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Roenicke evolved being a student of the game

Claire: Roenicke was a true student of the game

During his time as a Major League player with the Los Angeles Dodgers, I always knew where I could find Ron Roenicke before the start of workouts during Spring Training.

Long before most of the players had reported to the clubhouse at Dodgertown in Vero Beach, Fla., for the day's activity I would walk into the trainer's room to visit with our medical staff.

It was there I would find Roenicke on a training table with ice bags on both knees.

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Roenicke, a young outfielder at the time, was doing his very best with the help of the Dodger trainers to get ready for the challenge of the day.

With aching knees and unforgiving pain, Roenicke was willing to do whatever he had to do to be a part of the game he has loved all of his life.

He was a quiet warrior who never talked about the pain or the day's routine of preparing to go onto the field. He simply wanted to compete.

My thoughts flashed back to Roenicke's early days as a Major League player when the Milwaukee Brewers announced they had selected the 54-year-old veteran baseball man to be their 18th manager in club history.

The Brewers established what team owner Mark Attanasio termed a "fairly vigorous process" to select their manager and the announcement of Roenicke caught many members of the media by surprise.

One segment of the baseball population that wasn't the least bit surprised was the group of people who have known Roenicke and worked with him during his career.

"Ron has been ready to be a big league manager for a long time and he is well deserving of the opportunity he has been given," said Los Angeles Angels manager Mike Scioscia.

Scioscia developed a friendship with Roenicke and a respect for his baseball knowledge when they were teammates with the Dodgers. When the former catcher was given the job of managing the Angels in 2000, one of his first calls was to his long-time friend with an offer of a job.

"Ron is always thinking ahead, always wondering what can happen next in the game and how to be prepared to handle it," said Scioscia of the man who has served him as a third-base coach and then for the past five seasons as a bench coach.

Roenicke becomes the third Angels coach to be hired away from Scioscia's staff in the past five years to become a big league manager and the training ground in Anaheim has caught the attention of every Major League team.

Joe Maddon departed the Angel bench coach position in 2006 to become the manager of the Tampa Bay Rays (it was at that time that Roenicke moved from the third base coaching position to take over as bench coach) and then pitching coach Bud Black became the manager of the San Diego Padres in 2007.

Black was honored as the National League Manager of the Year on Wednesday (with Maddon finishing third after having won the award in 2008) and he took time out from a busy day to offer strong support for Roenicke.

"Ron is well-equipped for the position as manager. He will be very well prepared," said Black. "He comes to this position prepared with a great understanding of players. What I like about Ron the most is he's a realist and a straight shooter. He tells it like it is. He'll look you in the eye and tell you."

When Roenicke joined Scioscia's staff in 2000 he had more managerial experience than his friend and boss, having served four years in the Dodger system and then managing Fresno in 1999 at a time when Scioscia was serving his only year as a Minor League manager at the Dodgers' Albuquerque club.

"Mike has been a great friend and he has been very important in my career and I always will be grateful for the opportunity he gave me with the Angels as a big league coach," said Roenicke. "Mike always has been open to the opinions of his coaches and our relationship has been one of give and take but it's always been from the viewpoint of how do we get better as a team."

One of the areas where Scioscia and Roenicke always agreed was to have the Angels be as aggressive on the bases as possible and the new manager of the Brewers said that will be an important part of his game plan in Milwaukee.

"I want us to be aggressive running the bases and we will emphasize this with the Brewers," said Roenicke. "I think being aggressive gives the players more confidence and it also wears on the opposition."

The Brewers stole only 81 bases last season, the fifth lowest total in the National League, and there is no doubt that Roenicke plans to increase that number.

Speed was an important part of Roenicke's early career after he was drafted out of UCLA in 1977. In his third year of professional baseball in the Dodgers' organization, Roenicke hit .302 at Double-A San Antonio with 24 doubles, six triples, 13 home runs and 47 stolen bases.

One year later, in 1980, Roenicke underwent surgery on both knees and it appeared his career might be over.

Roenicke simply refused to give in to the pain in his knees and went on to play eight seasons in the Major Leagues.

He was determined to remain in the game after his playing career ended and began his managerial career with Great Falls of the Pioneer League in 1994.

With the knee problems limiting his playing time, Roenicke spent more time on the bench than he desired. He took advantage of the time by studying the game, asking questions and preparing himself to remain in the game as a coach or manager.

I'm not sure of the total process the Milwaukee Brewers used to select their manager but I know one thing for sure -- they got the right man for the job.

Fred Claire was a member of the Los Angeles Dodgers from 1969-98, serving the team as Executive Vice-President and general manager. He is the author of "Fred Claire: My 30 Years in Dodger Blue." This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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