SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. (AP) Bud Black called on young pitcher Rayan Gonzalez and put the Puerto Rican right-hander on the spot in front of everybody.
Colorado’s new manager inquired about what Gonzalez likes to do away from the field? Gonzalez shared that he and wife, Alexa, regularly do salsa dancing. Cue the salsa music – well, after two miscues playing merengue tunes before being corrected by the pitcher – and there was Gonzalez on Wednesday showing off his moves in the clubhouse.
”The other guys didn’t know it, so we broke some music out,” Black said, ”he did his thing.”
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For three minutes, in fact. Gonzalez stopped at one point and Black told him ”You’re not done yet, keep going.”
Black learned the difference between merengue and salsa music.
”It was kind of a mistake to tell him I dance salsa, because he just took advantage of that,” Gonzalez chuckled Friday morning. ”He had the right approach, and I like how he gets new guys to warm up with the team and feel like you deserve to be here around the experienced guys. It was a good approach to get me out there and get all the jitters out.”
Back managing in the NL West after a year away following his Padres departure, Black is establishing a close-knit culture at Colorado’s spring training home.
”He’s been keeping everything really loose and energetic around here,” said veteran reliever Mike Dunn, who agreed to a $19 million, three-year deal in December. ”Every morning we’ve got a meet-the-player type thing, and he runs it.”
All good-natured fun and traditional dancing aside, Black’s players already get a sense he has their best interests in mind. Black is trying to get to know everybody in short order, and many players have been here weeks ahead of Monday’s first full-squad workout.
Black has patterned his approach off what he learned as a pitching coach for Angels manager Mike Scioscia. Cubs manager Joe Maddon also was on that staff.
”To be honest with you, I don’t know these guys,” Black said before the Rockies’ workout Friday. ”It’s sort of cool getting to know them.”
Black had a gut feeling the 26-year-old Gonzalez – who pitched in Double-A last year in his fifth professional season – would handle dancing in front of the group.
”He has that personality and that self-confidence,” Black said. ”Part of what we do humanizes us. It’s part of a team-building process that guys get to know each other and it sort of creates a situation of a bond of a team when you truly know guys outside of what happens on the field. I learned that from Mike in our days with the Angels, and I think that’s important. And the human element of the game is sometimes overlooked. It’s good for guys sometimes to come out of their shell and show who they are. For a lot of guys it’s sort of tough, but they’re better off for it.”
So, what would Black tell his players if he had to share?
”I like to golf, I like to read non-fiction, I like autobiographies, I would say I’m sort of a novice fly fisherman. I like to fly fish but I’m not overly skilled,” said the 59-year-old Black, skipper in San Diego from 2007-15 before working again for the Angels last year. ”I like sporting events.”
The Rockies will look to Black’s long resume and experience as they look to gain ground in the division after last year’s third-place finish at 75-87.
”He’s awesome,” Trevor Story said. ”He’s a great baseball mind and he’s been around a long time. He brings a lot of experience and a lot of knowledge. I just like him for the person that he is, too. He brings some really good energy and he’s an exciting guy to be around. You can kind of sense that he’s ready and that he wants to lead the team. He seems to be pretty pumped up about us right now.”
That get-to-know you vibe is rubbing off. Slugger Carlos Gonzalez walked into the clubhouse Friday with a warm ”Morning guys!” to Dunn and Jason Motte. Dunn offered a ”How we doing?” and Motte made sure CarGo knew he was ”looking good today.”
Black loves it.
”Those of us in this chair never take this position for granted and what this means to an organization, what it means to our sport,” he said. ”We all feel as though having this position is special.”