In less than two weeks, Scott Servais will face his entire Mariners team and the non-roster invites for the first time.
He has met many, spoken with others on the phone and will meet the remaining few as they trickle into camp ahead of their spring-training report dates. But at some point, most likely before the first full-squad workout, the entire group will be in front of him and another introduction will be made. It will take time for the group to know him and for him to get to know his team. They will know he is a first-time manager with a significant amount of playing experience and front-office time behind him.
That most likely will be the extent of their knowledge of his baseball background, but like them, baseball didn’t start for Servais the day he first put on a uniform as a professional. Like them, baseball started miles away from Seattle.
“The focus of the town in the summertime was the ballpark,” Servais said of his hometown of Coon Valley, Wis., which had a population of 776 per the last census. “Spending days down there, I was on a Little League team once that was undefeated for the summer. Twenty-some games in a row, never lost. People say, ’20 games?’ Well, that was a summer in Wisconsin. You get 20 games in. But a group of guys who go to grade school together, go to high school together, make it to the state tournament with the same group of guys, it’s pretty cool.”
That field and the early life spent on it meant so much to Servais that when he retired from playing, his wife hired an artist to come to the town to capture the scene for a gift for her husband. In the painting, Servais is walking off the field with his kids, melding what was then his present with his earliest small-town memories.
“The people, you appreciate the little things,” he said of the influence that Coon Valley had on him. “Maybe you didn’t have the greatest equipment, the greatest uniforms or played against the greatest competition. But you developed a love for competing, not just in baseball but football and different sports. I really think the blue-collar work ethic and the grind – that it takes to be good at anything, not just baseball – really comes from my roots in that part of the country and really instilled in me from my parents.”
The work ethic came from his parents and the baseball from his uncles, one a former player and scout, the other a college coach. It wasn’t just all baseball for Servais growing up, however, and it wasn’t just playing sports. Living in Wisconsin, he learned to be a fan as well.
“I was a Brewers fan and a Packers fan, and (my) world as a kid revolved around listening to Bob Uecker announce the Brewers games at night – that’s often how I fell asleep – or the Packer games on the weekends,” he said. “The Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field and Vince Lombardi and all that stuff, the tradition there. People get on me all the time about it but it is something I am proud of. Where I came from, it means a lot to me.”
His players will see that. When it comes to leadership, Servais has one hard-and-fast rule.
“You have to be yourself,” he said. “The players can see through the (nonsense). I am unbelievably, brutally honest to the point where players don’t want to hear it sometimes, but I think you owe it to them. Hold each other accountable. I will hold them accountable and there will be times when I want them to hold me accountable. You need constant communication and be in touch with your team. They need to have a clear understanding of what their role is, what’s expected of them, and I think if you are honest with people, I think sometimes you get more than what you are expecting. And I think that is what we are hoping this year.”
From 20 games in Coon Valley to 162 (and perhaps more) in a Mariners uniform, Servais has come to understand the importance of balance in the baseball life. It’s not always easy to achieve, but he has help.
“Life balance for me is driven by one person and that would be my wife,” he said. “She makes sure that I always have stayed balanced through the tangents I have gone off on and the travel in my previous jobs. She had a remarkable feel to pull me in. It’s one of the reasons I did not take a manager job earlier or really pursue it. It’s because I wasn’t ready family-wise. I wanted to be a part of my kids’ lives.
“My son played high school football; I never missed a Friday night football game. My girls were very athletic and I was always there at the big events. I was there for every prom. I may have just flew in and made it just in time for pictures, but I was there. You hope your kids appreciate the effort, but more importantly it is something I wanted to do and I owe that to my wife because she reigned me in and made sure I was a part of that.”
The Servais kids are grown now, and while the importance of balance remains, there is more time for focus on a team. He will meet with the players soon, and the importance of doing things the right way and respecting the game and its history will be emphasized. He hopes to have help from some former Mariners with this. He wants them to be around his team, available to answer questions. He appreciates the experiences they have had and the example they can set.
“It is good to have people you can bounce things off of. Baseball is a game, it’s an awesome game, it’s certainly competitive. But it’s what they do, it’s not who they are,” he said. “I think sometimes guys get caught up in their batting average or their ERA because maybe their ERA is high – they’re still a good person, they are still the same person. You have to be able to separate. It’s what you do, it’s not who you are.”
As the manager, Servais will need to get to know every member of his team as the player and the person. He feels relationship building is critical in the position he holds – he has stressed this in every conversation we have had.
So much has been talked about the numbers that will be used. The numbers and statistics are important, but it is the people that will ultimately make this thing go. It is his job to get them going and keep them going, and he will draw on a broad range of experience to do so.