PEORIA, Ariz. — This isn't about honing two-strike approaches, dissecting defensive shifts or scribbling down thoughts about rotations or lineups. Not now. Not yet.
Priority No. 1 ... and No. 2 and No. 3 ... for Padres manager Jayce Tingler is to hustle like a politician stumping on the campaign trail, shaking hands until his shoulder aches. Every minute counts. Every conversation matters.
No job looms as more critical, more time-sensitive, than proving one locker at a time that he's worth playing for, worth believing in, worth the title he's acquired for the first time at age 39.
There's no name cachet, no mainstream track record, no traction as Tingler swings a pickaxe at the nagging narrative for an organization hunting its first postseason since 2006. Respect is earned in places like big league clubhouses, no matter the diplomatic dialogue about backing your manager — doubts be damned.
This isn't Bruce Bochy, Terry Francona or Joe Maddon roaming the hallways. So, Tingler rushed through airports, glued the phone to his ear and milked the first moments of camp to connect.
"My office can be lonely and that can be the longest walk for, whether it's staff or it's players," he said the other day. "I just feel more natural in the clubhouse. Nothing's planned. I go in there for a cup of coffee and end up staying 10 or 15 minutes."
Players sniff out first impressions that feel too scripted, sorting bona fide sales pitches from ballpark baloney.
Tingler recently parked at the locker of veteran pitcher Garrett Richards, unrushed and engaged. The next day, he pulled a chair up to a clubhouse table with Austin Hedges as the catcher forked at a plate of eggs. The day after that, he surrounded himself with a group of chatty relievers.
At the outset of spring training, it's clear Tingler plans to invest as much time as possible listening, picking brains and bonding. He's not absently in offices or meetings. He's as present as a chaotic schedule allows.
That was not what you saw from Andy Green, at least not consistently. The former manager generally left the clubhouse to players, especially as veterans like Eric Hosmer and Manny Machado settled in.
The choices are not necessarily good or bad. Just different.
"I guess I could see where you'd think he needed prove himself or whatever," Richards said. "But I don't think anybody in this locker room looks at it that way. He's our captain. He's going to ride or die with us. We're in this thing together. This is our family for the year. We see these guys more than we see our actual families.
"So it's important that we gel well, trust each other and play for each other. That's not going to be an issue this year. This is a tight group."
Fresh faces do not always signal fragile beginnings. Rocco Baldelli won 101 games with the Twins last season. The Cardinals finished 20 games on the plus side in Year 2 for Mike Shildt. The Yankees won 100-plus games the last two laps with Aaron Boone. Craig Counsell of the Brewers has averaged 90 wins the past three seasons. In Washington, Dave Martinez won the World Series in his second season.
New managers cannot control the personnel they inherit, but do guide and finesse relationships and culture. Tingler seems to understand, locking into conversation after conversation while the bloom remains firmly on the rose.
Veteran reliever Craig Stammen said Tingler called him and the two chatted for a half hour — even though Stammen was a free agent, with no guarantee of returning.
"I wasn't even on the team yet," he said. "So that was an interesting phone call. It was like, 'This is the direction the team is going. We'd like you to be a part of it. Do you want to be a part of it?' It was important to me that he reached out."
Something else made Stammen confident. Tingler coached close friend Jared Hoying at multiple stops in the Rangers organization.
"We grew up together and think the same way," Stammen said. "When he said Jayce was the favorite guy who's ever managed him and been in his corner, that meant a lot.
"He said, 'You're going to love him.' When a guy I'm close to and respects says that, I can trust that Jayce is a good guy."
Tingler tweaked a hamstring when he joined Machado for training in Miami. He grabbed dinner with Richards and All-Star closer Kirby Yates in Arizona. He made multiple visits to the Santee training sessions of veteran infielder Greg Garcia.
"Trying to get to know us, he's doing a really good job of that," said Garcia, who added that they've talked five or six times by phone. "He just came out to watch. He's not evaluating. He's not, 'Hey, your swing looks like this.' He just wants to spend some time with guys.
"He's preaching it, but he's also doing it."
The feeling permeates the clubhouse.
"He came out to see me twice this offseason, we had dinner once, he came to watch me work out, came to see me hit," Wil Myers said. "He's very involved. He seems high energy, which is great. He connects well with players. I'm looking forward to playing for him."
Asked what impression he wanted to leave while blazing his clubhouse trail, Tingler singled out a priority.
"Whatever they think of me, I hope they walk away and say, 'You know what, he's truthful and he's honest,' " said Tingler, the game's second-youngest manager, 10 months older than Baldelli. "Whether it's what they want to hear or don't want to hear, that would be one thing that would be important to me."
Few could deny the "who?" moment when learning Tingler would be handed the daily keys to the Padres.
Stammen argued there's one constant, regardless if it's not Dusty Baker or Joe Girardi walking through the door.
"I would have to get to know all those other guys you mentioned the same way, because I don't know anything about them as a man," he said. "You want to get to know somebody on a human level before you even think about any of the baseball stuff."
Devoting too little time and energy to that simple-yet-substantial building block could have been a critical miscalculation by Tingler.
Count it as the first win of the spring.