SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — There was that early, early morning in the sky when it seemed like the life would never end, when the San Francisco Giants were flying home from Texas with their first championship trophy, which had its own puffy seat in first class. The manager, Bruce Bochy, dragged his pal and third-base coach, Tim Flannery, into the galley of the plane, pointed around the corner to that coddled prize and revealed, "That, right there, that is all I ever wanted."
To which Flannery grinned and said, "You're full of it. You're going to have to have another one. And another one. And …"
Like it would never end.
Bruce Bochy is like a big ol' tree, weathered and impenetrable, comfortable and timeless, hopeful and, when a hard wind comes off the bay, might actually creak. He talks slow and deep, not in too much of a hurry. He'll get there. He moves like some of the wrong parts of him are fused, which happens to be true.
They call him Boach, everybody does, because the Y, like the why, is too much. Some things just are. Boach just is.
A few weeks back, early one morning, I sat in a rental car in a parking lot in Tempe. Before I gathered my coffee and backpack and walked into the stadium, I called Mike Scioscia. It'd be the first spring training in 20 years he wouldn't be in there, so I called to let him know, I don't know, the place was still standing. The unis were still red. The mowers were still runnin'.
He didn't pick up.
The thing moves fast, like we were never there, and Scioscia would probably rather have it that way. He ignored the call, finished his coffee or whatever, then texted a few days later to say he was fine, when he knew the coast was clear.
Boach is the next one like that to go, one of the last of the graying managers who doesn't much give a crap what anyone else thinks or thought, who couldn't wait for the notebooks to close to have a real talk, who arrived when the telephones were connected to a wall and not to our lives, who won his share and lost a few more and survived it all just long enough to say goodbye. That's coming. But not today. Not yet.
You get old with any luck at all and Bochy is coming up on 64, which, one day, won't sound that old to you either. But, the number and the miles start to rub up against each other, and he sat before a game here in early March and said, "It's time for them to hear a new voice. It's time for me to take a little break," and he swore he believed that, then promised to drag that voice onto a Little League diamond when his grandkids got old enough.
He nodded toward the field, where some of his guys were taking batting practice, and said, "What do you think?" and I said, well, looked to me like probably you'll get to midseason, trade Longoria and maybe Bumgarner, try to get to whatever's coming next. He said, "No, I mean me retiring," and laughed, and I joined in, because he knows and I know it's all noise anyway. They'd play the games soon enough and then we'd all know. No use overheating the calculators in the meantime.
For a guy who had a few heart procedures and a hip replacement and maybe some other adjustments we don't remember, Bruce Bochy remains remarkably sturdy. Perhaps I still view him through the lens of his friendships, two of the strongest being those with his former general managers. Kevin Towers is gone. Brian Sabean is in a support role. Even Flannery is out doing television, playing music, tricking trout. They tended to think alike and sound alike, to view the game the way it was, to believe that to strip away the virtues and frailties of the man was to lose first the game's soul and then your own.
"I wasn't a good player by any means, but I felt like I worked hard enough to get there," he said. "I've always admired what they do. Buster Posey, for example. I appreciate the gifts and talents that these guys have, but also who they are as a person. I'd like to think I looked at the person more than the player, the number on his back. And that's what I'll miss, no question."
He leaves after having caught 358 games with the Houston Astros, New York Mets and San Diego Padres, with having managed 3,947 games with the San Diego Padres and San Francisco Giants, plus whatever happens this summer. Half of his 24 seasons were winning seasons, which seems about right, and by the looks of things this summer could go either way. He won those three World Series, of course, all in San Francisco, when the managers across the way were Ron Washington, Jim Leyland and Ned Yost, when the whole of the Giants was greater than all their parts put together. What doesn't show here is the years in between the big leagues, managing minor-league ballplayers sorting out whether they belonged, some trudging into this big ol' tree's office with tears streaming down their cheeks, defeated, others with barely hidden smiles on their way to better things, their wildest dreams on just the other side of today.
"If I would've stayed in the minor leagues I would've been fine," he said. "You don't know if you're ever going to get that chance to manage in the major leagues, but I would've been fine being a lifer in the minor leagues. This is how much I love doing this."
So this is how his 44th summer in professional ball begins, with Bruce Bochy trying to piece together one final more-than-the-sum-of-its-parts baseball team, with his heart all patched up and ticking true, with his new hip holding fast, amid speculation over who'll take over when he's gone. Already he is crossing off ballparks in which he may never work or see again, starting small with the spring training yards here, determined not to be too wistful. Soon he'll be saying his goodbyes to the big ones, to Petco Park and Dodger Stadium, among others, to his own, now Oracle Park, only the perfect ballpark.
He wasn't always an easy boss, wasn't always an easy conversation. His father, Gus, was an Army man and Bochy came to believe in the chain of command. Instead of yelling at players for their foul-ups, he'd more often scold his coaches, figuring his displeasure would be passed on down. One afternoon in the Astrodome, Flannery told Bochy he was getting tired of that system, tired of being dressed down because a player missed a sign or whatever, and Bochy said, "If I can't vent on you, who can I vent on?"
When Flannery started naming all the other coaches, they both got to laughing.
"I'll tell you what, in 15 years coaching third base for him, I never one time when he put on a sign thought, 'Why are you doing that?'" Flannery said. "I never one time wondered why he was making a pitching change when he did. He always – always – has that in control. So when you get into those pressure moments, the last month of the season, you'd feel empowered. I remember the strength I felt."
Bruce and Kim were married the summer Bruce was called to the big leagues for the first time, in 1978. The paycheck was their first with a comma in it and they figured life didn't get much better than that. They'd met when he was 19 and she was 18, and suddenly their boys — Brett and Greg, ballplayers themselves — are grown, and there are grandchildren in the family photos, and there's an awful lot to look back on. Bruce is pretty sure Kim has seen more baseball games than he has, given Bruce had one baseball schedule to follow — his own — and Kim for many summers had three.
Now there will be none, least until those Little League schedules go up.
"I've told him, I don't know if he remembers, that the thing I'm most proud of is that we gave our kids a happy home," she said. "I'm proud of him and I for that. It took some effort and everything else is just icing on the cake."
That leaves one more summer like the rest. And a bunch more flights. And a million tiny decisions. Some wins, some losses, a few waves goodbye. Bruce has promised himself he'd lift up his head more often, to see it all – really see it all – one more time, maybe even see a few things he hadn't seen before, the stuff that's always been there. He aims on winning, as it turned out Flannery was right, one wasn't enough. Neither was three.
"I want one more shot," he said. "I do. In the worst way, I'd love to have one more shot."
The 2019 season is not intended to be a harmless tour.
"The entire season is going to be a bit bittersweet for him, I think," Kim said. "I'm looking forward to it being over, I have to admit. And yet I know he is going to miss it and I know I will miss it in some ways. I think we both know it is time and we're both young enough to enjoy what's left."
Whatever that is. The grandkids. A trip to New Zealand maybe. Bruce has always wanted to do that. Some fishing, some hunting. When Flannery came through camp, they talked some about that, Bruce wondering what life out there looked like.
"You've got your guitar," Bochy told him. "All I'll want to do is manage a game."
Flannery promised to take him up to the Deschutes River in Oregon for some fly fishing, hammer some bass out on Lake Cuyamaca near San Diego, where Bruce camped and fished with his boys those offseason weekends, maybe even get him on a surfboard, or have him watch from shore next to an ice chest.
"I might let him come be the roadie for a couple gigs," said Flannery, who plays and sings for The Lunatic Fringe. "He'll definitely need some direction, like, 'This is what we do in the summer.'"
The baseball life that would never end has a few more months in it. One more summer. The Hall of Fame is out there somewhere, which'll kill one weekend one summer. The rest is up to him. And Kim. And their boys and a new generation of Boaches. Whatever Flan cooks up. Bruce is not big on goodbyes, so he won't linger on those. He'll say a few words, take one last look around. It'll be enough, probably, to have gotten all he ever wanted. And that trophy, too.
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