Overwhelmed and surprised by the avalanche of text messages he’d received from family members, friends, former teammates and coaches, congratulating him on getting his first win as a manager in Major League Baseball, Kristopher Negron had his own message for them.
“I’m still trying to reply to all of them, so everybody out there who texted me, hopefully I’ll get all the way back to you,” he said.
Seated in the Mariners dugout Thursday afternoon, the whirlwind of the last 24-plus hours had finally started to slow down for Negron.
He was notified Wednesday morning that manager Scott Servais and veteran third-base coach Manny Acta had tested positive for COVID-19 and he would be serving as the interim manager.
From there, it was a blur of phone calls, multiple meetings with Servais checking in via Zoom, media sessions and eventually a 4-2 win over the Rangers.
“It was great,” he said. “It’s pretty special just because I love this organization. I was a player here. I played with some of the guys on the field. Just being able to be in that spot and for this organization giving me an opportunity like this is special.”
Following his postgame media session, Negron got the customary “beer” shower while sitting in a laundry cart for a milestone achievement. The shower often isn’t limited to beer or mostly beer, but features any sort of liquid or substance within reach — mustard and ketchup have become favorite components.
But this wasn’t a one-off opportunity where he can go back to coaching first base. Until Servais or Acta show no symptoms and are cleared to retest and then have negative tests on back-to-back days, this is his life.
His first time managing in baseball was last season at Class AAA Tacoma; now he’s running a big league game and all the responsibilities that come with it.
“Yesterday, we were pretty good,” he said. “We were prepared for everything that came up. It’s an ongoing conversation in the dugout, trying to play out situations before they happen so things don’t speed up on you. But I’m sure there’s going to be times where it does, or it feels like it does. It’s just our job as a staff to keep communicating to kind of slow those down.”
The communication with Servais has been constant. They’ve been on the phone more than teenagers in the 1980s.
“It’s been great,” Negron said. “I talked to him obviously before the game yesterday. He was still part of every meeting that we have. He just wasn’t physically there. We talked after the game. We talked this morning. So we’ve been on the phone a lot nonstop just kind of breaking down yesterday’s game, how things went down and then talking about the plan for tonight. So he’s been with us every step of the way.”
Negron admittedly got a little tense when Diego Castillo made things interesting in the ninth inning of Wednesday’s win, allowing two runs and letting the tying run come to the plate with two outs.
The pitcher usage has been his biggest adjustment.
“I think it’s just getting to know the arms and the bullpen management-type stuff because obviously I was a position player so that wasn’t my forte,” he said. “Learning that last year and just kind of kind of learning the whole pitching philosophy, the analytics and all that stuff, something that I really took a lot of pride in getting to know last year with my pitching coach (Rob Marcello Jr., who is now with the Padres) down in Tacoma.”
The Mariners haven’t subscribed to typical bullpen management over the past few seasons, eschewing typical roles, including closer, and instead trying to find pockets of matchups that are best suited for success.
“And that’s why those meetings, those conversations are so important to have before the game,” he said.
The coaching side at the MLB level has been enlightening for Negron.
“I was a part of all those meetings, and you never realize what goes on behind the scenes, a lot of people putting in a lot of hours and it’s greatly appreciated,” he said. “I wish I knew when I was a player, I probably would have walked up and shook a lot more hands thanking them for all the work that they put in.”