MILWAUKEE -- As the Brewers prepared to introduce Ron Roenicke as the 18th manager in franchise history, which they did on Thursday, the team's fans were not only wondering what kind of tactician they were getting, but also what kind of person they're getting.
A good place to start answering the second question might be April 9, 2009.The Angels had just lost a rising star in Nick Adenhart, a 22-year-old right-hander who was killed in a car crash only hours after pitching the best game of his young career. The A's-Angels game was canceled, but players and staffers gathered at the ballpark along with Jim Adenhart, Nick's father, and Nick's agent, Scott Boras.
Jim Adenhart asked to see Nick's locker. Players sat quietly at their own lockers, unsure of what to do or say. It was Roenicke, the team's bench coach, who stepped forward to speak. "He set the tone for that day," said longtime Angels executive Tim Mead. "He reflected the emotion of that day, of what was being felt out in the community and in our clubhouse. It was a very powerful moment." It did not surprise those who knew Roenicke, 54, as a man of strong Christian faith and a keen reader of other people. But though Boras lives in Los Angeles and is a regular at Angels and Dodgers games, he knew Roenicke -- and still does -- only in passing. To say Boras was impressed is putting it lightly. "Nobody knew what to say," Boras said. "There was an air in the locker room of shock, bewilderment. None of the players knew if they should approach Mr. Adenhart. And Scioscia said, 'Ron would like to say a few words.' "Let me tell you something -- I've met presidents, I've heard a lot of people speak. And the 10-minute conversation he had with the Angels that day, the eloquence of it, the depth of it, and the impact of it, it was one of the most dynamic conversations that I've ever heard in my life. In the most difficult situation you can be in, this man was clearly at his best, and it was natural, it was instinctive. I realized that this was a born leader." Roenicke talked about what he would miss about Nick Adenhart as a teammate, what it meant to lose a teammate, and what it will take to move forward. According to those who were there, Roenicke also spoke of finding the positives in loss. "It really helped me, and it really helped Nick's dad," Boras said. "After he was done, he went over and hugged Nick's dad and then every player in that locker room, because of the comfort of that speech, got up, came over and hugged Mr. Adenhart before he left the locker room. It was really stunning to watch how [Roenicke] brought that situation around to be supportive of Mr. Adenhart. "As a matter of fact, when I learned [on Tuesday] that the Brewers were going to hire him, I texted Doug [Melvin, Milwaukee's general manager] and said, 'You don't know how impressive this guy was at a moment that was so difficult, with a devastated father there in the locker room.' It was remarkable the way he handled it." It was an important moment for the players, too. "It was heartfelt," Angels pitcher Dustin Moseley told reporters as the team prepared to resume play. "And I think that helped bring Nick back for a little bit." Melvin likely heard this story as he finalized background checks on his four managerial finalists. It fit into a pattern of praise for Roenicke, who, according to those who know him, has a knack for communicating when he senses a need. Brewers television broadcaster Brian Anderson learned that back in 1997, when he was the young play-by-play man for a Double-A San Antonio Missions team managed by Roenicke. There were periods of doubt for Anderson, and he was surprised when the team's manager sought him out to ask what he could do. "Here I was, the broadcaster, and he sensed something wasn't right," Anderson said. "He's an impressive person." Roenicke's role in the meeting at Angel Stadium didn't surprise Mead, who has worked alongside Roenicke since 2000. "I think his faith guides him well," Mead said. "Ron took the lead, and I remember when he finished speaking, he paused and I looked around the room at everybody. It was important for him to take the lead that day. It wasn't as if anybody had a position or a title that day -- we were all just people, a family. Ron rose to the occasion." Boras wanted to be sure that Roenicke's college-aged son, Lance, knew about his dad's role in the Angels' healing process. Lance plays in the same collegiate wooden bat league as Boras' son, Shane, and when their teams squared off one day, Scott Boras walked over to Lance Roenicke to introduce himself. "I told him, 'In my 35 years of being in this business, what your dad did and how he handled that situation in the locker room with Nick's dad, I've never seen anything like that,'" Boras said. "So I think this is just a tremendous hire for the Milwaukee Brewers."