D-backs' veterans make cohesion a priority
Players hope inclusive culture, camaraderie lead to more victories
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- They are careful not to call it a leadership council.
And there's not even a set group.
But the veterans in the D-backs' clubhouse are determined to make sure that everyone stays on task and on the same page this year.
"It was the one thing that was really missing," pitcher Brandon McCarthy said. "We had a great group of individuals. There were no outliers, there wasn't any bad tension, it just wasn't that cohesive group that was all moving together. I think that's our focus. Not only the players but the coaching staff and the organization, we want everybody to be moving together on the same page."
For the past two seasons, the D-backs never seemed to be able to get on a sustained run of success like they had in 2011 when they won the National League West. That led to a lot of frustration and head scratching in the clubhouse as to the reasons why.
So when the players would work out at Salt River Fields or get together this offseason, a group that included, among others, McCarthy, Aaron Hill, Paul Goldschmidt, J.J. Putz and Eric Chavez would talk about what separates winning teams.
"It's just casual conversations and guys were on the same page," Goldschmidt said. "It was awesome; it's fun. It starts getting exciting when you talk about, 'What can we do to win? What can we do to play better? How can we get the best out of our team and individuals and our abilities?' It's fun to talk to guys and have everybody moving in the same direction."
Martin Prado, another leader in the clubhouse, spends his offseasons in Florida, so he kept in touch via text messages and phone calls.
Cliff Pennington was involved, as was Miguel Montero.
"It started early in the offseason, just recognizing what we did in the previous year," Hill said. "You always look back and find things you can improve on and that was one thing that we all collectively agreed upon. Not that there wasn't any leadership it was just no one was together with everything. It sounds simple, but it's just mainly a core group of guys that believe in the same thing and run with it."
McCarthy cited last year's Red Sox as a team that seemed to all be on the same page and he believes that helped them win the World Series.
In this day and age, when so much is quantifiable, chemistry remains one of those concepts that people struggle to define and explain.
"It all sounds like cliche nonsense speak, but it's something that when you're on good teams can definitely be the case," McCarthy said. "I think a lot of people here are craving that and want to go back to that, and guys who haven't been a part of that before want a chance at that. We're noticing that more and more that guys want to go find that this year."
Over the course of a long season, players will naturally begin to hang out with those they are comfortable with or are friends with. The idea this year will be to expand that so players are not just going out to eat with the same people, but rather including more of the group.
"I think, on any successful team, you always hear that guys had good team camaraderie or team chemistry, however you want to put it," Goldschmidt said. "Guys had a lot of ideas about what they want and how the team wants to play and how we want to go about our business."
When asked about forging the new direction, players went out of their way to say that everyone was part of it.
"It's not even a set group," McCarthy said. "It's setting a tone for everybody to take accountability and help the guy behind you and help bring everybody along."
Chavez said the discussions started around the batting cage at Salt River Fields as guys worked out during the winter.
"It's not that things were bad," Chavez said. "We were in the cage hitting and talking about how we want to be around the cage more, hitters talking about hitters. And when you're out there with the infielders, talk about fielding. Pitchers, talk about how you're going to attack hitters. Talk baseball.
"The one thing I told them, in the two years I was in New York there were like 10 guys at the batting cage at one time. Just talking about hitting and what the guy is going to do tonight. I didn't see a whole lot of that last year. You can learn a lot. Just go watch Goldy hit for 10 minutes. Watch him hit, see his routine and maybe you pick something up. Make yourself a little better."
Steve Gilbert is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Inside the D-backs, and follow him on Twitter @SteveGilbertMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.