PHOENIX — When a sports organization hires a new head coach or manager, many place an importance on creating a new culture in hopes of altering past results.
For first-year Arizona Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo, that was a priority from day one.
“I wanted to just establish a relationship with these guys,” Lovullo said. “Establishing a culture of togetherness and family and unity was the most important thing to me.”
To many, the manager who spent the previous four years of his managerial career as a bench coach for the Boston Red Sox is mild-mannered and relatively quiet.
He hasn’t been known to show much emotion during games and hardly ever found himself in a back-and-forth scenario with an umpire or player. But he quickly became the type of manager who saw things straight-forward and relied on effective communication.
“He’s as good as I’ve ever seen communication-wise,” outfielder A.J. Pollock said. “He’s never going to tell you something and do something else. He’s very confident in what he’s doing and I think that’s pretty important when you have all sorts of things going on. This guy is as steady as you get — cool, calm, and collected. We’re very lucky to have him.”
Of almost anyone on the ball club aside from the longest tenured player — Paul Goldschmidt — Pollock has been through a rough stretch in Arizona as part of five consecutive .500 or below seasons.
Even for outfielder David Peralta, who has been with the ball club since 2014, he’s seen just how one change in the clubhouse can affect everything. A change in the form of a new manager and a new culture.
“(He) brings a lot of energy, good energy, good vibes,” Peralta said. “You can feel it. As a whole team, you can feel it. That’s why our clubhouse is more like a family room.”
Lovullo began establishing a more close-knit team as early as spring training. He knew that by communicating to his team and sharing his goals for the season early on, the players would be more willing to buy in and embrace his approach.
It was an approach that focused on one word. A word that many are hard pressed to say at times.
“I wasn’t afraid to talk about the word (love),” Lovullo said. “You know, baseball and sports, we’re very macho people and we feel that, but we’re afraid to talk about it. I think that the guys use the word ‘love’ and I think that we’ve developed a really special bond.”
The mild-mannered Lovullo had his sights set on that approach from the start and through a bond of communication and trust, others bought in.
“That was the first thing that I set out to do through my own actions and my own relationships, and I think that the guys caught on,” he said. “I’m both proud and honored by that.”
It’s evident that the past front office administration and managers in Arizona were dedicated to a different style of leadership. A style of leadership that left a fan base frustrated, players uncertain of their future, and an organization heading nowhere fast.
For Peralta, it’s easy to notice that what Lovullo has brought to the ball club has resulted in appreciation.
“The difference for us is communication and the way (he) came to us in the beginning and said, ‘Hey, we’re just going to play as a team. We’re going to be a big family.’ He’s communicated about whatever moves he’s going to do and everything and I think we can appreciate that.”
But now that they are here, one day away from playing in the National League Wild Card game, it comes down to relishing the moment but also being able to comprehend the full magnitude of it.
Much like he told his ball club at times during the season, Lovullo is making sure to repeat the same message as the clock ticks toward Wednesday.
“I want these guys to understand that something special is happening here,” Lovullo said. “We’re different, we’re different than everybody else. We’re preparing for a playoff game, and we deserve to feel good about that.”
Part of Lovullo’s message also stems from his World Series run with the Red Sox in 2013. An experience that the first-year manager is working to imbed into his players’ psyche.
“I’ll tell them to embrace this. Embrace it, enjoy it, it’s very well deserved,” Lovullo said. “When you go to bed at night, just know that tomorrow is going to bring another day of anticipation. What they’re feeling is normal and that’s the most important thing. The nervous energy that everybody is feeling, the excitement that we’re all feeling right now is extremely normal.”
“This is the greatest time of the year and I want these guys to experience it, embrace it, and remember it. It’s a good feeling.”
Beyond what Lovullo brought to the Diamondbacks in 2017 — a win improvement of 24 games, the most wins in franchise history by a first-year manager, an open-minded approach to success — he never once doubted his team.
Starting with an effective line of communication and relationships built on trust, the rest followed for one of the more exciting teams in baseball.
“It was a perfect story of delivering the message to try and change the culture, and then the players went out and executed every single day,” Lovullo said. “They did that on their own. They performed. They grew.
“They cared about one another. And you can see where that landed us.”