Manny Machado brings failures (and blows) to the Padres

SAN DIEGO – The pawns are lined up and the shining white knight stands ready to attack. Play will resume, again, as soon as the batters...


SAN DIEGO – The pawns are lined up and the shining white knight stands ready to attack. Play will resume, again, as soon as the batters’ meeting is over and some time before the star third baseman turns on a box score.

Given Manny Machado’s torrid start for the San Diego Padres this season, it would be predictable to joke that the five-time All-Star plays chess while his peers play checkers. But in Machado’s case, it’s also true: when he’s not beating opposing pitchers and stealing hits with acrobatic defensive plays, Machado can be found keeping his mind sharp with contemplation. calm on a chessboard.

“Chess is interesting,” said Machado, who learned the game from former Orioles player and manager Brady Anderson in Baltimore in 2017. “It’s something you can’t just play. anticipate what your opponent thinks, what he tries to do to you, how he tries to attack you.

The game intrigued Machado from the start. He keeps a board on a small table between his locker and his clubhouse neighbor, Fernando Tatis Jr., has another board in the nearby players’ lounge; and plays at home during the winter with his stepfather, Luis Alonso, who is the father of former major leaguer Yonder Alonso.

When Tatis Jr. revealed last season that he occasionally played chess, Machado began bringing a board to the park for games in his spare time, just like the ones he played in Baltimore.

“If you play every day, you’re in a battle with him,” said Wayne Kirby, the Mets’ first base coach and a regular opponent of Machado, both in Baltimore and again last summer in San Francisco. Diego.

So many Orioles played chess in Machado’s time there that players waited in line and called “I’m next” as if they were on a court for a basketball game, Kirby said, and finally the team kept three chessboards in the clubhouse and a travel board for road trips. Machado said he’s always recruiting new opponents in San Diego, having so far tied wits with outfielders Wil Myers and Trayce Thompson, who this week were slated for assignment (in baseball, not chess). Machado also played a bit with Tatis Jr.

His regular opponent, however, is San Diego freshman hitting coach Michael Brdar.

“It’s been fun,” Brdar said. “He’s good. He’s very good.

Machado vividly remembers the first time he and his main Orioles nemesis, Jonathan Schoop, played a game. It was in Seattle in 2017, Machado said. Both were rookies then, so raw that Machado said their first match only lasted about three minutes.

“We both sucked,” Machado said. “It was interesting to pick it up and learn from it.”

Machado and Schoop had climbed the Baltimore agricultural system together and were competitive in every field, including whichever had the strongest throwing arm. They continued to improve as chess players until their matches became something close to addictive, with trash talk still resonating today.

Who won the most?

“Come on, that’s not even a question,” said Schoop, who now plays second base (and a lot of chess) for the Detroit Tigers. “I let him beat me a few times just to make him feel good. If we played 100 times he might beat me 10 times.

Machado laughs when this is conveyed to him – and corrects Schoop’s calculations.

“Honestly, at the beginning it was a bit difficult because he knew a little bit more than me when I started,” Machado said. “But once I learned to do some moves, he didn’t stand a chance against me. Now it’s probably 70/30 – I’m 70, he’s 30.”

Machado then upped the ante: “I don’t think he can win a game against me now. He won’t even dismiss his queen. It would be over.

Schoop, however, claims to know “all of Manny’s moves”, especially one trend in particular. “If you take the horse away from him,” he said, referring to the knight, “he’s finished.”

Kirby agreed. “The horse is huge for Manny,” he said. “He loves this horse.”

Kirby and Schoop said matches between players would sometimes turn into arguments because the two were so competitive. Sometimes, Schoop said, Machado would accuse him of cheating.

“They wouldn’t get to 100 games, they would argue too much,” Kirby said. “They were getting into it because once you touch your queen or something and then take your hand away, you’re done. Both would claim that they hadn’t removed their hand from a piece.

In San Diego this season, Machado got his hands on — and in — everything. Through Thursday, his .383 batting average, 46 hits and 27 runs scored all led the majors. At 29, he already ranks 19th among active players on the MLB hit list (1,471) and 18th for home runs (258).

As Albert Pujols and Miguel Cabrera near the end of their famous careers, it looks like there will be a long wait for the next member of the Club 3,000 hits and 500 home runs. But Machado’s unusual combination of youth, production, and durability could make him a candidate to join that fraternity one day.

Machado called Cabrera “the best hitter I’ve ever seen” and spoke admiringly of his production.

“I know the game is changing a little bit, but there’s no more hitters like that going out and getting 3,000 hits, 500 homers – and 600 doubles, are there?” Machado said. “It’s slugging.”

He’s the kind of hitter Machado strives to be, and it’s the kind of hitter he is again after a left shoulder injury last summer left him unable to hit. raise your arm for a while. He still played 153 games, refusing to be on the injured list, and even now he smiles shyly while refusing to reveal the exact diagnosis of the injury. (“I can’t say that. I can’t tell you. I don’t know what it was. I’m not sure what it was.”)

It was the ensemble of slugger, star outfielder, roster staple and chess kingpin that elevated him to the rank of team leader for a club that has struggled with this in the recent past.

“You see him from afar and you have your opinion of him,” manager Bob Melvin, who joined the Padres this offseason, said of Machado, who moved past some early career issues and took on a role of leadership. “And then you come here and you see what it’s all about. He is a bit vocal, certainly leads by example. He shows up to play every day. It happens every day. There are subtle things about him that scream leadership.

Brdar, who started playing chess after watching “The Queen’s Gambit” two winters ago, suggested there might be a connection between chess and moves.

“You’re going to make a bad move in chess, and often that’s how you get over it instead of letting it sink in two, three, four bad moves in a row,” Brdar said. “It’s like hitting.

“You’re going to chase a pitch here and there, you’re going to miss a mistake here and there. But more often than not, it’s about what you do the next two, three, four throws, or the next two, three, four shots. I think there are some parallels.

Machado agreed, noting that “you train your brain to do something good. People read, people do little puzzles to activate their minds.

For Machado, chess fulfills this role.

He and Brdar play “slow” games on the board in front of Machado’s locker – if the hitting coach walks through the clubhouse and sees that Manny has made a move, for example, Brdar will stop and make his own, and vice versa. Then, after the batting meeting or batting practice, they will play longer games on the board in the players’ lounge.

“Right now he’s playing a fianchetto with his bishop,” Brdar said of Machado’s opening strategy in many games. “So he likes his bishop to have the whole diagonal visual of the whole board.”

“It’s my shot,” Machado said. “When I saw ‘The Queen’s Gambit’, I didn’t really know the names at the time. I still don’t have many. I know a few. But it’s all about openings. If you get into a good position and you start attacking in a certain way and you stick with it, you can do it. It’s one of the moves I use the most.

Brdar proudly reports that he learned to stop this movement. Machado regretfully admits that in their games so far this season, the batting coach has won three times and Machado just once, with a tie.

“But it’s been a long year,” Machado said. “Things change. It’s like baseball. You go on a hot streak, you go on a cold streak. I’m on my cold streak right now.

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Newsrust - US Top News: Manny Machado brings failures (and blows) to the Padres
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