With opening night in a little over a week, final preparations for the new season are underway down at spring training. Broadcaster Joe Ritzo caught up with manager Lenn Sakata at the Giants minor league training complex in Scottsdale to get the skipper's thoughts on the spring, his return to the organization and the expected strengths of this year's San Jose team.
Joe Ritzo: First Lenn, how does it feel to be back in the Giants organization and specifically as the manager in San Jose?
Lenn Sakata: I'm blessed to be able to come back. A lot of times you don't get the opportunity to come back once you leave. I was very fortunate that the organization - Dick Tidrow and Brian Sabean - were receptive to the idea of me returning, so I'm grateful to be back as a Giant. I'm equally excited to be a San Jose Giant. I know what it was like to return in 2012 and be sitting on the other side of the field (as the Modesto Nuts manager) and I almost thought I was in the wrong place. To go back now to what's almost my second home, I'm looking forward to the experience again and I can't wait for opening day in San Jose.
Ritzo: How did it all come together this past offseason for you to return to the organization?
Sakata: One, I was let go by the Rockies and there were some openings here. Some other instructors made Bobby Evans and Dick Tidrow aware that I was available, the process started and it all worked out so that I was able to return in the same capacity that I was in back in 2007. I'm excited to be back and looking forward to this year's team and seeing if we can have the same kind of success that the franchise has had for the last decade.
Ritzo: Is there an adjustment process for you in getting to know all the new players in the Giants organization?
Sakata: I've had to do it several times in my career. I started with the A's and I didn't know anyone there. Then to the Angels and the same thing. I can remember in 1999 when I started with the Giants and I really didn't know anybody. I knew more of the coaches than the players. But getting accustomed to these players will hopefully be a very quick study for both me and my players. I try to express to them what my desires are for the way we should play. It takes time, but the sooner we get adjusted to each other, the better it will be.
Ritzo: It's the last week of spring training right now and there are still so many guys in camp and players moving around. With that, is it difficult to prepare for the season and implement your plan?
Sakata: Well, I'm doing the best I can. Over the last couple of days, I've been in the process of getting the kids accustomed to the way I'm going to give signs and the plays we're going to have and how we're going to use them. Everyday, I'm losing some guys to the big league games, but that's understandable. I think the aptitude of our kids is greatly improved from when I was here last. These are good kids and I've enjoyed spring training because of that. I'm anxious to get out there now and have my own team and see where we fit compared to the rest of the league.
Ritzo: When you first managed in San Jose, it really got everything rolling for the great success that this franchise has enjoyed (league-record 10 straight playoff appearances, including four championships during that span). Why do you think San Jose is able to be a consistent winner and compete for championships?
Sakata: I think the ballpark lends itself to kids playing well. I think the atmosphere in our park is better than any in the entire league. The second part is that the Giants have always put good pitching in San Jose. And the tradition of winning has helped perpetuate those successful seasons.
Ritzo: Last year in Augusta, they were known for great pitching - both starting and relieving. Are you anticipating that to be the strength of your team this season?
Sakata: I hope so. I think, in the past in San Jose, we've always had good pitching, whether it was starting or the bullpen, in particular. I think we'll probably have the same blend of starting and bullpen strength that will carry us. We're going to have quite a few young guys that are having to make a jump from a lower level, but also some older, more experienced players. The blend should be good. We'll have speed, but maybe not much power. It's going to come down to pitching and I think we'll be able to execute in that area.
Ritzo: How about offensively - what can San Jose fans expect from your team this season?
Sakata: Well, I'm still a bit unsure on that because I'm not sure who we're going to have. I don't think we'll have a lot of power, but I've had teams in the past that didn't have much power. We'll have to use what we have. Knowing how to play is a big influence on the outcomes of games at this level. If you have guys that know how to play moreso than guys on the other teams then you'll have success. That's been stressed to them and I've been impressed that the kids seem to know how to do the little things. Being competitive is one thing and playing to win, of course, but the bottom line is really the development of the players.