Seattle Mariners

Dave Boling: Almost time to see how Servais manages Mariners’ chemistry

Seattle Mariners manager Scott Servais is carefully eyeing his new team’s chemistry in the clubhouse.
Seattle Mariners manager Scott Servais is carefully eyeing his new team’s chemistry in the clubhouse. The Associated Press

Perhaps you’ve lost track of how many “New Beginnings” the Mariners have made in the 14 seasons since they last advanced to the postseason. They run together after a while.

But the latest vast makeover included an influx of personnel from top to bottom and certainly qualifies the 2016 Mariners as “new.”

It may take a while before we see if it amounts to a different direction or just the latest edition of a tiresome legacy. But change brings hope. And that’s fair.

Whenever a new staff arrives, it’s customary these days to cite one of two vague factors that must be improved or changed: culture or chemistry.

In this case, new manager Scott Servais is a chemistry man.

It makes sense. Maybe analytics tells you to take the numbers on the baseball cards of all the new guys and add them up and that’s what you get.

But winning teams become more than the sum of their stats. The individuals complement the whole, and they are stronger as a unit because of it.

When Lou Piniella was asked to look back and assess the 116-win Mariners of 2001, that was one of the first words he used: “chemistry.”

Some of the players off that club said they remembered it being a rare instance when everybody was still happy to go out to dinner on the road with any teammate even late in the season.

Sure, it’s easier when you’re on a winning team, so it’s fair to ask which came first. I think chemistry helps fuel the mechanism, and it certainly helps smooth the bumps and pare down the obstacles along the way during the long baseball season.

So massaging a team’s interpersonal relationships is a laudable goal, but one that is tricky and demands such a nuanced and delicate balance. Too much and it can get smarmy in a hurry.

The Mariners start next Monday and will start providing almost nightly evidence of their identity.

A couple of things suggest that Servais has a sense of what it’s going to take. He’s the seventh full-time manager of the Mariners since Piniella left in 2002.

One of the most important things he learned in training camp, he said recently, was “the personalities of the players.”

He’s urged them to consider actually talking to each other rather than diving straight onto their electronic devices the second they get into the clubhouse.

And at times during meetings, he’s asked players to reveal a few things about themselves, personal things, things that are important to them.

Some early drills were structured to enhance intrasquad competition rather than engaging in rote exercises. Competition is more fun.

Stars Robinson Cano and Nelson Cruz wore superhero costumes the other day at batting practice. Not only does that lighten the mood, it is evidence that they were communicating beforehand to plan the stunt. Perhaps even by talking face to face.

Third baseman Kyle Seager said he’s noticed a new positive energy in the clubhouse, and he senses an honesty and openness in Servais. That’s a good early review.

Where could Servais have come up with such an approach? He didn’t have to look far.

A few days after landing the Mariners job, he put in a call to the Seahawks, quickly trying to tap into the way they have built their success. Coach Pete Carroll so often cites the relationships in the building and the family environment that fosters unity.

Servais explained his take on that earlier in camp.

“(Players) have to know you care about them, more than just what they do on the field,” he said. “You have to get to know their families, where they came from. Players don’t care what you know until they know how much you care.”

If it sounds a lot like Pete Carroll, then maybe that’s not such a bad step toward developing winning chemistry.

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