MOBILE, AL - On the eve of Thursday's playoff opener, after fighting through a rare second consecutive off day, Mobile BayBears Manager Andy Green prepares for practice as the newly named Manager of the Year.
"It's a nice feeling," he admits of the award, "but the reality is it's the players who earn that award for you, the way they go play on the baseball field day in and day out. You don't win an award like that without horses out there anchoring you, and we've had our fair share with Nick Evans, and Nick Ahmed out there anchoring the defense. There are two guys that didn't even get a mention in any post-season award ballot, and there's not a manager in the league that wouldn't kill for either one of those guys to be on his team.
There is no doubt that this BayBears bunch still has plenty to prove, finishing the year with just one Southern League All-Star - league batting champion Justin Greene - despite the fact that they finished the season with the League's best record at 79-60.
"My bullpen doesn't get much of a mention in any of the award ballots." continues the skipper. "I've got the best closer in the league in Jake Barrett, I've got a bullpen full of arms that I trust in virtually any situation, so I'm very blessed to have a team that can play - and we've had a fun time together this year."
The transition from the rookie level Northwest League, where Green managed the Missoula Osprey to a championship in 2012, has proven smooth, despite the number of fundamental differences. Where just 76 regular season games are played in rookie ball, versus 140 in the Southern League, Green notes that the biggest difference lies in the players themselves.
"What sets in after a certain number of seasons in professional baseball is a level of cynicism that you have to deal with. The game has burnt a lot of these guys to some degree; you've got a lot of disillusionment. Then you've got some young, hungry guys that are just plowing their way through the league. So you've got a lot of guys in a lot of different mental states; if you don't recognize that, then you're not going to manage them well"
It's a serious departure from the Missoula experience, where Green explains that the players, many of whom aren't yet 20 years old, all come in "wide-eyed and hungry."
"They'll suck down anything you say no matter how you say it - they have a blind trust in you. Here you have to earn that trust, earn that faith. I like that and I see that as a challenge. I prefer the more cerebral conversations we have at this level."
As for the experience of the Southern League itself, Green has enjoyed the league-wide balance. "It's been a good competitive league, no team ran away with anything. It's been competitive down to the last day and that's always fun."
He also enjoys managing in tight games. Mobile had 98 of its 139 regular season games decided by 3 runs or less - the most "close games" of any team - and that has been fun for the Kentucky native.
"So many low scoring games, so many close games, the need to manufacture runs with speed, and in some cases bunting, is a greater challenge than the PCL [the Pacific Coast League, where Green spent parts of five seasons as a player] where to some degree you just sit back and bang the ball around the yard and see if you score more than the other team. Strategic managerial decisions actually have a much larger impact in this league, so it's more fun for me - I enjoy that."
As for the playoffs, which begin Thursday night at Hank Aaron Stadium, the message is simple.
"It's a 'let's go' mentality, it's not a 'we gotta' mentality. Let's have fun, let's dominate and lets go do what we've done all year long and have fun doing it. I think with this group of guys if we take that mentality into it there's no reason we can't expect great things."
Great things in 2013 would come in the form of a third consecutive Southern League championship for the Mobile BayBears - something unprecedented in Minor League Baseball in this day and age - and all it will take is six more wins.
It's playoff time, baby.