Buck Showalter and Bob Melvin compete in the Mets-Padres Series

SAN DIEGO — They were hired during the offseason with much fanfare and have garnered rave reviews in Major League Baseball for their early work with their new teams. Both have won three Manager of the Year awards and would be strong contenders in this year’s poll if this continues.

But before they became peers and fast friends, Mets manager Buck Showalter and his San Diego Padres counterpart Bob Melvin shared a moment together in different circumstances. It came at Yankee Stadium in 1994 when Showalter, then 37, was a third-year manager of the Yankees under owner George Steinbrenner. Melvin, who was 32 at the time, was an aging catcher in his final season.

“Bobby saved my job,” Showalter said, explaining that he had three catchers on the list at the time and was looking for an extra right-hander to face a difficult left-hander for a game in May. He came up with the unorthodox idea of ​​using the light-hitting Melvin as his designated batsman. “Mr. Steinbrenner was willing to kill me.”

Melvin responded to the unusual task by hitting a triple home run against Baltimore’s Arthur Rhodes at the end of the first inning of his first game at the stadium that year and setting the tone in a 5-4 win.

“When he got that hit, I was like, ‘Oh, thanks, Bobby,'” Showalter said.

Standing on Petco Park field Monday before the start of the Mets-Padres series — a meeting of the teams with the first and third-best records in the National League, which the Mets won 11-5 — Melvin chuckled at the Exaggeration and said he doesn’t think the latest of his 35 big league home runs has saved any jobs. However, he remembers it for another reason.

Showalter, Melvin said, “always explained to me why I play certain guys; This is the first time I’ve had a manager do that.”

Also, Melvin added, Showalter initially approached him that day with the idea of ​​playing him at first base. But Melvin’s eyes told the manager his backup catcher wasn’t happy with that — Showalter still uses what he now calls “eye language” — so Showalter used him as the designated hitter instead.

“That was probably harder to sell, to DH someone like me, to the front desk, or whoever he had to account for,” Melvin said.

But their conversation boosted Melvin’s confidence, allowed him to fully prepare, and the homer became, in part, a reward for Showalter as well.

Moments like this have always been part of Showalter’s methodology. And in 19 seasons managing Seattle, Arizona, Oakland and now San Diego, Melvin has never forgotten that lesson. Now he does it regularly.

“Even though he’s the manager and there’s a definite difference, it felt like he was with us,” said Mets outfielder Mark Canha, who played for Melvin at Oakland for seven years before becoming a two-year free agent -Contract signed with the Mets this winter. “It feels the same way with Buck. We’re in this together, we all want the same thing. It doesn’t feel like there’s any motivation for him other than how we win today.”

Showalter’s attention to detail is second to none, and with Billy Eppler, the Met’s first-year general manager, some of these old Yankees’ lineage is evident. Although Showalter, 66, is 20 years older than Eppler, in many ways their baseball foundation was cast from the same curriculum. Gene Michael was the general manager and Bill Livesey was the scouting director during the Showalter Yankees years. Brian Cashman was the Deputy General Manager. Eppler later worked in the Yankees’ scouting department and eventually rose to become assistant general manager under Cashman.

Because of this, Eppler said, Showalter’s fixation on even the smallest of details was familiar.

“I’m aware, ‘How long is the bus ride to the ballpark? What water is on the plane?’” Eppler said. “So is he. It’s like, whoa. I get a kick out of it. Someone else is thinking along the same lines!”

Showalter said he knew it would work with Eppler because he was a Michael alumnus and a first ring guy who answered the phone.

“We share the same passion,” Showalter said.

Part of that passion led to Showalter making a phone call on the way home from the Mets’ Florida complex one evening that spring. In the parking lot in front of a Subway sandwich shop, he sat in his car in the dark for about an hour, taking advantage of the time zone difference to catch up with Melvin, who was in Arizona. Three Mets players — Canha, pitcher Chris Bassitt, and outfielder Starling Marte — had played for Melvin in Oakland, and Showalter had questions.

“The timing was perfect because I wanted to call him and ask about Manny, too,” Melvin, 60, said of hitter Manny Machado, who played for Showalter in Baltimore. “It was a long conversation. And I think we probably talked a few more times this spring.”

Information is the key to building relationships. And with spring training lockout shortened, Showalter and Melvin wanted to get information as quickly and from as many different sources as possible.

“Mark Canha is a left-of-the-left hippie,” Showalter said. “Chris Bassitt is right. Not right from the right, but right. And yet they are best friends. It’s a great story. Bob said they’re on the plane and they’re talking about politics and stuff. I told Bob I wish our country was like this – you think that, I think that, let’s be polite about it. It draws a picture. You’re trying to give guys a head start.”

Melvin, Showalter said, “sees players and things very much like me.

“We don’t have all the answers,” he said. “We always have to keep an eye on the final. Maybe you don’t show your best tonight so you can win the next three games.”

That the Padres were able to poach Oakland’s career leaders in managerial wins was a lightning bolt last October and the first signal that the A’s were about to embark on another rebuilding project. A Bay Area native, Melvin has a Cal degree and wore the No. 6 in Oakland in tribute to Sal Bando. It was a lot more emotional for him to leave than most thought. But with his coaches Ryan Christenson, Matt Williams and Bryan Price, he quickly felt comfortable in San Diego. The only bump was missing six games for prostate surgery last month, but Melvin is back and healthy now.

“His communication is some of the best I’ve experienced in letting us know where we are and what the expectations are, even when he comes up to us and explains why he took some of his steps” , said Joe Musgrove, the ace of the Padres rotation.

In other words, similar to what Melvin’s old skipper once did for him – and still does with his Mets today.

“I consider him a real friend,” Melvin said of Showalter. “There are baseball acquaintances, there are baseball friends. But he’s a guy we talk to off the field in the offseason, call us, even when he was doing ESPN stuff, he called me. We’ve never had dinner together, but I consider him a friend. In baseball, that’s further than someone you just admire on the field.”

Not that there are no differences. Recently, Showalter said his little sister Melanie teased him, saying, “Organization and detail is great, but you know what, I really like spontaneity every once in a while. It’s okay to be spontaneous every once in a while.”

Showalter shared this story with a knowing smile and a shrug during a weekend chat in the guest manager’s office at Dodger Stadium. What are you up to? he seemed to be saying. A tiger cannot change its stripes.

Melvin has since managed to change his. He has long been a connoisseur of candy during games, but only in the first, third, fifth, seventh, and ninth innings. And over 11 years in Oakland, the candy had to be green in the ninth.

Now? It’s just root beer kegs in Padres Brown in the ninth inning.

“And we had two or three walk-offs,” he said. “So it worked.”

The Padres actually had four, but who counts like the old Manager of the Year awards when the season kicks off?

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