Most of bench coach Rick Renteria’s extensive work is done behind the scenes before a game. About 3 ½ hours before the first pitch, Renteria is somewhere in the clubhouse or coaches’ office sifting through spray charts, watching video or poring over other information on that day’s opponent.
“It would be foolish not to take advantage of it,’’ Renteria said. “So you’re always looking at stuff. Sometimes things pop up you may not have seen before. Everyone in our clubhouse is trying to break down the opponent in some way. You’re constantly gathering information and trying to be as far ahead of the curve as you can be.’’
Third-base coach Joe McEwing is usually somewhere near Renteria.
“I love to sit next to him and pick his brain,’’ McEwing said. “He sees the game not just head-on, he sees everything from different angles, picking up so many intricate parts of it. I’ve learned so much from him.’’
Unceremoniously fired as Cubs manager after Joe Maddon became available, Renteria stayed out of baseball in 2015 before he was hired to replace Mark Parent as bench coach following the Sox’ third consecutive losing season. Keeping his class-act reputation intact, Renteria brings a bilingual voice as well as cohesion and energy to manager Robin Ventura’s “hardworking and selfless” coaching staff, as Renteria describes it.
Selflessness is the same thing Renteria sees from this Sox team that, by most preseason projections, figured to be around .500 but has stormed to an 18-8 start.
“They’re a selfless group,’’ Renteria said. “They play team baseball. They try to do the little things. You hear Trick [hitting coach Todd Steverson] and Skipper [Ventura] talking about what it takes to get a guy over, or being in the right spot [defensively] and taking pride in doing those things. You see them in the dugout constantly pulling for each other. And if somebody doesn’t get it done, there’s always somebody hammering, ‘Come on, this next guy will do it.’ ’’
An influx of position players who’ve played on winners before (Todd Frazier, Jimmy Rollins, Austin Jackson, Alex Avila, Dioner Navarro) blended with holdovers hungry for team success (Jose Abreu, Adam Eaton, Melky Cabrera) to create a solid mix.
“A lot of it for us is getting out of the players’ way,’’ Renteria said. “We provide what we can and then let them do what they do. We have a mix of experience, with some guys establishing themselves still, but it’s a good mix.’’
Because of his experience as a manager and with Ventura in the last year of his contract, Renteria came in being viewed as the logical next manager up in the event of a bad start. He wanted no part of such uncomfortable discussions, but with this Sox start it’s not even a talking point. If anything, an extension for Ventura would seem more likely.
“Ultimately all of us are driven to do that,’’ Renteria said of managing again. “You can want it but the opportunity has to be presented. And it has to be the right opportunity. It’s really out of my control. My only concern is what I’m doing right now. If it happens again, I’d welcome the opportunity but like all of us [coaches], we take each day one at a time. That has to stay on the backburner someplace else, and right now our task is to do what we’re doing with this group.’’
Ventura likes what his bench coach is doing.
“He’s just a good baseball guy,’’ Ventura said. “You hear a lot of good things about him and when you meet him, you see the work he puts in, all the little things he does and [what he can do for] our Latin guys. His interaction. He does a lot of stuff that people don’t see. Gets there early, does video work. It’s been great.’’
Follow me on Twitter @CST_soxvan.
Rick Renteria gives Avisail Garcia a baserunning tip during spring training as coach Joe McEwing looks on.