Brad Ausmus, first-year manager of the Detroit Tigers, smiled at me and explained his pregame routine of running, one he continued along the warning track of the Yankee Stadium outfield, as if he'd given himself laps for disobeying himself.
"I don't like to sit still very long," Ausmus said, wiping sweat from his forehead as he sat in the manager's chair Tuesday afternoon. Maybe that's not what you expect from a guy who caught for 18 seasons, but Ausmus has always been an uncertain fit in traditional expectations for baseball players. So even as the two of us chatted, Ausmus was constant movement, sitting little more than another activity for him. "I don't like to sit around."
It's been the kind of kinetic energy that Ausmus seems to favor in daily life when viewing his career, too. The veteran ballplayer didn't exactly wait around for the next chapter of his life to begin when he retired after the 2010 season.
"I stayed involved in the game," Ausmus said. "I stopped playing in 2010, and right away I started working for the Padres -- I think, before the postseason was even over, I was working for the Padres as a special assistant. So I was always involved in some regard."
So how exactly did Ausmus make the jump from recently-retired special assistant to successor to the great Jim Leyland?
In essence, it happened because everybody else thought he should manage.
"It was more than halfway through my career, for sure," Ausmus said of when he first considered managing. "So I'm guessing, maybe, 2004, '05, right around there. I don't know that I necessarily thought of myself as managing on my own. I think it was brought to me. A coach, or a manager, or a media member said, 'Oh, you should manage.' And then more coaches, and then more teammates, managers, said the same thing."
He's not kidding, by the way. The Dartmouth product had long been touted as a potential manager, to the point that Joe Torre had him manage a game for the Dodgers before his playing days even ended, in 2009.
"At some point, I started paying closer attention strategically, from a managerial perspective," Ausmus said. "I think it was, initially, something that was suggested to me as a path. But ultimately, it had to be something that I enjoy doing. And at some point, that shift occurred."
Ausmus understood that while he was inheriting a team from Leyland that advanced to the ALCS last October, that presents a different set of problems for a new manager.
"There's probably a little bit of expectation following a successful manager like Jim Leyland," Ausmus said. "Not necessarily to be Jim Leyland, but not to ruin what Jim Leyland had in place. I think a lot of people take for granted -- they look at our roster, and they assume this team will win. And on a day-to-day basis, that's not how it works. The roster on a sheet of paper is not playing the game. The players play the game."
But if Ausmus is constantly on the move, so, too, are his players. Okay, maybe not constantly: these are still the Tigers of Miguel Cabrera. But a team that stole 35 bases all season in 2013, last in the American League, has 71 already in 2014, good for fourth.
I asked Ausmus whether that comes from changing personnel alone, or if it is his way of making sure his roster isn't complacent after last season's success.
"I think it's a combination," Ausmus said. "I certainly believe you've got to take chances, you've got to force them to make plays. That doesn't mean you force things haphazardly, but you've got to force them to make plays. And sometimes it's not gonna work out, and sometimes you're gonna run when you shouldn't, you get caught. But overall, I think the concept of taking the game to the opponent, winning the game, instead of trying to not lose the game, I think that is something important to me."
The results haven't turned the Tigers into Whitey Herzog's Cardinals, but there's been a significant jump in effectiveness on the basepaths. Last season's Tigers were the worst by a wide margin in the league, worth -24.9 baserunning runs, per Baseball Prospectus. This year's Tigers are all the way up to 20th in the league, at just -2.8 baserunning runs.
Really, the most amazing part of Ausmus' first season is how little it seems to have worried the fans. A 2.5 game lead in August will have that effect, but Tigers fans are used to postseason berths. They are hungry for that World Series title. But little angst seems to exist about the rookie manager who will try to end that drought.
Still, while Ausmus prepares for what looks like October baseball in Detroit, he's adjusting to life without his wife and children, who remained back in San Diego. He's moved around before, of course -- who can forget the three times he was dealt between Detroit and Houston alone? -- but he'd gotten used to more time with Sophie, now a junior in high school, and Abby, a freshman.
"It's definitely easier, because I've moved," Ausmus said. "And my wife and kids have moved. But we didn't wholesale move to Detroit. But my kids will still go to school in the San Diego area, where they've gone to school their whole lives -- and it would be a bit much for me to ask them to change now."
The same seems true of Ausmus, finally in the position preordained by everyone around him. He brightened when he told me about his wife and kids, spending the summer relaxing in Cape Cod. I asked if he was jealous.
"Nah, they send me pictures," Ausmus replied.
Now try to picture Ausmus doing the same thing. Not likely.
"They've come to Detroit multiple times," Ausmus said of his family. "It's easier because of past experiences, but it's still hard. It's tough to be away from your family at times. It's tough to leave home."
That manager's perch sure looks like a good home for Ausmus, too.