VERO BEACH, FLORIDA - Over the last four decades, there has been only one repeat World Series champion — the New York Yankees, who three-peated from 1998-2000.
A post-title hangover, then, would seem to be nearly inevitable in the big leagues.
But that doesn’t stop Series-winning managers from each offseason picking the brains of coaches in other sports who HAVE won back-to-back championships.
It’s a rite of winter practiced in hopes of learning how those field/court generals were able to accomplish the repeat feat.
You can now add A.J. Hinch, skipper of the 2017 WS champion Houston Astros, to the long list of inquiring managerial minds. In fact, he guided the Astros, who joined MLB in 1962 as the Houston Colt .45s, to their first-ever title.
“Yeah, I’ve talked to several coaches about it,” Hinch revealed to MAS, while dancing around the names of repeaters he had actually contacted.
“Mostly, they told me to ‘just enjoy the moment you have’ (trying to repeat), that looking back, they wish they’d enjoyed the journey more.”
And what secrets to back-to-back success did they impart? MAS queried.
“Well, they wouldn’t be secrets if I told you,” Hinch answered with a devilish chuckle.
Got ya, A.J.: If you told MAS, then you’d have to kill him.
Other than applying whatever newlylearned secret strategy he acquired, AJ’s approach with his ballclub will remain the same.
“Since I’ve been here,” said Hinch, “I’ve told the guys we need to win today’s game, then the series, the week and the month for six months and that’s what leads you to the finals.”
“That’s not gonna change just because we got to hoist a trophy.”
A.J. admitted spring training did sneak up on him.
“It was a quick turnaround because of all the banquets you go to and everything,” he explained. “It was a lot more than just rest and recovery.”
But Hinch is not complaining.
“I think you can sign up any manager for a short offseason,” Hinch offered, “because of all the fun and experience of winning a World Series.”
And, yes, joining in on the revelry was Trey Hillman — A.J.’s bench coach in Houston after Hillman had guided Nippon Ham to a Japan Series title and before Trey’s current managing gig in South Korea.
“Trey’s like a brother to me, we call and text routinely,” revealed Hinch. “I had him to a World Series game where he sat with my family.
“He was thrilled for me.”
Astro third sacker Alex Bregman, who delivered numerous clutch hits in the Series while sparkling in the field, described what it’s like to be playing in a World Series to MAS.
“It was a lot of fun,” said the 23-year old Bregman. “You just want to win every single pitch and you’re so locked in on defense and at the plate. And when you go into the dugout you’re rootin’ on your teammates.
“Then after the game, you’re mentally drained from how intense the games were.”
Astro players seem to be guarding against a hangover and are subscribing to A.J.’s admittedly cliched “one game at a time” mantra.
“We’re very motivated to work hard,” stated Bregman. “It’s a brand new season and we understand it doesn’t start with the World Series.
“We’re gonna have to compete every single day and every single pitch like we did last year.”
Added outfielder George Springer, the Series MVP after hitting a record-tying five home runs: “Our team is very focused on what we can control.”
The Astros appear to have a great shot at repeating. They are a young, balanced ball club, with few if any weaknesses.
The ‘Stros strength is their Whack-a-Mole offense that works just like the mallet-wielding game played in arcades.
When you hammer down one mole, another suddenly pops up. Similarly, it’s nigh on impossible to keep all the Astro batters down at once.
The Astros’ Divisional, ALCS and World Series wins were a perfect example.
Springer, Bregman, Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa and Co. all took turns carrying the club, then slumping slightly before heating up again.
No Astro was hot the entire postseason. But neither did any of them go into a playoff funk the entire way — the kind Alex Rodriguez and many other great players have inexplicably suffered through.
The Mole attack covered for a normally strong bullpen that surprisingly faltered in the postseason.
Late in the World Series, Hinch was forced to go with the hot hand, or in this case, arm , casting normal roles aside.
A.J. used starters in relief and relievers outside of the innings in which they were normally used.
Hinch told MAS he is confident the pen will regain its form. And that this spring he’s looking for “good” pitching surprises.
Houston has most of its key players under contract for a long time, causing some folks to use the words “Astros” and “dynasty” in the same sentence.
Springer, though, knows better than to take anything for granted.
“I think people tend to get greedy, ” the super-polite Springer offered. “The second you win one World Series, people automatically expect you win two or more. It’s hard enough to win just one.
“A lot has to go right over a span of 162 games. So, we’ll have to play hard and just see what happens.”
“The World Series is a wonderful memory,” concluded Hinch. “But we have to turn the page.”
He added: “We haven’t won a single game that counts so far this season. We have to focus on our opening series with Texas.”
And hope Bill Belichick’s repeat recipe works for the Astros, too.
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