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Publication Date: Wednesday, January 01, 2003

Bob Melvin's friends reflect on his achievement after he's named manager of Seattle Mariners Bob Melvin's friends reflect on his achievement after he's named manager of Seattle Mariners (January 01, 2003)

By David Boyce

Almanac Staff Writer

Menlo Park native Bob Melvin's recent elevation from bench coach for Major League Baseball's Arizona Diamondbacks to manager of the Seattle Mariners came as a thrill to two of his longtime buddies, who now have one more reason to admire their friend.

"I used to feel fortunate to be his friend. Now I feel honored," said Vic Czanckas, who grew up and went to school with Melvin in Menlo Park and who is now a psychotherapist in the East Bay.

"This is probably a bigger thrill for me [than his becoming a major leaguer], to see him become a manager," said Matt Morey, another boyhood friend, who now runs a concrete-manufacturing plant in Sunnyvale.

Melvin, 41, was chosen from a field of 12 candidates on November 14 to replace Lou Piniella, who left the Mariners organization to manage the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. Melvin began his major-league career in 1985 as a catcher for the Detroit Tigers and spent three seasons with the Giants.

Growing up

Melvin attended Laurel and Encinal schools in Menlo Park, then Menlo-Atherton High School, where he lettered in baseball, basketball and golf. He graduated in 1979 and spent a year at UC Berkeley, a year in which the Cal baseball team advanced to the College World Series and finished in third place.

Melvin played many sports as a kid, friends said, including softball, football and golf, but baseball was his passion. "He just lived baseball," said his mother Judy Melvin, who lives in Menlo Park.

A deep interest in sports ran in the family. His grandfather, once the waterboy for the Green Bay Packers, introduced his grandson to Vince Lombardi, the legendary Packers head coach, Ms. Melvin said.

Among sports figures who exercised the most influence on him were Lombardi and several Hall of Fame players, including Cincinnati Reds catcher Johnny Bench, Golden State Warriors forward Rick Barry and Packers quarterback Bart Starr, according to his friend Vic Czanckas.

His mother, also a sports fan, had once been given a baseball as a gift from San Francisco Giants first baseman Orlando Cepeda. Although the ball looked ordinary enough, she said it was the last official ball hit in San Francisco's Seals Stadium when it closed in 1959.

Bob Melvin, a kid at the time and in need of a ball for a sandlot game, took Cepeda's ball from its stand and played the game with it, then lost the ball. "It would now be worth a fortune," Ms. Melvin said, laughing at her recollection.

"That does not surprise me one bit," said his friend Matt Morey. "It would be just like Bob to take a ball [like that] and play with it."

Ms. Melvin said her son did not recall the incident.

Managing the Mariners

After 14 seasons as a catcher, including 10 as a major leaguer, Melvin began his management career in 1996 with the Milwaukee Brewers, where he worked successively as a scout, a roving instructor, special assistant to the general manager and then as bench coach, the manager's assistant who stays in the dugout during games.

In 2000, Melvin continued as bench coach for the Detroit Tigers, then took the same job for the Arizona Diamondbacks, where he's spent the past two seasons. The Diamondbacks won a seven-game World Series over the New York Yankees in 2001.

Melvin's catching career will likely influence his decisions as a manager. Because they occupy such a central position, catchers often function as team captains on the field. The managers of both the 2001 and the 2002 World Series champions were catchers during their careers.

As a catcher, "you have to go down the same checklist that the manager does," Melvin said in a recent Associated Press article. "Who's at the plate, how to pitch the guy, know your defense, know your pitcher on the mound. You have to know how to get guys out."

With his hiring at Seattle, Melvin becomes one of just 30 Major League Baseball managers in the country, and the 12th manager of the Mariners.

Citing what he called Melvin's strong organizational and communication skills, Czanckas predicted he'll put them to good use and won't be the kind of manager who kicks dirt on home plate during an argument with the umpire. "I think he's going to be a very progressive manager," Czanckas said.


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