Negrón draws on experience for Triple-A gig

May 11th, 2021

SEATTLE -- Jitter levels were incredibly high at Cheney Stadium for the opening night of Triple-A Tacoma’s season on Thursday. For many of the players, it was their first game action beyond Minor League Spring Training in nearly two years.

For Kristopher Negrón, it was the culmination of a career-path whirlwind that brought him back to the same dugout he played in 21 months prior -- but this time, he was there as the club’s manager. After retiring from a 14-year playing career following the 2019 season, which included 10 games with the Mariners, and joining Seattle’s player development staff in ’20 as an assistant, the 35-year-old has been handed the keys to the system’s highest affiliate.

Even he didn’t realize that this was an ambition until it began to manifest into reality, which evolved while running the logistics and coaching at the alternate training site in Tacoma last summer. Mariners director of player development Andy McKay had the trust and conviction in Negrón’s work ethic and acumen, with a relationship that began way back when Negrón was in high school. So, after an audition last season and a few conversations over the winter, Negrón was named to the post on Jan. 27.

“I knew I wanted to be on the field and help out as much as I can,” Negrón said. “And last year, when I was at the [alternate] site and kind of just running that type of thing, it kind of really struck a fire in me like, ‘This is kind of fun to be on the field and kind of coaching up the guys and being the boots-on-the-ground-type of feel.’ And it hit me in all the right places.

“I had a lot of fun and I realized like this could be something that I see myself, in the future, pursuing. And then, when the opportunity came up, I was like, ‘Absolutely, I want to jump all over it.’ I’m just learning as much as I can, in Spring Training and now, and I've been enjoying myself a lot.”

Negrón will have the bandwidth to operate independently, Mariners management has said. There won’t be daily check-in calls from big league skipper Scott Servais or micromanaging from the front office. This is his gig to run, and the club understands that there will be quite a bit of learning on the go.

But they are confident that Negrón's prepared for the challenge. While he didn’t accumulate extensive Major League service time -- just 170 games and 416 plate appearances, over which he slashed .221/.291/.336, while playing seven positions -- he grinded out 15 years in pro ball, playing in six organizations and getting glimpses of how each one operates. He played 82 games for Tacoma in 2019 and essentially hit his way onto the big league roster by slashing .310/.396/.503, then he was dealt to the Dodgers ahead of that year’s Trade Deadline.

“I think the other group of players that really end up being good managers is the guy like the utility player, the guy that has played multiple positions,” Servais said. “He's been on the bench. His mind is always thinking, ‘When is the manager going to put me in the game?' Or ‘Why or when would he put me in the game?’ So those guys have a chance -- they think [about] the game constantly -- so those guys have a chance to further their career in the game by managing, and I thought Kris would have eventually had the opportunity to do that. And I think he's going to be great at it.”

Negrón is also well-suited to address the mental challenges of players one step below the big leagues because he’s been there, with 10 seasons of experience playing for Triple-A affiliates. There is a very prevalent mentality at that level that many players aren't happy to be there because it’s so close, but often so far, from the MLB dream.

“That's definitely a real thing in Triple-A, and I've lived that life,” Negrón said. “And I think my ability to relate to the players, having gone through that situation a lot of my career, being up and down, being hurt, going through all these types of situations you can think of. It's just kind of just being where your feet are is the main thing. It's easy to start playing GM or playing manager in your head, watching the [big league] games, trying to tell yourself like, ‘I should be there.’

“But at the end of the day, you can't control any of that. You can control what you do when you get on the field and preparation and all that, and then that's all you can worry about. The more you’re in your spot and you're where your feet are, in the grass here in Tacoma, the better you're going to play.”

There’s certainly a level of unknown and unproven here, too, especially given that Negrón is replacing longtime Tacoma manger Daren Brown, the winningest manager in Rainiers history, and both a fan and player favorite.

But every manager has to begin somewhere, and for Negrón, it’s in very familiar territory.