On Aug. 13, the Sacramento River Cats will take the field wearing garish "Good Burger" jerseys, inspired by the mid-'90s Nickelodeon sketch show All That. While there are no doubt some who believe that such attire is beneath a Triple-A baseball team, you won't be hearing any complaints from River Cats manager Jose Alguacil.
"That's the last thing I'll worry about," said Alguacil, speaking in his Raley Field office prior to Aug. 1's ballgame against Salt Lake. "I know the business and we're going to go out there even if we have to wear shorts. We're gonna compete. If I ever worry about a jersey, then I know that day is not going to go too well."
Alguacil's response is indicative of one of his core operating principles: "Control what you control." It's a mantra he often preaches to his players, and one he applies to himself as well. 2016 marks Alguacil's first season managing at the Triple-A level, and he freely admits there's been a steep learning curve. The 43-year-old native of Venezuelan, often referred to by his nickname of "Agui," spent six seasons (1993-98) as an infielder in the San Francisco Giants farm system and returned to the organization in 2007 to work as a roving instructor. After eight seasons in that capacity, he spent the 2015 season at the helm of the Double-A Richmond Flying Squirrels.
"The Giants approached me and I was surprised," said Alguacil of his sudden conversion to the managerial ranks. "I was like, 'Whoa, I don't know what to expect.' But they told me they want to see me managing the Double-A club. I was like, 'Why don't they want me to be a rover anymore?' and wondering if there was something they don't like. I asked that question a couple times and they said, 'You know, we want you to manage.' And I said, 'You guys tell me, wherever you need me and I'll do my job.'"
Alguacil's assignment to Richmond and subsequent promotion to Sacramento, one rung below the Major Leagues, shows the esteem in which the Giants organization holds him. This past February Giants general manager Bobby Evans told the Bay Area Mercury News that Alguacil has great potential because he is a "very positive, very constant person" who is "always learning."
These traits were immediately evident when I spoke to Alguacil, a conversation that was motivated in part by the praise of River Cats staffers who appreciated his willingness to forge relationships with everyone within the day-to-day stadium ecosystem. He was friendly and welcoming -- devoid of the gruff, cynical aloofness I'd come to associate with those in similar positions -- giving thoughtful and patient answers as two of his three teenage sons lounged on a couch situated along the wall to his right. During the interview, Alguacil also briefly elaborated on his love of good wine and the benefits of creating art as a means of late-night stress relief, even stopping to show off some of his latest sketches.
"You have to create a good atmosphere where you work and you have to let people know you," he said. "It's like, some people can say that I'm a nice guy, some people can say that I'm the worst person. But if you create that atmosphere and let people know you, they're going to create their own conceptions. I do the same. I like to meet people because I don't go for what people tell me. Maybe you take some medicine and you're allergic to that. I'm not. I can take it. That's how I approach things. Maybe one person is bad for you, but we become good friends. I'm a person who was given opportunities, and I like to give opportunities as well."
Alguacil cited many mentors who have helped him during his baseball journey, from Frank Robinson (whom he got to know when he was coaching in the Nationals system) to current Giants skipper Bruce Bochy. But he named Joe Amalfitano -- a baseball lifer whose Major League debut came with the 1954 New York Giants -- as the man who has influenced him most. Alguacil is now applying the lessons he's learned to the challenging environment of Triple-A.
"You know what? Last year and this year's been totally different," he said. "You have guys in Double-A coming through the system, trying to get to the next level, and that level can be [Sacramento] or the big leagues. But when you're [in Triple-A] it's different because now you're dealing with a lot of guys who've been to the big leagues and they want to go back…. You're dealing with a lot of frustration with guys who are pushing hard and all that type of stuff and that's a big challenge because you're dealing with different personalities. There are 25 guys on the roster, and when you have half of the guys with big league experience, you have to keep those guys going forward and the guys who haven't been there going forward, too. Now you try to get all these guys to play as a team and reach their goals as individuals. That's the biggest challenge I have this year…. You have to be a mentor, a dad, a psychologist, a friend."
Alguacil was speaking after what had been a particularly tumultuous afternoon as San Francisco's flurry of trade deadline deals had sent repercussions throughout the system. This included, among other Sacramento transactions, the departure of catcher and lifelong northern Californian Andrew Susac.
"Today was a tough day. You never want to tell a guy news where he will be disappointed. I've already talked to three guys who have been traded. And all these guys have been confused. I've heard in other situations where guys are happy they're leaving an organization. But here it's been different. And that's who we are, the Giants. This is a family atmosphere, from every level. We're all the same. We're all fighting for the same goal."
That goal is, of course, an extended stay in San Francisco.
"I would like to be in the big leagues, no doubt about it," said Alguacil. "But first to get there I have to focus on the players and get them there and eventually I will get my chance too…. But I like being here this summer. It's a new challenge and challenges are good. They keep you going."
Benjamin Hill is a reporter for MiLB.com and writes Ben's Biz Blog. Follow Ben on Twitter @bensbiz.