Gonzalez relies on steady hand for success
Braves skipper finds even keel works in best and worst of times
ATLANTA -- Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez has spent time in San Diego watching Navy SEALs train. He also recently used an off-day in New York to spend time with cadets at the United States Military Academy. Along with having a genuine patriotic sense, he appreciates the opportunity to gain a better understanding of the dedication to detail young soldiers display in preparation for battles much more significant than those decided within nine innings.
"Those officers are preparing these guys for a battle and if they screw up, people die," Gonzalez said. "If we screw up, the worst thing that happens to us is we get blasted in the newspaper or we lose a ballgame."
Gonzalez's own leadership skills began to develop during childhood. It was during his formative years that he developed a work ethic courtesy of the sacrifices his parents made when they brought him to Miami from Cuba at the age of three.
Baseball helped mold Gonzalez and introduce him to the likes of Carlos Tosca, his first Minor League manager, John Boles, the former Marlins executive who gave him a post-playing career in baseball, and Bobby Cox, who helped him put the finishing touches on his preparations to be a Major League manager.
"[Cox] was able to change his style with the team he got every year," Gonzalez said. "Baseball is unlike any other sport. In football, you draft the certain individual who fits for your program. It's the same thing in the NBA. When we draft our kids, we have no idea how they are going to grow up five years later. So a baseball manager has to change styles and the way they think yearly."
Since gaining his first big league managerial job with the Marlins at the start of the 2007 season, Gonzalez has gained a better appreciation for the need to adapt. One year, he might have possess a roster that makes it more appealing to hit-and-run in certain situations. The next, he might have one that makes it more logical for him to more frequently utilize the sacrifice.
Yet, while competitive philosophies can change on an annual basis, Gonzalez has learned the importance of maintaining the same approach and demeanor. That steadiness is important whether his team is cruising, like the Braves did in early May, or sinking, like the Braves were as they neared the end of May mired in an eight-game losing streak.
"If a guy walks into my office who was a baseball guy and hadn't watched us play in 10 days, he should not be able to tell whether we've won seven in a row or lost seven in a row by the way I talk to him," Gonzalez said. "The players appreciate that. They know how the manager is going to behave and don't have to worry about, 'Oh, no, this guy is not going to talk to us today. Or we have won five in a row, so he's going to be on everybody's bandwagon.'"
Gonzalez's approach has been tested since taking over for Cox in Atlanta after the 2010 season. Last year's Braves seemed destined for the playoffs before blowing an 8 1/2-game Wild Card lead in September.
When Spring Training arrived, Gonzalez answered questions about last year's collapse by saying this was a new year and he did not want his players focusing on what had transpired. The questions continued when the Braves won just two of their first 14 exhibition games this year.
While some members of the organization seemed tense during the early days of Spring Training, Gonzalez helped his players stay loose with his cool demeanor. When the season opened, he again had to guard against panic when the Braves lost each of their first four games.
"It's not easy being the same guy, but before I go out and spend some time with the players during stretching, I kind of check myself and say, 'OK, be the same guy,'" Gonzalez said.
"It's easy to pat [Craig] Kimbrel on the back because he's had pretty good success. Some guys might think it's hard to talk to a guy who is in an 0-for-20 or 0-for-35 slump. But for me, those are the guys you have to spend more time with. Those are the guys that need the attention of the manager or the boss. It's the same thing in business. If the No. 1 seller is out there doing his job, there is not as much need to talk to him."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.