Relaxed is not a way Rick Forney has often been described in his seven-plus years managing the Winnipeg Goldeyes. Funny what a championship will do.
Smiling, gracious and at ease on the cusp of jamming 100 baseball games into 109 days, Forney had the look of a champion about him as he settled into his office last week.
Self-satisfied? Perhaps, but a winner deserves as much. Any less hungry? We shall see but I doubt it. In fact, the general glow of winning sits well on Forney and one might be right in assuming he'd just as well like to keep it around for a while.
"I've finally conquered this battle. You never know until you do it. You always question if you're doing things the right way. A couple of years ago I finally decided as long as I do my job to the best of my abilities and treat people fairly and the way I would want to be treated, at the end of the day things would work out," said Forney in an hour-long chat with the Free Press prior to hitting the road for exhibition action and the beginning of the Goldeyes' regular season in Grand Prairie, Texas on Friday.
"I hope to repeat. I've been hoping to win for a number of years. Every year the goal is the same, to qualify for the playoffs and hopefully that leads to a championship. It's difficult to do. I think, on paper we're good enough to go out and win but we have a lot of baseball games to play in a short amount of time and anything can happen. I respect the process we have to go through in order to play some meaningful baseball in September. The first five minutes of my speech to the players in the clubhouse before we hit the field were all about that. What the goals and objectives are here. We make it perfectly clear what we expect on a daily basis."
The manager's office at Shaw Park hasn't changed much since Hal Lanier moved in during the summer of 1999. A couch, a fridge, a desk and bare cinder-block walls but for a few pictures.
Lanier sat behind the desk until the end of the 2005 season and then Forney moved in. The pictures on the walls changed to framed newspaper articles announcing Forney's hiring. Now they're being shifted to less prominent spots to make room for stories describing the Goldeyes' run to the American Association championship last fall.
Another change is the ring that now sits on Forney's hand.
"They did a nice job, didn't they? I'm still having a lot of fun putting it on each day. I like looking at it," said the 41-year-old husband and father of four. "I think because it took me so long to get one of these things, I think 22 years in professional baseball and missed the playoffs just four times and been in the finals eight or nine times and never won. Maybe I wouldn't appreciate the one I have now if I had five others on my hand. But it's certainly a pretty nice piece."
Forney's championship was only the second in Goldeyes history with the first coming way back in 1994 under manager Doug Simunic. Tradition had become returning to Winnipeg each spring to rehash the heartbreak of the previous fall. So many playoff appearances turned into sombre locker-room scenes with players and coaches attempting to explain what when wrong.
Forney is enjoying this new version of "what happened last year."
"It's strange. Different. Every year you come back to camp and you seem to be still answering questions about the previous season and the letdown and things like that," he said. "I'm still answering questions about last year but the questions seem to be more enjoyable to answer. It's much different this time around."
Forney isn't afraid to reflect on last season and while most of the memories are sweet he also is reminded of a colleague lacking the class the rest of his fraternity showed him.
"I got congratulatory texts and phone calls from every manager in the league but one," said Forney. "I'm not going to tell you who it was but you can guess. I'll say it wasn't Doug because some people might leap to that conclusion because of the rivalry between Winnipeg and Fargo. But Doug has class. He was one of the first to call me."
With that, we'll let the baseball begin because Forney and his players will soon need to set the good memories aside and worry about the games in front of them.
firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @garylawless