PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — Even during the Grapefruit League, it’s never too soon to start keeping score in the Subway Series. But with the Yankees traveling with a stripped-down roster for Wednesday’s game at First Data Field, the only head-to-head matchup worth evaluating at this milepost in early March is the performance of the two first-year managers, Aaron Boone and Mickey Callaway.
Both hirings reflected where each team was at the end of the 2017 season. The Yankees, trying to do a 180 from the button-pushing Joe Girardi, believed they found the perfect candidate in Boone, the affable October hero turned TV analyst. For the Mets, it was time to turn the page on Terry Collins, who in their view had reached the expiration date. And with the team’s rotation-first mindset, Mickey Callaway’s pitching pedigree was the ideal match.
From what we’ve witnessed so far in spring training, their jobs are as different as the two franchises. The only similarity binding them is their inexperience in the role, and Boone — despite a team saddled with World Series expectations — seems to be under a more casual scrutiny than his Flushing counterpart.
“I haven’t been blindsided yet by anything,” Boone said. “I know it’s coming. I’m not naive enough to think that. You don’t really know until you’re in it, but I would say I don’t feel like I’ve been caught off guard or surprised.”
So far, the media interactions of both managers have provided some insight. Boone’s postgame interviews at Steinbrenner Field take place with him seated in the manager’s office, a conversational setting that allows for a bit more relaxed discourse. Callaway has to climb a stage in the conference room, edge up to the microphone, and stare into a TV camera for what amounts to an interrogation.
That’s a baptism of fire for Callaway, who wasn’t exposed to anything like that as a pitching coach in Cleveland, and he’s also had to deal with a front office keeping tighter reins on information since the irritating communication snafus with Collins. The Mets’ injury-related narrative also has been an obstacle, with Callaway having to be extra careful on the condition and prognosis of players. Hence, the team’s daily “medical update” email, which is a unique concept for an MLB club.
Compare that with what the Yankees put on Boone’s plate. The front office leaves it up to Boone to provide news on his players’ health — Clint Frazier is recovering from a concussion, Jacoby Ellsbury’s strained oblique is improving — and it’s a much less formal exchange. The Yankees aren’t battling the same medical obstacles as the Mets, so they don’t have to be as buttoned up. But Boone already appears to have meshed seamlessly with the Yankees, despite logging only a month in the pinstriped uniform.
“I attribute it to I’m surrounded by really good people,” Boone said. “It’s an organization on sound footing and solid ground, and that makes it a lot of fun to come in and just try to be a part of it.”
Boone has the uncanny ability to look comfortable anywhere, whether it’s on a dugout bench, penned in by reporters, or standing behind a batting cage. And that confident ease is shared by his team, which has seemed to thrive since Brian Cashman pushed the reset button among his coaching ranks. Even with a new manager, and the staff turnover, the Yankees haven’t flinched, and they stomped the Mets in Wednesday’s 11-4 rout as the few prospects and young backups did the heavy lifting.
“So far, everything has been going really well,” said Brett Gardner, the longest-tenured vet on the Yankees’ trip. “Everybody on the staff has fit right in.”
Callaway’s purpose, in part, was to stamp his pitching imprint on these Mets, with the help of coach Dave Eiland. And for what it’s worth, the marquee rotation names have not only stayed healthy, but also performed well, the only exception being Steven Matz. Callaway must have a broader scope than merely the pitching staff, but that remains his specialty, and early in camp he was frequently spotted chatting up rotation members whenever he had the chance.
Beyond that, Callaway is learning on the job, too. Maybe more so than a number of his players. The best managers get that way by being able to anticipate what comes next.
“I’m trying to prepare every day for what might happen,” Callaway said.
Words to live by for a Mets manager. And probably helpful for Boone to keep in mind, too.