Barber: Brandon Hyde, from Santa Rosa to Baltimore Orioles manager

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Barry and Lucy Hyde got the news via a phone call from their daughter-in-law, Lisa. Their son, Brandon Hyde, native of Santa Rosa, graduate of Montgomery High School and alumnus of Santa Rosa Junior College, was the new manager of the Baltimore Orioles. There were cheers, and a few tears.

Sometime during the phone conversation, Brandon Hyde’s 10-year-old son, Colton, walked into his house in Evanston, Illinois. “Colton!” Lisa Hyde greeted her boy. “Daddy got the job with the Orioles!”

There was a pause. And then Colton asked, “Is that good news or bad news?”

“Which is exactly what we were thinking,” Lucy Hyde said with a laugh as she recounted the story.

Certainly, it’s good news. Brandon Hyde has realized a dream. For a decade or more, everything he has done in baseball can be seen as a ladder to this opportunity. At the age of 45, he is one of 30 Major League Baseball managers. It is a testament to his will and to his reputation, which is golden.

But this job comes with some red flags. The Orioles made their decision late. They hired Hyde on Dec. 14, weeks after other MLB managerial vacancies had been filled, making it harder for Hyde to populate his coaching staff. He has yet to fill several positions, though he did make one crucial addition — Tim Cossins, his old friend and fellow Santa Rosan who is now Baltimore’s catching coach.

“Getting Tim for me was my No. 1 priority,” Hyde said by phone recently from Evanston, which is about to become one of his former homes. “I’ve worked with him as much as anybody, and he’s incredibly loyal.”

Beyond the timetable, the team that Hyde inherits is a mess. The Orioles lost 115 games last season, most in franchise history, and finished 61 games out of first place, a number that doesn’t sound real. And the current crop of talent in their farm system is generally ranked in the lower half of the 30 MLB organizations.

And then, of course, there is the nature of the manager’s job. Hyde has been a major-league first base coach and bench coach, a minor-league manager and hitting coach, and a farm-system director and field coordinator, and he did all of it well. But those jobs are mostly performed behind the scenes. Hyde has never experienced the public scrutiny and second-guessing that he will encounter now that he’s making out the lineup cards in Baltimore.

“It is a concern,” said Lucy Hyde, like Barry a retired school teacher. “We all try to insulate ourselves and don’t try to read some of the bad press. He’s in a honeymoon period right now. It’s gonna turn, of course. It will be up and down. But I think he’ll handle it well. He’s very level headed.”

That’s one of the things you hear about Brandon Hyde. People in baseball talk about his attention to detail and his steady approach to teaching. From all accounts, he’s a good communicator. But he’s no showman. As Barry Hyde said of his son’s previous boss with the Chicago Cubs: “Nobody’s Joe Maddon. He comes into a press conference and weaves a story. That’s not Brandon. He’s gonna answer the question, but he’s not a storyteller.”

Brandon Hyde is clear-eyed about all of these challenges — and the ones he doesn’t even know about yet.

“I’m sure as the year takes place, I’ll be hit with all sorts of things you can only experience when you go through it the first time,” he said. “The scheme is ever-changing. I think you prepare yourself. One of my fears is to not be prepared for something, to not have thought ahead for a situation. But I think managing in the bigs, it’s like being a farm director in that you’re not gonna know certain things that come your way until you experience them. I’m looking forward to that.”

Hyde likens the challenge to the year he spent in the Cubs’ front office under general manager Theo Epstein.

“I knew what the job looked like, but I didn’t know what that job was at all,” he said. “You just throw yourself into it, do the best you can, and have your ears and eyes wide open. That’s how I’ve always approached it.”

This offseason was bonkers for Hyde. As Maddon’s bench coach, his name had creeped into discussions of potential managers. But he never got an interview until October. And then, in rapid succession, he got four of them, with the Angels, Blue Jays, Rangers and Twins. They all ended up going “in another direction,” as potential employers like to say.

The experience was valuable to Hyde, who says his interview skills improved after a couple of bumpy introductions. It was also a grind.

“I really interviewed like the entire month of October,” Hyde said. “And those teams weren’t close to each other (geographically). You’re talking about yourself — which isn’t a strength of mine. At that point, you’re kind of ready for the offseason. You went to work Feb. 7, now it’s November and you’re looking forward to being with the kids and the family and the wife.”

Hyde wasn’t done, though. The Orioles got a late start. They didn’t hire their new general manager, Mike Elias, until mid-November. And they didn’t decide on Hyde until a month after that.

In many ways, Hyde was an unlikely choice. Of the six candidates the Orioles interviewed for the job, four had prior big-league managerial experience. And Hyde didn’t know either Elias or assistant GM Sig Mejdal at all.

Immediately, though, he got a good feeling from their interactions.

“I felt comfortable right away,” Hyde said. “I spent the majority of my day with Mike and Sig, which was unusual (compared) to other places. I really liked both of them a lot. I thought we shared similar ideas. Kind of both had been through similar experiences in different roles, went to teams that were starting something new, and had success earlier than people thought.”

Elias and Mejdal were instrumental in the Houston Astros’ evolution from punching bag to World Series champions. Hyde had helped the Cubs do the same thing. Both organizations have been among the most adept at using data analytics to improve the roster.

In a way, the analytics thing feels like a strange fit for Hyde. He’s a classic “baseball guy.” He has been around the game his entire life, starting at the lowest levels of coaching. Much of his best work has been done on obscure diamonds, with obscure players.

In fact, to listen to his parents, you’d think Brandon was pretty much born for baseball.

“When Brandon was 2, he was sick. We had taken him to the doctor, and we were waiting for his prescription,” Lucy recalled. “I told him to pick a toy. He’s 2. And he went and picked up a Wiffle ball and bat. I was expecting a coloring book.”

Hyde put that Wiffle set to good use. In a really good piece that The Athletic ran Thursday, Dan Connolly recounted another scene, Brandon Hyde — by then 3 or 4 — orchestrating a ballgame in the family yard, handing out assignments and reminding everyone where the bases were.

Barry and Lucy worked hard to expose Brandon to other interests. The family camped and backpacked. But there was never a question of his true passion. One summer, the Hydes took an epic, 3,000-mile cross-country driving trip. They had to scoop up Brandon in Denver, where he was playing in a Babe Ruth All-Star game.

“Some parents would probably say, no, we’re taking this trip and you’re coming with us,” Barry Hyde said. “But we wanted to support him and our daughter (Lindsay, who is three years younger and now a VP of corporate communications for Charles Schwab) in what they do. We knew his love, and we didn’t want him to take it away from him.”

Can the one-time Wiffle Ball bossy pants co-exist with someone like Mejdal, a former NASA engineer? One thing is certain. Running the Orioles will be a collaboration.

“We view the manager’s chair as an outpost of the front office,” Elias said when the team introduced Hyde on Dec. 17. “So while he’s on a nightly basis managing the 25-man roster, worrying about the players on the 40-man roster, trying to win games at the major-league level, he’s also a full-blown senior member of our front-office team. He will be involved on every decision, strategy.”

That sounds like a double-edged sword. The Orioles clearly value Hyde’s input on organizational issues. But he won’t have the on-field autonomy enjoyed by a previous generation of managers. Of course, most managers don’t now.

The key to Hyde’s future in Baltimore may be patience. He has plenty of it. But will the Orioles?

The Astros went from 51 wins to 101 in four seasons. The Cubs went from 66 wins to 103 in three seasons. Both started their rebuilds with one manager, then moved on to another. Hyde’s friends and family are hoping he can ride out what figures to be the slow process of becoming competitive.

Hyde believes he is on the same page as Elias and Mejdal.

“Honestly, that was something we talked about a lot,” he said. “I wanted to get a feel from those guys about where the team is presently, and going forward. We’re not gonna put a timetable on anything. We’re realistic.”

He added: “I feel good that I’ve been through it before. My first few years as a major-league coach was not with winning teams. So I’ve been with teams that are young and up-and-coming, to a team that won a World Series and was part of the postseason the last four years. I understand development at the big-league level.”

On a personal level, Hyde is looking forward to improving on his career record as an MLB manager. He skippered the Florida Marlins for one game in 2011, after then-manager Edwin Rodriguez abruptly resigned on Father’s Day. With Hyde in charge, the Marlins lost 2-1 to the Rays, who were managed by Maddon. Hyde’s career record stands at 0-1.

“I cant wait to put a one in the left column, for sure,” he said.

If he can put 100 in that column in three or four years, Hyde will be a legend in Baltimore.

You can reach columnist Phil Barber at 707-521-5263 or phil.barber@pressdemocrat.com. Follow him on Twitter: @Skinny_Post.

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