GLENDALE, Ariz. -- As Greg Maddux came out of Team USA's dugout to visit Derek Holland in a World Baseball Classic exhibition Tuesday afternoon, the team's public-relations manager, John Blundell, casually noted: "His first trip ever to the mound as a pitching coach."
Technically, he was correct. But every time Maddux went to the mound over 22 seasons and 355 major-league victories, wasn't he essentially doing it as a pitching coach? Simply watching him should have been instructive, a constant reminder of the lethal properties hiding in an 88 m.p.h. fastball. Right or wrong, we always thought he could answer the "Wow, how did he do that?" question that amounts to pure rhetoric when applied to other exceptional athletes .
Joe Torre, the USA manager, said he had contacted Maddux before any other potential member of his coaching staff. The belief that working in the WBC imperils arms demanded a reassuring presence.
"I just felt it was important to have a pitching coach who knows what it's like to go through spring training, and he was playing, what, four years ago?" Torre said. "It's a security blanket for a lot of the pitchers here."
Maddux took a day to answer Torre's request, clearing the idea with his family.
"I wanted to do it the minute I hung up," he said. "But you've got to take care of the other side of your life."
Maddux said he hadn't studied the effect of WBC participation on arms, but he committed to running the staff exactly as if it were prepping to start a full MLB season.
"I know the intensity of the games is a lot more," he said. "But the physical load of it's going to be no different from what they're accustomed to this time of year in spring training."
Maddux has spent the last three seasons as a special instructor for the Cubs and Rangers, where older brother Mike holds the full-time job as pitching coach. His responsibilities have been limited, allowing for a normal family life relative to his years as a player. But he got back into the game very quickly, and he doesn't dismiss the suggestion that he might enter full-time coaching when both his children have moved onto adult lives.
"You never know," he said Tuesday.
Common sense suggests he would be the only 300-game winner from the era of eight-figure salaries to consider, for even a second, the rigors of coaching. But Randy Johnson, more from the "you can't coach someone to be 6-foot-10" school of athletes, turned up at the Diamondbacks' camp this week and hinted again at an interest in some sort of coaching assignment.
The two other 21st-century arrivals to the 300 Club have also veered into coaching, though not necessarily in a predictable manner. Clemens has begun Maddux-like consulting with the Astros, while Glavine really departed from the obvious: A fourth-round draft pick by the L.A. Kings in 1984, he coaches an Atlanta youth hockey team.
At the moment, Maddux has to defer to some pretty strict WBC ground rules (no more than 65 pitches per appearance in this opening round) and the concerns of his pitchers' regular coaches. But he's free to coach in the most important ways, advising on technique or massaging a pickoff move. More than free, actually.
"That's one of my obligations," he said.
It might also have been one of Torre's recruiting tools.
"I think it made a lot of general managers, and managers comfortable (about pitchers leaving spring camps for the WBC)," he said, "because let's think about it. Their pitchers have a chance to spend these weeks with Greg Maddux. That's pretty good tutoring."
Ryan Vogelsong, the Giants' postseason ace of 2012, didn't hesitate when asked what he most wanted to learn from Maddux: "The backdoor two-seamer to a righty. I have my first bullpen session with him tomorrow, and we're going to dive into it."
Holland, already a protégé as a Ranger, said Maddux had helped his fielding off the mound, making his reactions more efficient.
But the real test for Maddux won't be graded until the end of the major-league season, and it will be marked on an unreasonable curve. In any given year, a pitcher can break down, fade out or lack the stamina he had the previous season. If it happens to one of the American WBC starters, by definition a small sample size, the Classic and everyone involved its administration will take the blame.
Vogelsong, 35, didn't miss a start all of last season, and played through three rounds of the postseason, a workload that should have made this tournament's demands seem daunting, even unnerving.
On Tuesday, his short-term pitching coach laid out an agenda that stressed the long-term effects of their time together.
"Mentally, we want to have them better off when the season starts," Maddux said, "and physically we want to get them stronger than they were before, when we return them to their teams."
He didn't make a promise, but he seemed very confident that this coaching staff could govern almost any vagary. He made a specialty of that for 22 years. Now he has to do it with the ball in other people's hands.