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It was only spring training and it was only temporary, but if Don Mattingly's goal was to look managerial, he succeeded, even with the graying soul patch spread across his lower lip.
He sounded pretty managerial, too.
"Right now, all I'm worried about is our ballclub and getting our hitters going and making sure they're on the right path," said Mattingly, who is also a pretty solid hitting coach when he isn't filling in for an absent Joe Torre as manager of the Dodgers. "I have had a chance to be around Joe for a while, and I know where I want to go. But I also know what my job is now, and I'm keeping my mind on that."
Where Mattingly wants to go is something he has never tried to hide. A longtime major league coach under Torre, the former six-time All-Star, American League Most Valuable Player and nine-time Gold Glove first baseman believes he is ready, or at least close to being ready, to take that next step and become a big league skipper.
|The usually reserved skipper-in-waiting talked and joked with reporters Wednesday as if he'd been doing it forever.|
In the midst of his first daily media briefing as the Dodgers' acting manager Wednesday, Mattingly was asked what had been said in those meetings.
"I came away from it feeling like I was a part of their future and they liked me," he said. "I like it here, too, so I'll just keep working toward that."
Mattingly said that although no promises were made, the overtures he did receive were strong enough to make him pull out of consideration for the Washington job, something he says he wouldn't have done otherwise.
"I like California," said Mattingly, who still lives in his native Evansville, Ind., in the winter. "I liked it the first time I went there to play the Angels. I liked the weather, coming from the East Coast where it was always hot, because it was cool at night. But more than anything, it fit my personality. I have always been pretty laid-back, especially off the field, and I have always enjoyed my time away from the game.
"It just fits me perfectly."
If Mattingly does get the chance to succeed Torre, whether in 2011 or 2012, he will bring that same reserved personality to the job. He played for an eclectic array of managers in his 14 seasons in the big leagues, including fiery types such as Billy Martin (three times) and Lou Piniella. He said he'll take a little of what he learned from each of them but, ultimately, he won't emulate any of them.
""I can't be like Billy and Lou," Mattingly said. "I think you have to be yourself, and I will be myself no matter what. I'm boring. I'm a boring interview. People know that isn't going to change."
I came away from it feeling like I was a part of their future and they liked me. I like it here, too, so I'll just keep working toward that." -- Dodgers hitting coach Don Mattingly
This was Mattingly's first day as a big league manager, or a manager at any level of pro ball for that matter, but only in the official sense. Torre had allowed Mattingly to manage the four Cactus League games the Dodgers played before Torre's departure for Taiwan, with Torre sitting nearby for support and handling all the media obligations.
"Joe had to take the heat," Mattingly said.
This time, though, there was no safety net, and the day featured at least one glaring hiccup -- but even that turned to gold for the Dodgers. Somehow, the official lineup cards the Dodgers submitted to plate umpire Brian Runge and to the Arizona Diamondbacks for the Cactus League game had Matt Kemp hitting third and Andre Ethier fourth, the exact opposite of every other lineup posted around the facility, including those given to the press box.
Mattingly said that after Ethier flied out to center to end the first and Kemp did the same to start the second, Runge informed Mattingly that they had batted out of turn and that the Dodgers had "established a new order." Mattingly took that to mean they would continue to bat in that order the rest of the game. But after Kemp flied to left and Ethier grounded out to end the third, Runge came back to the dugout.
"He said, 'I think we have a misunderstanding,"' Mattingly said later. "The way I understood it, we had re-established the order. But [bench coach Bob Schaefer] said he thought that was wrong, and it turned out that it was."
So, in an effort to resolve the situation, Runge made a decision that seemed to make no sense and would wreak havoc with the postgame box score. He decreed that Ethier, who had been the next-to-last batter in the third, would lead off the fourth so that he would follow Kemp in the order.
So Ethier did lead off the fourth. And drove an opposite-field homer to left-center off Bob Howry, tying the score at 1-1.
"It was right on our lineup card, but obviously, we got it wrong [on the official card]," Mattingly said after the game. "I should have checked it, which we usually do. Schaef puts it on the [official] card, but it's my job to check it, and I didn't do that."
Mattingly, who had been in a relaxed mood all day, then smiled.
"But wasn't it great to get that out of the way in spring training?" he said. "In that sense, you have to look at it as a positive."
Other than a blown ninth-inning lead that resulted in a 4-4 tie (the game was stopped after the Dodgers didn't score in their half because the teams had used all their allotted pitchers), the entire day was a positive for Mattingly.
|Donnie Baseball is most comfortable talking hitting with hitters, but he's ready for more.|
There was also a little glimpse into the past and the future at the same time, as Tommy Lasorda chatted up Mattingly in the dugout for much of the game.
In the end, the day was mostly about symbolism. Torre still isn't ready to retire; the Dodgers still aren't ready to make an ironclad commitment to Mattingly as their next manager; and this was, after all, a Cactus League game. But it was a good look at what Mattingly will be like as a full-fledged skipper, and he handled it with aplomb, even exchanging witty banter with reporters both before and after the game.
In short, he looked, sounded and acted like a natural fit for the job of manager of the Dodgers. He also acted like a man who feels at least some sense of assurance that his time to fill that job will come.
"I like this a lot," he said. "Again, I have been doing it every day since we started playing, so it didn't feel any different today. I have to talk to you guys, that's the only thing that's different."
He'll get used to that, too.
Tony Jackson covers the Dodgers for ESPNLosAngeles.com