Bob Melvin didn’t want to talk much about his prostate surgery, other than to compliment the doctors at UCSD Health and say he was just fine.
“I’m glad I’m back,” he said. “It’s miserable being away.”
Before that, he asked that there be only minimal discussion of his health or even his being away from the team.
“I slinked away, and I’m slinking back,” Melvin said as he sat on the dugout bench at Oracle Park before the Padres played the Giants in his first game since May 11 prostate surgery. “Nothing changed.”
And that’s the real story. It’s a big deal Melvin is back.
“It’s a different presence,” Luke Voit said Friday. “He’s always so calm.”
Said Ryan Christenson, the man who filled in for Melvin managing games: “It’s just a different vibe in there today.”
Melvin is a presence. He is a vibe.
And it also wasn’t a big deal Melvin missed the first six games of this road trip. That’s by design. His design from him.
Christenson filled in capably, both pulling levers during games and doing the massaging required to keep a collection of major league players and major league personalities moving as a productive unit.
The Padres went 4-2 on this trip without Melvin, who remained in virtually constant contact with Christenson. They won two of the three games he missed at Petco Park while dealing with symptoms that led to the need for surgery.
“We’re excited to have Bob back and Ryno did a tremendous job for us,” Manny Machado said. “I did a great job. But having Bob back with us is huge. We definitely missed him.”
This isn’t either-or. This is because of.
The Padres might have done so well without Melvin, at least in part, because of what he has instilled in them just a couple of months.
In his first remarks to the team in spring training, Melvin had to address the absence of Fernando Tatis Jr. Players were notably affected by what he said.
He was going to use all of them. They were all going to count on each other. They’d be fine. They would win games in different ways and really be good when Tatis returned.
“It’s not 26, it’s not 28,” Melvin told the media around that time, which according to players was similar to his message to them. “A lot of times, it’s 40 or 50 (players) over the course of the season. So we’re talking about one guy. Obviously, he’s extremely important, but that should motivate us to hold down the fort until he gets back. And that’s the way we’re going to approach it.”
Now, it is important to note almost any leader would have said similar things. And several times this season, Melvin has used similar terms or espoused almost identical rationale to the Padres managers that preceded him.
But they weren’t Bob Melvin.
“Bob is one of those guys who when he speaks it’s just different,” Wil Myers said. “He’s very approachable, and he talks to guys. But when he has something serious to say you just really listen. There’s something about him and who he is. You just really, really lock into what he says. I don’t know what it is. I think it’s probably who he is as a manager, what he’s done in the game and just how he goes about carrying himself. But when he speaks you just really lock into what he’s saying.”
Being prepared to deal with whatever happens is one of Melvin’s core tenets.
The day after Melvin matter-of-factly told the team in a clubhouse meeting about his upcoming procedure and that he’d be away for a time, Eric Hosmer waxed pragmatic.
“It’s not the same, but it’s a similar feel to like when Tati goes down,” Hosmer said that day. “We’ve got to pick up the slack and hold it down until (Melvin) comes back. Obviously, there’s way more important things than baseball. He’s gotta get his health from him right. … Hopefully we can hold it down, then he comes back and we forget about this quick and he can recover quick.”
Melvin would have been proud.
It’s clear his charges are listening.
“People need to step up,” Machado said Friday. “Team needs to step up. We need to continue to roll. The train keeps rolling. We have 26 guys right now, plus our staff. So everyone knows that we need to step up every single day. That’s what we continue to do every single day. Sometimes, unfortunate things happen.”
From the start, whether talking to players or the media, Melvin has exuded a completely unfettered aura. He knows what he and his team need to accomplish, and there is no unexpected occurrence that should change that.
He says things for public consumption the Padres’ previous two managers, both in the role for the first time and far more under the thumb of the front office, would never say. There is a confidence to Melvin that comes only with being Melvin.
The truth about experience is that it takes experience to have experience. Cachet is built over time — like over nearly two decades and 2,656 games and 1,370 victories and seven playoff appearances as a manager.
Melvin carries himself with an air that is a little bit CEO, a little bit wise grandfather, a part professor, a portion sherpa.
It is just a fact all that experience and charisma gives more weight to the concise, authoritative manner in which he speaks.
“He’s just the man,” pitcher Sean Manaea said. “He commands a room. When he speaks, everyone’s all ears. There’s no fluff or anything. It’s pretty much straight to the point. He’s been around the game for a very long time, and he’s been through everything that you can as a player and a manager. He’s just very insightful in everything that he does.”
It does help to have been there and done that, to know the game and end up being right about things.
In the aftermath of a disappointing 2-1 loss to the Giants that saw the Padres lose two straight to finish their first road trip, Melvin told the players they were going to win a lot of games if they kept playing like they were.
They routed the Braves the next night, lost two in a row and entered Friday’s game having gone 19-9 and followed every loss with at least one victory since then.
There is a message Melvin preaches that every coach from Vince Lombardi to Jayce Tingler has espoused.
He alluded to it again Friday when he addressed a question about the Padres’ upcoming opponents, most of which have winning records. He acknowledged his awareness of the schedule and also made sure it was known “our focus will be on today.”
One day at a time.
The Padres players have absorbed it from him as if he invented the phrase.
“I think a lot of it has to do with it’s coming from Bob,” Jake Cronenworth said recently. “It’s someone everyone in this clubhouse really, really trusts.”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism