Spring looks different this year to Bob Mariano.
For 35 years, he has spent baseball’s season of hope down in the grass and dirt, nine of them as a minor-league infielder and 26 more as a coach, hitting instructor and manager, most recently as last year’s River Cats skipper.
This year, instead of working with players, Mariano will evaluate them as a scout for the Giants. His job will be to keep an eye on about a half-dozen National League clubs, plus their minor-league affiliates. Remember him at the July 31 trade deadline.
“Strange” is how Mariano described the scouting life so far, looking over other players in their parks instead of working with your guys in your park.
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Mariano balances this element of weirdness with the knowledge he will at least get to sleep in. No more 3 a.m. wakeup calls to catch a flight to Tacoma. Even better, he will get more than one day off over the final two months of the Pacific Coast League season. He let the world know last year he was not happy with his team playing 53 games in 54 days.
“It was my opinion, and it was the truth,” Mariano said. “There’s no way players can give their best when they are exhausted. The PCL is the toughest travel league in baseball.”
Moved by Mariano’s argument, PCL bosses have added an extra off day for the River Cats after the All-Star break.
There is no evidence Mariano’s move from minor-league manager to major-league scout had anything to do with his protests. He said Giants general manager Bobby Evans told him in the offseason the organization had a couple scouting openings and asked if he was interested in a career change.
Approaching 58, Mariano jumped at the opportunity as a way to keep him going in baseball. He looked around and saw guys such as Mel Didier, coming up on 89, still charting talent.
“He’s got more energy than anybody,” Mariano said of Didier. “And it gave me a chance to be home more often. I think I only saw my wife three times last year.”
Mariano, who lives in the Phoenix area, already is on the job. One of his first assignments has been to track the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters. The stalwart club of the Japanese big leagues was training outside town, in Peoria, and, whoa – Mariano liked what he saw.
Prepare yourself, America, for Shohei Otani.
The kid, 6-foot-4 and about 210 pounds, went 15-5 last year. He also plays the field and has a major-league swing, said Mariano, who compared Otani’s mechanics with the bat to Joe Panik’s and his ability to keep hitters off his stuff to that of Yu Darvish.
“This kid is legit,” Mariano said. “Ninety-five to ninety-seven (mph), and I’ve seen him take BP up there – he’s got power to all fields. He’s an interesting kid. He plays both ways, but I think his future is more so as a pitcher. He’s got a good frame, baby faced, and he’s going to get stronger. He’s going to have to make a decision, but he’s a good-looking prospect, no doubt about it.”
After all those years in baseball, Mariano has been bumping into other scouts he played with or coached, not to mention managers and coaches he played under or against – hundreds of them. The baseball network is like that. They share the same DNA, and Mariano will work them as contacts to find out the most important thing a scout needs to know about any player in any sport – his heart.
“You start talking to them, and they’ll give you some bits and pieces of information,” he said. “Plus, watching players, how they compete, watch them when they make an out and how they get back to the dugout, how they react – there are little subtleties you have to be aware of, watching how they take infield, how they go about their business.”
During his one year in Sacramento, Mariano lived in the apartment complex across Tower Bridge Gateway from Raley Field. It was close enough to go check for damage the night Mac Williamson hit one over the clubhouse. Mariano, who’s from Sewickley, Pa., a few miles down the Ohio River from Pittsburgh, spent a year in the Farm-to-Fork capital of California where today’s menu argument pits Mulvaney’s brace of stuffed quail against the walnut-crusted rack of lamb at Empress.
Mariano’s choice? Carol’s Restaurant on West Capitol Avenue.
“Little mom-and-pop place – I liked the people who worked there,” Mariano said. “I was a regular in there. They had a table reserved for me in the morning. I’m going to miss Sacramento. Did they finish building the arena?”
The arena is on time, Bob. The team that’s playing in it, though, could use some of the hope of baseball’s spring, and maybe a little better scouting.