PAWTUCKET – Sometimes, he’s simply carrying out marching orders from those above him. Other times, he engages in small talk, a sign that allows the ballplayers to comprehend that, yes, this particular minor-league manager will “have our backs if we heed his expectations.”
You see it during batting practice when PawSox skipper Gary DiSarcina sprays fungos to the infielders while standing not too far from the batting cage. A bum shoulder prevents DiSarcina from throwing a round or two. He makes up for it in other areas such as assuming an even greater instructional role.
There were days earlier this spring when DiSarcina would pepper Brandon Snyder with groundballs at third base. A similar scene recently took place at McCoy Stadium with top prospect Xander Bogaerts on the receiving end of one DiSarcina hot smash after another.
“Who was the key in helping Snyder when they recently asked him about the plays he’s made with Boston?” was the example Pawtucket pitching coach Rich Sauveur used in order to make a point. “Gary DiSarcina.”
Pregame activities have also served as a prime means for DiSarcina to hold court amidst the backdrop of a business-first setting. It’s commonplace to see him stand at the rear of the protective net that’s positioned behind second base, a spot where pitchers typically gather.
There, the dialogue can flow smoothly and pleasantries can be exchanged without the threat of baseballs jetting out of the batter’s box hanging over DiSarcina and the players that have set foot inside his plush green “office.”
Witnessing DiSarcina conduct personal consultations in plain sight has a familiar ring. This particular baseball modus operandi was the preferred communications tactic of Ron Johnson when he managed in Pawtucket. Ditto Torey Lovullo and Arnie Beyeler when they occupied the manager’s seat here.
See a pattern developing? All of DiSarcina’s predecessors displayed a human touch that was just as vital as filling out that night’s lineup card. All three were able to parlay their time in the PawSox’ dugout into big-league jobs.
Such ascension to a higher rank has transformed the gig that DiSarcina presently occupies into one that holds the potential of unlocking a lot of doors, preferably ones with major-league personnel inside.
Monday’s two-game set in Lehigh Valley represented the 90th and 91st games of DiSarcina’s reign in Pawtucket. The sample size may not equal the five seasons Johnson managed, the two campaigns Beyeler oversaw or even the one when Lovullo was at the helm. No matter. DiSarcina has already submitted a body of work that falls into two categories: impressive and noteworthy.
Before diving into the supporting evidence that’s needed to back such a claim, let’s hear from DiSarcina’s work colleagues and Red Sox higher-ups. The immediate takeaway is that they too hold him in high regard.
Picking the brain of Sauveur – an important lieutenant on the Pawtucket coaching staffs headed by Johnson, Lovullo and Beyeler – seemed like a good place to start. DiSarcina became the fourth PawSox skipper that Sauveur has worked with since he began overseeing the club’s pitchers in 2008.
“I’ve been blessed with four real good managers, and – I’ll be honest – I think all four can manage in the big leagues,” Sauveur remarked. “I think that says a lot for DiSarcina, since I’ve only been with him for three months. He’s his own self, but in the same breath, I do see signs of RJ, Torey and Arnie. All three got their stuff done and they got it done the right way.”
Such a declaration not only places DiSarcina in good company, but also legitimizes the job he’s done to date. The fact that Pawtucket currently sits in first place in the International League’s North Division only begins to describe the seal of approval Sauveur provided.
Triple A has always been an interesting melting pot for ballplayers. On one hand, you have up-and-comers who are deemed priorities. In the same clubhouse lies a collection of veteran types with big-league time on the back of their baseball cards. It’s a group that craves another crack at the majors.
How to satisfy all parties is a task DiSarcina has been able to master. He defused the disciplinary action he imposed on Jose Iglesias by simply offering “manager’s decision” when asked why the shortstop sat for three straight games after getting pulled in the middle of a contest.
Looking back, perhaps the course of action DiSarcina elected was just what Iglesias needed. Once the shock of the lesson that his Triple-A manager was trying to teach wore off, a different type of Iglesias emerged – a solid citizen and valuable member of Boston’s infield.
While the Iglesias episode offers concrete evidence that DiSarcina has carved out a niche as a manager who generally knows what his players need to hear, it’s not the only area of achievement under his watch. Pitcher Alfredo Aceves has steered clear of trouble since getting optioned by Boston in late April following a meltdown on the mound and his postgame critique of the team’s offense.
There have been occasions when DiSarcina will walk into the player’s section of the home clubhouse and engage in playful banter with Aceves. The exchanges usually conclude with glowing smiles.
Such a scenario seemed far-fetched when Aceves first joined the Pawtucket. Under DiSarcina’s watch, the right-hander has blended in seamlessly with his surroundings all the while handling the emotional twists and turns that come with being up in the major leagues for a short spell – only to be returned to the minors.
Need more evidence that DiSarcina is on the fast track? How about the fact that two players who began the season as depth pieces have emerged as additions to Boston’s 40-man roster. Yes, the baseball gods were smiling upon Snyder and fellow infielder Jonathan Diaz when the pair received their respective summonses. Behind the promotions was a steady hand that helped thrust them into a favorable position.
“I think it’s great to play for a guy like DiSarcina,” notes Sauveur.
DiSarcina has proven adaptable to every situation steered his way. That includes looking to break Bogaerts in at third base at a time when Will Middlebrooks is looking to get back on track following a dreary start to the season. He gave outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. some space upon joining Pawtucket following a tough stretch with Boston.
He’s welcomed reinforcements from Double-A Portland and placed guys like pitchers Brandon Workman and Chris Martin in a position that allows them to remain comfortable, this despite jumping up a level in competition.
In the end, managing a roster remains a people business. It’s about connecting with a group in a manner that allows the players to believe in one another and play hard.
“Gary was one of the most respected players in the game when he played. A lot of that is due to how prepared he was as a player and how he related to players and coaches from around the game,” stated Boston General Manager Ben Cherington on a recent visit to Pawtucket. “He’s got a great ability to connect with different types of people and that’s pretty important, especially at (the Triple-A) level.”
The Red Sox lured DiSarcina away from the Angels last offseason to head up their Class AAA operation. It wouldn’t register as a shock to learn that Boston’s brass envisions an even more prominent role for the 45-year-old Massachusetts native, for you don’t allow someone of DiSarcina’s ilk to jump ship to another organization. You want somebody of his caliber on your side.
“He’s capable of doing just about anything in baseball, and we’re lucky to have him,” Cherington declared.
That includes DiSarcina potentially taking a page out of the playbook authored by Johnson, Lovullo and Beyeler by following in their illustrious major-league coaching footsteps.
“I wouldn’t be surprised to see him in a dugout in the big leagues real soon,” says Sauveur, a person who has seen firsthand what success in Pawtucket can breed.
Follow Brendan McGair on Twitter @BWMcGair03