The managerial career of Don Mattingly begins in Arizona Fall League
Baby steps, you take them where you can.
And for Don Mattingly, the Dodgers’ rookie manager-in-waiting, his first steps came in Phoenix on Tuesday.
There were a lot of players most people have never heard of, including Mattingly. They played before the first of many minuscule crowds, with results few will ever hear of or care about.
It’s the Arizona Fall League, where they play a 32-game schedule made up mostly of better prospects from the upper minors. There are six teams, each made up of a combination of different organizations’ prospects to form a 35-man roster.
"Just learning the guys’ names has been a battle," Mattingly toldKen Gurnick of Dodgers.com. "We've had workouts for five days and it's a little like a quick spring training. And for me, it's been good.
"Now I've got to do it all. Just like the players, I've got things to get better at. And just like them, at the end of the season you're beat up and you haven't been home and you might not be looking forward to another eight weeks, but for me, logistically, it's good to make the decisions and run the games, from writing the lineup card to making the day's schedule."
His debut Tuesday ended in an 8-3 loss to the Mesa Solar Sox. There were no reports of his presenting the wrong lineup card or making two trips to the mound in one visit or trying to convince Jonathan Broxton he really, really is the closer.
Six different major league teams contributed players to the Desert Dogs. The Dodgers prospects playing for Mattingly are Jerry Sands, Ivan DeJesus Jr., Trayvon Robinson, Scott Elbert, Jon Link, Justin Miller, Javy Guerra and Matt Wallach.
Elbert is a left-hander who was the Dodgers’ minor league pitcher of the year in 2009, but he left triple-A Albuquerque for an unspecified personal issue on June 10, was placed on the inactive list and did not return all season. He pitched one inning Tuesday, allowing a run on one hit and one walk.
The main focus, of course, will be on Mattingly, who has never managed at any level. At least until Tuesday. The Dodgers hope he gets a few bugs out, feels more comfortable and is ready to lead the Dodgers come February.
Mattingly said the Dodgers needed to improve their mental toughness.
"I think we create an environment where it's asked for," Mattingly told ESPN/LA.com’s Tony Jackson. "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."
For now, Mattingly will practice his steps with the Desert Dogs. The pressure is on too -- they’ve won five of the last six AFL titles.
-- Steve Dilbeck