Three days after Joe Maddon's 66th birthday, the Los Angeles Angels' new manager sat down in a familiar spring training complex and reminded everybody he was into two-way players before they were cool.
Left-hander Deshawn Warren was the Angels' second-round pick in 1992, when Maddon was a roving minor league instructor for the organization that employed him for his first three decades in baseball. Although Warren never got out of the low minors as a pitcher, he was maybe the fastest runner in the organization.
Maddon unsuccessfully tried to persuade Angels general manager Dan O'Brien to let Warren play in the field at a time when serious two-way play had been abandoned for decades. Now that Shohei Ohtani has emphatically brought it back, Maddon is thrilled to be on the vanguard again.
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“I’ve always been intrigued by that,” Maddon said. “I’ve always thought it’s something that should be looked into more deeply.”
Maddon has prided himself on being willing to be an innovator and an unconventional thinker for his entire career. He isn't narrowing his mind as he heads into the first season of his homecoming with the Angels.
Ohtani's unique progress is among Maddon's most important concerns over the next six weeks in Arizona, along with the evolution of a starting rotation that will hopefully include Ohtani before Memorial Day.
The Angels are targeting mid-May for Ohtani's return to the big-league mound, general manager Billy Eppler revealed Tuesday while pitchers and catchers reported to Tempe Diablo Stadium. Ohtani will be available as a designated hitter on opening day, but he will take days away from the big-league team to make rehab pitching starts in the minors.
Eppler and Ohtani have detailed plans for the two-way star's final comeback from Tommy John surgery and subsequent offseason knee surgery, which pushed back his pitching progress. Maddon is on board with the plans, but he also intends to make decisions by speaking face-to-face with Ohtani.
“I think patience is a key word with all of this,” Maddon said. “I’ve been in development my whole life, so when you’re trying to develop a major league talent like him here, coming off the injury situations that he’s had, it’s important to be very patient, and I am.”
Angels owner Arte Moreno's patience has clearly worn a bit thin after four consecutive losing seasons and a decade without a playoff victory. Right after Maddon and the Cubs parted ways in September, Moreno abruptly fired manager Brad Ausmus and eagerly pursued Maddon to return to the club where he won the first of his two World Series rings as Mike Scioscia's bench coach.
Maddon took the job, but he isn't here to ease into retirement. He isn't even the oldest manager in the game anymore with 70-year-old Dusty Baker's arrival in Houston.
Maddon already has had dinner with many of his new Angels, and he is getting to know the rest in Tempe. He admires pitcher Julio Teheran's adventurous new haircut, and he is excited about the depth of the Halos' young talent,
"Jimmie Reese remained contemporary, and that’s why he was able to do this until he was 93," Maddon said, evoking the memory of the beloved longtime Angels coach.
“There’s a difference between accepting what’s going on right now and remaining contemporary, or pushing back to the point where you do become a dinosaur or archaic," he added. "You do connect with people, regardless of their age. And how do you do that? By taking an interest in what they do, where they’re coming from. Once you’ve established that momentum, then you can influence.”
Maddon is living in the moment and planning for the future. But his return to the Angels has still brought on waves of memories, both here in Tempe and back in Southern California, where he and his wife will settle back into the house they left behind in Long Beach.
Maddon plans to use spring training as a chance to find a balance between the past and the present so he can focus on the Angels' future.
“I’ve always loved this place,” Maddon said of modest Tempe Diablo Stadium and the complex which housed the Mariners a few decades ago. “So I remember having meetings down below in that little clubhouse, talking about instructional league stuff. So that’s how my brain works. I get flooded with nostalgia, I do. And it’s OK. It’s a good thing.”