Don Mattingly managing in Fall League
PHOENIX -- Don Mattingly set up shop in an office that once belonged to Joe Torre (for about a week in 2008), put on a Los Angeles Dodgers uniform, sat in the dugout for a pregame media session with a couple of Dodgers beat reporters and then managed a baseball game Tuesday, his team suffering an 8-3 defeat to fall to 0-1 on the season.
The good news is that team wasn't the Dodgers. It was the Phoenix Desert Dogs of the Arizona Fall League, the team Mattingly agreed to manage long before it was announced he would take over the Dodgers in 2011, making him the first active major league manager to manage in the AFL in the league's 19-year history.
The Fall League does have a championship game, set this year for Nov. 20, but that's about as results-oriented as it gets. It's not nearly as much about wins and losses as it is about development, and the Desert Dogs' roster includes no fewer than eight of the Dodgers' top prospects, as well as those of four other major league organizations.
For now, for Mattingly, who arrived here about a week ago, it's about getting his bearings.
"Just learning guys' names has been a battle for me," he said. "But I have been getting to know some of these guys and putting names with faces. We've been working on a lot of things, bunt plays, relays, first-to-thirds, as much as you can in a five-day period. You're trying to get these guys ready, because they haven't played in a month."
The Desert Dogs play their home games at Phoenix Municipal Stadium, normally the spring training home of the Oakland A's, but the Dodgers moved in from Vero Beach, Fla., for the final week of camp in 2008 after the A's left to open the season early against the Boston Red Sox in Tokyo. But Mattingly wasn't with the Dodgers at the time, so the home clubhouse was new territory for him.
The line of pregame questioning from the media, however, was strikingly familiar and centered almost entirely on Mattingly's more permanent job as manager of the Dodgers.
For one, he was asked a follow-up question to a comment he made more than a week ago, when a reporter had asked him what was the one thing he would wish for his team if he could sprinkle pixie dust. At the time, in a media availability with Mattingly and general manager Ned Colletti on Oct. 4 at Dodger Stadium, Mattingly had said "mental toughness," an obvious implication that the Dodgers didn't have enough of it in 2010.
So on Tuesday, Mattingly was asked how he hopes to create that mental toughness in a place where it didn't previously exist.
"I think we create an environment where it's asked for," he said. "You can't really ask for it in words, but in what you ask them to do. This game is a battle, and it's a grind. You know you're going to have PFP [pitchers' fielding practice] almost every day in spring training, and you know what, you're going to be a little tired of it by Day 10. Those are the days when you have to push a little bit more and think, 'If I do this right every time here, I'm going to do it right in the games.' That's toughness for me. You have to push for that and ask for that, and I think you create that by the environment that you set and the consistency with which you keep going after it."
Mattingly also was asked a follow-up question to comments he made after a game at Colorado on Sept. 29. Dodgers center fielder Matt Kemp, who had been a lightning rod for criticism all season because of his falling offensive numbers and the seemingly nonchalant approach he sometimes took to the game, had hit a decisive grand slam that day, and Mattingly was asked after that game what he wanted to see from Kemp in 2011.
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At the time, Mattingly said he would talk to Kemp privately about that when the season was over. On Tuesday, Mattingly said he would talk to him privately again sometime this winter.
"All I talked to Matt about was I just let him know it has been a rough year, and I know it has been a rough year," Mattingly said. "A lot went on. I just told him I want him to get away from it for a while and have some fun, and then we'll have a conversation during the winter about some things I kind of expect. I think it's all about timing as far as when to broach the subject. I don't think the right time is right at the end of the year when guys are frustrated and tired."
Finally, Mattingly was asked about his yet-to-be-assembled coaching staff. In keeping with what appears to be an organization-wide policy of keeping the process completely private, Mattingly offered little in the way of specifics.
"I know we have made some progress," he said. "I know Ned wants to [announce] everything at one time. ... It has been smooth from the standpoint of our conversations. There have been some things that have been tough, and it hasn't been easy. It's been tough from a friendship standpoint because of my relationship with some people."
Mattingly presumably was talking about Dodgers third-base coach Larry Bowa, with whom he coached for two seasons with the New York Yankees before Torre brought both of them with him to the Dodgers three years ago. Bowa is the quintessential old-school baseball guy, a scrappy five-time All-Star and two-time Gold Glove shortstop who admittedly wrung everything he possibly could out of limited natural ability as a player. Bowa unquestionably has a deep reservoir of wisdom to impart, but by all accounts, his intense personality often grated on Dodgers players, a fact that could be giving Colletti, Mattingly or both Colletti and Mattingly pause as they consider whether to ask Bowa to remain on the staff.
Mattingly's only specific reference to Bowa came when he said he had spoken with almost every member of last year's staff except Bowa.
"I left Bo a message, but he hasn't gotten back to me yet," Mattingly said.
One person who did talk was bullpen coach Ken Howell, who also was at the game to observe Dodgers pitching prospects. Howell said he hasn't received any word from Mattingly or Colletti as to whether he will be a part of the team's staff next season.
"I haven't heard anything," Howell said.
Howell, though, didn't seem outwardly concerned about his status. He said he was going through his usual postseason routine of working with pitchers in the instructional league, attending as many AFL games as he can in the next week before heading home to Livonia, Mich., for the winter.
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Mattingly, meanwhile, went out and managed a baseball game Tuesday, this time with Torre nowhere in sight. He watched a handful of Dodgers prospects -- Jon Link, Justin Miller and former first-round draft pick Scott Elbert -- pitch a few innings. He watched a couple of others -- Ivan DeJesus Jr. and Trayvon Robinson -- get hits against the Mesa Solar Sox. He also watched some Desert Dogs players in Yankees uniforms, the same uniform Mattingly wore for his entire 14-year playing career in the majors, and he quickly noticed something about them.
"There is just something about the way they go about it," Mattingly said after the game. "You can see that. I think it's just something I notice from having been through that system and coached in that system. Those kids have a way of handling themselves. I don't know exactly how to describe it, but you can just see it."
Reminded that Dodgers prospects used to have that same, indescribable something about them -- the so-called Dodger Way that seems to have been lost in recent years -- Mattingly nodded in agreement.
"I think it's one of the things we should be striving for, to get that feeling back," he said. "That sense of people knowing where you come from."
Tony Jackson covers the Dodgers for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.
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