LOS ANGELES – Don Mattingly returned to Dodger Stadium on Monday for the first time in the opposing dugout as the manager of the Miami Marlins.
"Trying to find my way around this locker room is a little different," Mattingly joked when he came out of the visitor's clubhouse to speak with reporters. "It's a little different view, a little strange, but it's good to come back."
Mattingly managed the Dodgers for the past five seasons, doing something that none of his predecessors before him were able to accomplish – three consecutive NL West division titles – however, his exodus from the team still hangs over Chavez Ravine like the rain clouds on Monday night.
"I'm grateful to the Dodgers for the opportunity to get started as a manager," Mattingly said when asked if there was any resentment with his former club. "Everything here was a positive experience for me other than not being able to take the team to the next level. A lot of relationships, people and good memories."
One of those relationships was with star right fielder, Yasiel Puig, whose rough relationship with Mattingly was well documented over the past three years. Puig famously saved Mattingly's job in 2013 when rumors of his firing ran rampant like wildfire across Southern California.
At the end of May, the Dodgers were in last place in the division, and heavily underachieving. In June, the team called up Puig and like a hurricane, he quickly changed the tide, and with it the Dodgers season, as they went on to win the West and finish two wins away from the World Series.
But as the years went on, Puig and Mattingly butted heads many times over unwritten baseball rules. Puig was late to meetings, missed batting practice, and didn't hustle between innings to right field. Things reached a boiling point at the end of the 2014 season when Mattingly benched the Cuban slugger in favor of Andre Ethier.
In 2015, Puig showed up out of shape, and lingering hamstring injuries hampered his season. There were numerous closed-door meetings between Puig and Mattingly as both tried to get the other to see their perspective on the game.
"That's another story that gets overblown," Mattingly said on Monday of his relationship with Puig. "Everything with Yasiel over the years for me, and there were meetings and different stuff, but there was nothing from my standpoint that wasn't about him becoming a better player, teammate and growing. It was nothing personal."
After the Dodgers were eliminated from the MLB Postseason last October following a nail-biting Game 5 battle between New York Mets ace Jacob DeGrom and Zack Greinke, Mattingly and the Dodgers mutually agreed to part ways.
Since then, Puig has lost weight, and turned a new leaf – arriving early to the ballpark and is more engaging with his teammates and the media – Mattingly meanwhile, landed in Miami where he reunited with second baseman Dee Gordon, bench coach Tim Wallach, and third baseman Miguel Rojas.
One of the most successful regular season managers in Dodgers franchise history now seems more relaxed according to his players who were with him previously, and Mattingly himself seems to be enjoying his rebirth in South Beach.
"I feel the same pressure to win here as I did on the other side," he said. "You always feel pressure, but I definitely enjoy what I'm doing."
Mattingly and the Miami Marlins are in Tinseltown for a four-game series with Los Angeles at Dodger Stadium Monday thru Thursday.