well-intentioned scorn when Hosmer failed, and high praise when he succeeded (which was most of the time).
On the other corner of the diamond minutes earlier, Dickerson coached up superstar third baseman Manny Machado, imploring him to charge the baseball when in-between hops were hit directly at him. When Machado playfully rebuked his demands, Dickerson doubled down, hitting ground ball after ground ball until the Platinum-Glover had gotten it down.
And when the drills had concluded and the infield had emptied, a trio of men remained on the grass surrounding the field: Machado, the ever-present Tingler, and another player, sitting on the ground as they talked for more than half an hour, presumably about the lesson that had been at hand earlier, though the true context of the conversation is anyone’s guess.
San Diego associate manager Skip Schumaker, Tingler’s right-hand man, weighed in on his team’s apparent focus on getting the little things right.
“Winning a big-league ballgame is not easy,” Schumaker said. “Scoring runs is not easy. So when we’re giving away outs or missing the cutoff man, if you’re not fielding the bunt the proper way, or giving away extra bases…that’s not gonna be winning baseball. We have to get back to the small things, the small ball, playing the game the right way. Stuff that doesn’t show up (in the box score), we have to be really good at.”
Whether or not Tingler, his coaching staff, and the rest of the Padres’ seemingly newfound emphasis on details and getting the little things right will result in more wins this season remains to be seen. But on an afternoon where multiple San Diego players expressed appreciation for Tingler’s passion and enthusiasm, their manager returned the favor.
“I’ve really enjoyed, so far, being around this group and watching them focus and watching them play,” Tingler said.