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Padres' Tingler makes no assumptions about unique MLB season

Kevin Acee
San Diego Union-Tribune
San Diego Padres manager Jayce Tingler looks on during a spring training game in March. Tingler, a former University of Missouri player, is off to a 3-1 start in his first stint as a major league manager.

Those who end up achieving their goals generally weren't focused on the goal along the way. They focused on the process, did a little extra, got the job in front of them done.

Perhaps Jayce Tingler is merely one of those kinds of successful people.

Or maybe the man who became a manager seemingly out of nowhere, who did whatever was asked as best he could and as hard as he could, was also made to manage in such a time as this.

From playing at the University of Missouri to Double-A dropout to coach for the Texas Rangers in the Dominican Republic to major league coach to assistant general manager and back to the major league bench to his first gig as a big-league manager, Tingler took things as they came.

"I never had goals to be a major league coach," Tingler said this winter. "I never had goals to be an assistant GM. They just kind of came up. We just kind of tackled whatever was in front. We did the job to the best of our abilities. If you killed it, there may be more opportunities that come up front."

Alas, there can be no assumptions about this season, which began Friday after a delay of nearly four months due to COVID-19. His team is off to a 3-1 start through Monday’s games.

There can be goals – to finish the 60-game schedule, to guide the Padres into the playoffs for the first time since 2006, to win the franchise's first World Series. But to linger on them would be folly.

"The world we're living in right now," Tingler said, "it changes day to day."

That was one of his main themes of the past three weeks as the Padres conducted their summer camp in preparation for a coronavirus-shortened season.

As intense and detail-oriented as he clearly is, Tingler doesn't sweat what sweat can't change.

That is, of course, the philosophy so many espouse, especially in the major leagues. For six months over the course of the usual 162-game season, players and coaches and managers are constantly reminding us, each other and themselves to take those 187 days one at a time and control what can be controlled.

Perhaps never before has an adherence to that ideology been so crucial.

The specter of positive COVID-19 tests taking away a player for several games, or several players for several games or even wiping out the season hangs over the entire operation.

Tingler has been at the forefront of urging his players to be safe and also prompting them to take ownership of engaging in the fight against infection. But he knows the possibility of infection (and the ramifications of that) remains.

He has never made an effort to deny reality. Until recently, when it became apparent the start of the season was virtually assured, he refused to speak about it as a certainty. But neither did he dwell on there not being one.

"It sounds cliche, but we're truly day to day," he said. "(In summer camp), we never looked very far ahead and stayed day to day, the things we needed to get accomplished today. We'd start worrying about tomorrow at the end of practice. Other springs, you work four, five, six days in front when you're organizing a typical spring training. With this one, yeah Larry (Rothschild, the Padres pitching coach) and the crew had to plan out the pitching, but we were truly day to day with most of the preparation."

Tingler gives credit to players for the quality of work they did in the offseason, and several people throughout the game have said there weren't more than a handful of other teams that had as many players working out at their home ballpark as the Padres did at Petco Park.

But Tingler, too, was instrumental in setting that tone.

"There were a lot of low moments after we broke from Arizona," he said of the period immediately after spring training was suspended in mid-March. "There were probably a lot of moments it looked pretty bleak. The chances of playing this season didn't look strong at times. That was something myself (and) we had to fight against. It just came down to the natural reality of we just need to prepare and we need to take a mentality of we don't know when this thing is going to start, but we're just going to prepare and get better every day without having a start date. ... We had a lot of people contribute to that type of attitude, and now I feel we're going to be as prepared as we can be."

He does that frequently – deflect questions about himself while pointing to what others have done.

His response to a query about whether the excitement regarding his first season as a manager was in any way diminished by current circumstances was one such example.

"Not really," he said. "These are the cards that have been dealt. I'm more excited to get to opening day. It's going to be a unique experience. I understand all the work that has been done behind the scenes with all the protocols. When we get there, Major League Baseball, the players, everybody involved will deserve a tip of the cap for getting us to that point. ... When we get there, I think it's a hell of an accomplishment for Major League Baseball and the doctors, the trainers, the front office people, the clubhouse guys, the cooks. I hope we can acknowledge those people that have helped pull this off."

In a world where it seems that increasingly saying what one means is so often not the same as meaning what one says, the sincerity of such a sentiment can rightly be questioned – until you know that Rangers general manager Jon Daniels said this in November, shortly after the Padres hired Tingler away from the organization:

"I can tell you unequivocally, the clubhouse guys, the lower-end staff members in our office, the administrative assistants, the security guards, they all think very highly of Jayce. He's a good person. That's a head start in any role. Then, he's really driven, really competitive. That's a good combo."