J.P. Crawford received a text message last month as his offseason continued in Southern California. It was from Gabe Kapler, the new Phillies manager, and he wanted to have dinner with Crawford. The two met in Long Beach, and Kapler began to make his impressions on the team's young core.
Kapler dined last week in Philadelphia with Rhys Hoskins and plans to meet with more players before spring training begins. The manager said he was "blown away." So, too, was Crawford.
"First thing he asked was what do we need, like the players in the clubhouse," Crawford said. "Stuff like that, by him asking that, I know that he's going to be a player's manager, someone that's going to go over very well with us."
Kapler will approach the game far differently than any other manager in team history has done. He is a progressive thinker with an analytical mind-set. He is invested in building a culture and sometimes sounds more like an impassioned college football coach than a traditional, bland baseball manager. It will be an interesting season.
"It's going to work out great," Crawford said. "He played the game. He's young. He gets it. I think he's going to be a player's manager, like I said, and I think we're going to be able to talk to him and not have to worry about saying something wrong or worry about messing up or whatnot. I feel like he's going to understand. He's been through it. It'll be fun."
The day he was introduced, Kapler was asked how he would get his young players to buy into his beliefs. It would be a challenge, Kapler answered, but it all starts with making connections. The manager wasted little time doing that. It is easy to imagine Hoskins and Crawford as the team's next leaders, and Kapler was quick to identify that. His first two connections might be the most important.
"What's easy to see is that people will follow them. People will want to be like those guys," Kapler said. "And what's easy to see is that they are going to make really healthy choices. They're going to make the right choices along the way. That's evident and clear."
Kapler saw Crawford play in high school and followed him on Twitter, but he never met him before last month. He caught bits last season of Hoskins' surge but had yet to meet him, too. Kapler described those meetings in one word: Wow. Hoskins took Kapler pitch by pitch through a 10-pitch at-bat he waged in September. Kapler remembered some long at-bats from his career, but not with this kind of detail.
"The recall was astonishing," Kapler said. "It was incredible. It doesn't happen. It's not normal. I sat across from him and had a human-to-human dinner the entire time. There was nothing manufactured about it. It was just two people talking about life. I walked away from that dinner saying this guy can lead now. He doesn't need any more success. It's not about being the veteran guy. That's not what it's about. He is a leader by example, by the way he carries himself, by the way he thinks and by the way he talks. And it doesn't have to be vocal rah-rah in front of the group. It's a very unique package, one that I'm not sure I've ever seen."
In just a few weeks, Kapler had made two of his most vital connections. The manager, a foodie who has already sampled some of the city's finest restaurants, walked away both full and impressed. Now he has to fulfill Crawford's request after asking him what the players needed.
"Some loudspeakers in the clubhouse," Crawford said. "I'm dead serious. That's what I told him."
The Phillies, Crawford said, need a better platform for their victory music. The leaders of Kapler's young team expect to win.