Henning: Ausmus more relaxed, confident in Year 2
Lakeland, Fla. — When he stepped last February into what had earlier been Jim Leyland's and Sparky Anderson's spring training quarters, Brad Ausmus was so self-conscious about his rookie status that, when he talked with the press, he would not sit in the Tigers manager's chair.
He instead leaned for the first couple of sessions against the front edge of a big mahogany desk inside that laundry room of an office within Marchant Stadium's clubhouse.
He was new. He had not policed a professional baseball team, not even in the minor leagues. And not for a moment was Ausmus going to assume any exalted aura as the newest Tigers skipper.
It was going to be an adjustment, slow and methodical, quiet and understated. And was it ever.
Ausmus can be thoughtful and expansive to any degree he chooses. But as he settled into a job that carries with it an element of historical importance, at least in the context of baseball in Detroit, he was being both careful and self-confining with his remarks.
Manager substantive, informative
For all of his smarts and his 18 seasons as a big-league catcher, he did not want, for a moment, to be perceived as a self-styled baseball know-it-all. He would not act presumptuously or with any sense that he was simply the latest star to have assumed the royal post as Tigers skipper.
In fact, he said very little last spring and even during the regular season. His answers were polite but clearly designed to be brief — and safe. His pre-game and post-game press conferences were over in minutes.
Our notebooks and tape recorders went on a diet.
So, now we move to 2015. And what we have in Ausmus is a new, more relaxed, more confident, second-year skipper.
Hardly a surprise there, because it takes a year at almost any job to know your way around, to have a sense for the people you work with, to move with the rhythms of a calendar and a workplace, and to have command and confidence in your tasks.
Ausmus sat in the manager's chair Thursday at his 2015 spring camp debut and looked and sounded nothing like last year's apprentice. It was the same story Friday. The media session was filled with back-and-forth baseball chatter. The manager was substantive. Informative.
He talked, for example, about Anthony Gose, the Tigers' new center fielder, who isn't pegged to be much of a hitter. Ausmus isn't so sure.
"Wally really likes him," the skipper said, referring to Tigers hitting coach Wally Joyner, who spent time working with Gose in January. "This kid's a good athlete. I quite honestly think he's going to get a lot of hits because of his speed."
Ausmus seems more comfortable
Sprinkled into the banter was an occasional Ausmus quip ("You can quote yourself on that," he said, playfully, to a question from Chris Iott of MLive.com). But what marked Friday's session, as did Thursday's, was this sense a manager is no longer a greenhorn. So comfortable was he in talking about personnel, about roles, that Ron Colangelo, the Tigers vice president for communications, nodded gently to reporters when the session had slipped into overtime.
This, of course, means nothing if his team does not play well in 2015. And that's where Ausmus will be measured.
But to the extent a manager can affect a game, he will be better equipped to make a move or decision in 2015 he couldn't or didn't make in 2014 as a managerial newbie.
His pitchers will still need to pitch and his hitters will need to bang big hits if the Tigers are going to win. No manager has the capacity to compensate for deficits there.
But what you see already, after these first hours of spring camp, is a more seasoned and more secure skipper. For a manager who had nailed down last year the first commandment — earning your players' respect — a more confident Ausmus will only help.