David Wright was a Mets rookie back then, but even he noticed that wherever the coaches and manager were, Joe McEwing never seemed too far behind.
"Pretty much from the first day that I met Joe, he was already in a weird way kind of a coach to me,'' Wright said this past week. "Really, we spent the majority of the waking hours around one another, talking about baseball, and he loves the game.''
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McEwing, 41, never stopped loving the game, nor did he ever stop talking about it. Perhaps it's why he still hopes that someday -- as a manager in the major leagues -- he can pass along all the lessons picked up along the way.
"There's a reason why you have two ears, two eyes and one mouth,'' said McEwing, a fan favorite during his five seasons with the Mets (2000-04), when he earned the moniker of "Super Joe.'' "You sit back and you listen and you learn; you watch and you learn and not talk.''
On the field, the undersized McEwing scratched out a big-league career by playing every position except pitcher and catcher. Off the field, he served as a mentor. When Wright was called up for the first time in 2004, it was McEwing who counseled the future Mets captain on where to live, when to arrive at the ballpark and how to conduct himself as a big-leaguer.
"That's something that's going to make him a very successful manager,'' Wright said. "Knowing the smaller details of what he needed to do to be successful as a player, and turning that over into a manager's position.''
For McEwing, the last six seasons have been devoted to moving up the ranks within the White Sox organization, and he has two successful minor-league managerial stints to his credit. When the White Sox hired his former Mets teammate, Robin Ventura, as their manager in 2012, they elevated McEwing to third-base coach.
"He's an extremely positive guy, great communicator, great instructor, really knows the game well, mind that works quickly on the fly,'' White Sox general manager Rick Hahn said. "He's just a real good guy to have around.''
McEwing describes his managerial style as old school. Sacrifice bunts, which in recent years have become discouraged, still occupy a place in his thinking. Defensive overshifting, the current rage throughout baseball, does not.
Sound decisions, he believes, come down to being in tune with the needs of 25 individuals with 25 different personalities. For each one, McEwing sees himself in the role of psychologist.
"You've got to find out what makes each guy tick,'' he said. "That starts with a lot of communication to your players and your staff throughout the day.''
Although baseball's new wave of information has its place, McEwing said much of his managerial philosophy centers on the individual. "Something that may work for Adam Dunn isn't going to work for David Wright,'' McEwing said. "There's so many different situations.''
Hahn understands why McEwing might identify himself as a throwback. Hahn, however, said that understanding McEwing means going beyond "putting him in a box, so to speak, old school or new school or whatever.''
"He's a bright guy, he's an open-minded guy, he works extremely hard and he wants to get it right,'' Hahn said. "He's committed to getting things right.''
For now, McEwing remains open to managerial opportunities, though he stops short of lobbying for jobs. He insists he's in "no hurry'' to speed the process. Although he remained in the background during the latest wave of managerial hirings, McEwing interviewed for the Cardinals' vacancy in 2011 that eventually went to Mike Matheny.
Still, those around him believe McEwing already is close to his destination.
"I'm hoping for selfish reasons that day doesn't come in the near future,'' Hahn said. "But I don't think we're too far away from him getting his shot.''