MILWAUKEE — The 162-game schedule of a major league baseball season doesn’t afford many breaks to its managers. Day after day, MLB managers come to the park with little on their mind other than the success of the season at hand.
That’s been the case for the Brewers’ Ron Roenicke this season, his second at the helm in Milwaukee. With the team in the playoff hunt until almost the bitter end, Roenicke barely had time to see his own son play baseball with the nearby Wisconsin Timber Rattlers, let alone appreciate the other, simpler parts of life.
But on Tuesday, 160 games down in that schedule, Roenicke took a moment to appreciate the world around him and everything he had missed. He took a drive through Milwaukee to take in the splendor of autumn — the changing colors of the leaves, the cool, brisk autumn air, the simple changing of seasons.
“Unbelievable,” Roenicke said about the drive. It was a break from his around-the-clock, day-and-night job, one in which nearly every MLB manager is underappreciated at some point.
It was a break Roenicke most definitely has earned this season.
When Brewers’ fans look back at the 2012 season, it’s not likely to stick out to them as a particularly fantastic year. With Milwaukee set to finish just around .500, no one is breaking down the door to hand Roenicke the NL Manager of the Year award. But this season — and the method for evaluating it — is something entirely different than last season. It was about adversity and injury, two things Roenicke had to deal with only on rare occasion last summer.
Such seasons are often the most underappreciated for a manager like Roenicke. A winning team doesn’t often need daily motivation to turn things around. And though every team goes through an inevitable slump through the course of a 162-game schedule, there’s nothing quite like dealing with the concept that your team might be out of the pennant race in early August just a year after playing in a league championship series.
That’s the situation Roenicke encountered a little more than a month ago. The Brewers, by all accounts, were done. Dead and gone. The rest of the baseball world had given up on them, and no one would’ve batted an eye if they would’ve slowly slipped away into youth-induced obscurity.
But that’s what makes Roenicke such an impressive manager — that thought never crossed his mind. He recognized what was wrong with the Brewers and set out to fix it, telling them they could find themselves back in the race somehow, someday, if they were to just focus on one game at a time. He was patient, unlike so many managers in baseball today.
And he was rewarded handsomely for that patience when, during the final month and a half of the season, the Brewers showed the sky-high potential he knew they had all along. Roenicke led his team to wins in 24 of 30 games in a span from late August to late September, and along the way he kept the very same attitude he had when the team had been struggling: Take things one game at a time, every time.
That mantra is what makes Roenicke so effective within the confines of his own personality. He’s not what you might call a “rah-rah” guy. He’s not going to fly off the handle or deliver an inspiring speech. His managing is rooted in consistency.
Players all season have talked about how much they appreciate Roenicke’s style. He doesn’t micromanage. He doesn’t single anyone out. He’s a one-on-one type of guy, meeting daily with the majority of his players to see what’s on their mind. And for a team that just needed to sit back and relax at times this season, that kind of coaching style was a perfect precursor to what was an inspiring run at a playoff berth.
But that’s Ron Roenicke — patient, even-keeled and strategic. It’s a style that’s tamed major personalities like Nyjer Morgan and also motivated young players like Mike Fiers and Marco Estrada. His managing this season was as wide-reaching among his players as any manager in baseball, and for a team that needed confidence and needed to feel loyalty from its leader, that made all the difference.
Roenicke won’t be in Milwaukee long after the season ends, but as general manager Doug Melvin announced on Tuesday, he’ll be returning as expected in 2013. It was a vote of confidence Roenicke told reporters about on Tuesday, grinning.
Soon after Wednesday’s game, Roenicke and his wife will embark on a three-day journey back to California and their offseason home. After a long season of ups and downs, of highs and lows, Roenicke will have plenty of time to relax and take in the world around him.
Time that Roenicke, most certainly, deserves after one heck of a coaching job this season.