Hinch, Garner enjoy strong friendship

Skippers who led Houston to World Series have forged deep bond

March 6th, 2018

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- The only two managers to lead the Astros to the World Series rode in a car together from the Astros' spring facility in West Palm Beach to First Data Field on Tuesday morning, talking baseball and sharing stories like old friends.

Phil Garner, who led the Astros to the National League pennant in 2005, and current manager A.J. Hinch, who led Houston to its first World Series championship last year, have become close since Hinch came to Houston in 2015. They live close to each other, play golf together and frequently make time to eat breakfast together.

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Hinch invited Garner to camp this year to spend a few days as a special instructor. That means Garner, who played for the Astros from 1981-87, coached them from 1989-91 and managed them from 2004-07, was back in Houston colors for the first time in more than a decade.

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"In baseball, you're part of the fraternity, I guess, and then that pyramid gets smaller as you become a coach, and as a manager, smaller yet," Garner said prior to Tuesday's split-squad game against the Mets. "Probably kindred spirits in that regard."

Hinch sought out Garner to pick his brain about both baseball and Houston when he was hired, and they became fast friends.

"He really took me under his wing," Hinch said. "He's somebody I respect in the game, and he's introduced me to a lot of great people that have turned into incredible friends. Just a great bond."

During their hour-long ride on Tuesday, Hinch explained some of the new-school baseball philosophies to Garner, who's about as old school as they come. Things such as launch angle and spin rates weren't part of baseball lingo when Garner was playing and managing.

"We used to talk about swinging down on the ball, which is not actually what you did," Garner said. "It was more of a level swing, and now it looks like they're talking about swinging up on the ball. He was filling me in on how the new philosophies work. It's all exciting to really talk ball and what's going on. He's really enjoyable."

Garner is now, more than anything else, an Astros fan. He attended World Series games and took great joy in watching Hinch lead Houston to its first World Series title. Garner's Astros were swept in the 2005 World Series by the White Sox.

"I had watched a few games over the past few years, and the last two years, really kind of got all excited about it again," Garner said. "I love to watch [Jose] Altuve play. A lot of people talk about having fun in the game, and when it gets down to losing three or four in a row, that goes out the window, but it's just so much fun to watch guys play and have a good time, and they all seem to do that."