Orioles bench coach John Russell stands on the top dugout step, elbows resting on the padded railing in front of him. The tanned, rugged face of an eternal boy of summer is expressionless. His calculating eyes are masked by a pair of reflector sunglasses.
He's watching, observing, strategizing.
For those who don't know him — even for some who do — Russell is a tough read. It's difficult to know what he's thinking. But, rest assured, he's thinking.
"When I first came over here, I didn't know how to take J.R. He is a quiet guy," Orioles catcher Steve Clevenger said. "But getting to know him, he opens up a little bit more, and you can really see the baseball guy in him. He's a great baseball guy and is here to teach guys the right way."
When the Orioles hired him before the 2011 season, Russell was looking for a fresh start. He had spent the previous three years as the manager of the hapless Pittsburgh Pirates, trying to teach the game to a revolving door of journeymen and prospects caught in a constant cycle of losing.
Russell's Pirates lost 299 games in three seasons, including 105 in 2010. But winning was supposed to be secondary. He was there to gradually build a consistent contender from the bottom up. And when a strong nucleus began forming — future stalwarts Andrew McCutchen, Pedro Alvarez and Neil Walker debuted under Russell — he was fired.
"Spent three years in Pittsburgh, wish it had been longer. I think we were doing some really good things there trying to get it turned around," Russell said earlier this week. "Unfortunately, some people figured we needed to win more games while doing it. And it's not always that easy to do."
On Tuesday night, Russell returns to PNC Park as the Orioles begin a two-game interleague series in Pittsburgh. It's his second time back since being fired, but the first since the Pirates, indeed, turned things around, making the 2013 playoffs and breaking a 20-season losing skid.
"I can't treat it, job-wise, any differently. I can't go in there and sulk and mope around [and say], 'Shoot, I wish I was still here and look what they've done. I wish they had done that when I was here,' " Russell said. "It's all water under the bridge. I will go in there and do my job and help the Orioles try to kick their butt a little bit."
Russell may choose his words carefully, but he speaks his mind when asked direct questions. It's one of the reasons he and Showalter have become close, even though they really didn't know each other personally when Russell first was hired.
So when asked about his feelings concerning the Pirates' situation, Russell, who was hired and fired by current Pittsburgh general manager Neil Huntington, doesn't sugarcoat things.
"It hurt. It did. Because I felt like I gave everything I had for three years," Russell said. "It is something I took a lot of pride in, and to get it taken away was something that hurt a little bit. But it's four years later, and it's time to move on."
Triple-A Norfolk reliever Evan Meek, who was an All-Star for the Pirates in 2010, said Russell's contribution to Pittsburgh's current success shouldn't be dismissed.
"Whoever was coming in to that role in 2013 was going to look like a genius. Honestly, there should be a lot of credit — most of the credit — given to J.R. And there wasn't any," Meek said. "He was there for the groundwork, getting these players ready to be a part of everything, and then he was run out of there."
'The intensity of the fist bump speaks'
Since coming to Baltimore, Russell has served two crucial roles.
Initially hired as third base coach, he moved to the bench during the 2011 season and has become the primary sounding board for Showalter.
The trust factor is so strong that Showalter, universally known for his lack of a baseball "off button," attended his daughter's law school graduation in Texas on Saturday, putting the Orioles' game in Kansas City in the managerial hands of Russell.
One of the most prepared men in the sport, Showalter doesn't need much help making decisions. But he is always seeking second opinions.
"He's just a good guy to bounce stuff off of, and he's not afraid to voice his opinion if it is different than mine, which I really want," Showalter said of Russell.