Work Samples

Eyes on the prize

July 10, 2010

By David Driver
For the Daily News
Used with permission

WASHINGTON San Diego manager Bud Black was sitting in the Padres' dugout before Wednesday's game when he waved to Washington Nationals second baseman Adam Kennedy.

It was Black, the product of Mark Morris High School in Longview, who was the pitching coach for the Angels when they won the World Series in 2002. Kennedy was a second baseman for the Angels that season.

"When you win the World Series, there is a bond," said Black, 53, with a grin, on a day the temperature reached 100 degrees in the nation's capital. "It doesn't go away."

Eight years later, Black and Kennedy are with different teams in the National League. And now Black is trying to get back to the World Series, this time as a manager.

The Padres were 50-36 heading into Saturday and had the second-best record in the National League behind Atlanta (51-35).

San Diego was 48-33 in the first half of the season, which tied the 1984 World Series club for the second-best first-half mark in franchise history. Last year the team was 75-87 and fourth in the division.

Black, in his fourth season with the Padres, said he gives a lot of credit to veterans such as David Eckstein, Matt Stairs, Yorvit Torrealba and Jerry Hairston Jr. who have joined the team in recent years. Stairs was with the Phillies last season and Hairston played for the Reds and Yankees.

"They have had an impact with the way they go about their business and with their performance," Black said. "These guys have been very solid veterans."

Black also credited All-Star first baseman Adrian Gonzalez and closer Heath Bell, who was added to the National League All-Star team last week to take the place of the injured Yovani Gallardo.

"Gonzalez continues to emerge as a leader," Black said. "Bell continues to emerge as a leader."

But the success of the team, according to several Padres, also rests under the steady leadership of Black. The 1975 Mark Morris grad played at Lower Columbia College in 1976-77, and was selected by Seattle in the 17th round of the 1979 draft out of San Diego State.

Black, who pitched in the majors for 17 years for the Royals, Indians, Giants, Blue Jays and Mariners, was the pitching coach of the Angels for seven years before he took the manager's job in San Diego prior to the 2007 season. In his first season the Padres were 89-74, the most wins for the team since 1998.

The Padres finished 63-99 in 2008 before improving by 12 wins last season. But now San Diego has postseason hopes as it began play Saturday two games ahead of Los Angeles and Colorado in the NL West.

"Last year the way we finished the season left a good taste in everyone's mouth," Black said. "It gave our group a lot of confidence coming into this season. The acquisitions we made this winter put an exclamation point behind our team. A lot of good things happened last year and carried into this year."

Hairston, who has been in the majors since 1998, played last season for Dusty Baker in Cincinnati and under Joe Girardi with the Yankees. He said Black and those two managers have something in common.

"They respect the players. They get the most out of the players," said Hairston, an infielder.

A third-generation big leaguer, Hairston knew about Black from his brother Scott, who first joined the Padres in 2007.

"He has been great, a player's manager," Jerry Hairston Jr. said of Black. "He is not far removed from the game. He knows it is a grind."

Hairston said Black lightens the mood, especially in spring training.

"He is very witty," said Hairston, who adds that Black also knows when to be serious.

Eckstein, the shortstop from the Angels' title team in 2002, said of Black: "Bud is a great player's manager, especially for this type of club. We have a bunch of young guys. We have to teach the game the right way. That is what Bud has a great feeling for."

Right-handed pitcher Tim Stauffer, part of a strong bullpen for the Padres, said Black is a good complement to pitching coach Darren Balsley and bullpen coach Darrel Akerfelds.

"It is great to have an extra person with that pitching knowledge," Stauffer said. "He lets us pitch our game. This year we had a better idea in spring training of what was expected of us."

The Padres made their only trip to Washington this season for a three-game series that ended Thursday, and Black was able to mix business with family. On Tuesday he joined his wife, Nanette, and one of his daughters, Jessie, on a tour of the University of Maryland campus in nearby College Park, Md.

Jessie Black, who was recruited for the gymnastics team at Maryland, will be a freshman for the Terps this fall. Black, on Wednesday, brought Maryland gymnastics coach Brett Nelligan into the San Diego clubhouse to meet some of his coaching staff.

Nelligan stood a few feet away in the Padres' dugout as Black met with reporters before the game. And what about the younger Black?

"Her best event is beams," Nelligan said of Jessie Black, one of several California recruits.

Black grew up in Longview and played in college at San Diego. He had no East Coast connections.

"I have a tie now," he said, regarding his daughter.

Maryland's homecoming football game is Oct. 30, a big time of year for alumni and parents of students to visit campus. But if all goes well for the Padres, Black won't be able to attend if his team goes far in baseball's postseason.