This time, coming into a ballpark to manage against his former team didn’t feel strange at all to San Jose skipper Lenn Sakata.
At this time last year, Sakata was the manager of the Modesto Nuts, still a little less than three months away from being fired by the Colorado organization.
On Monday, in his first trip back to Modesto since being rehired by San Francisco and placed back in charge of the team he led on the field for six previous seasons (1999, 2001, 04-07) Sakata looked very much at home as he relaxed in the visitors’ clubhouse.
“It felt funny the first time I went back to San Jose as a Modesto Nut and was sitting on the wrong side of the field,” Sakata said. “This time, being back with San Francisco, I’m not only back with a different group of kids, but a different age group of kids, and it can be difficult to adjust to those kinds of things.”
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Sakata managed in Japan for two season, then was out of baseball for one year befor the Rockies picked him up in 2011 and sent him to Asheville as hitting coach. The following year he came to Modesto as manager and in one-and-a-half seasons at John Thurman Field added to his California League career record for managerial victories, walking away with 684.
If nothing else, he’s coming back to Modesto for this four-game series with very good scouting reports on many of the Nuts – reports gained from his own observations. But Sakata chuckled, then shrugged it off that such knowledge would constitute any kind of advantage.
“You can scout all you want but it always comes down to executing, and we’re a team right now that is struggling to to that – to throw strikes and struggling with our defense,” said Sakata, whose Giants entered the series with a 10-14 record, in fourth place in the five-team North Division. “But this is the level where you find out whether they’re going to be able to do that.
“The bottom line is that already I can see the kids improving, and that’s not necessarily reflected in the record of the team. If they’re producing and developing, then winning becomes a part of the whole thing.”
As part of his sudden departure from the Nuts’ helm – the Rockies said they needed someone more supportive of the organization’s player development philosophy – Sakata never got the chance to say goodbye to the fans or front office in Modesto.
“I had a great relationship with the front office here,” Sakata said. “They were nice to me and we became friends. Outside of that, being here is just business as usual. You go to the ballpark every day and you hope for the best.”
And especially in his first season with the Nuts, one that ended with the team advancing to the league championship series, Sakata had a great bond with the fans. In fact, he was the first Modesto manager to be graced with his own Twitter hashtag #inlennwetrust.
“Occasionally I look back at some of the teams I’ve had, and I’m very proud of that group,” Sakata said of the 2012 team. “From the beginning of the season on we never had the team we were supposed to have ... but that group improved from day one. It was hurt from the start of the season by having a shallow bullpen and from having starters who couldn’t get you past the fourth inning.
“That ended up hurting us in the playoffs. I do think the organization was trying to find guys to help us but there wasn’t anybody available at that time who could help us. I give those kids a lot of credit because a lot of them played hurt. Those kids were special.”