BOSTON — BOSTON -- Phil Regan was working as an advance scout for the Los Angeles Dodgers when he noticed that Pittsburgh Pirates manager Jim Leyland had this odd habit.
During batting practice, Leyland would pick up a fungo bat and walk onto the field and begin chatting with his players, stopping to lean against the bat.
Regan pulled aside Pirates coach Terry Collins, who used to work with Regan in the Dodgers' organization, and asked, "Terry, what is he doing?"
Collins replied: "He's dealing with the players."
Regan understood immediately the advantages of dealing with players this way, and he decided that when he managed winter ball, he would go on the field to talk to his players.
He's working with the Orioles in this fashion, too, walking from player to player during batting practice, engaging in small talk with most. But occasionally, he'll have something important to say.
Like in spring training, when he wanted to discuss Damon Buford's role with the club. Or when he's wanted to talk to Jeffrey Hammonds about the status of his knee. Instead of calling them into his office -- like a high school principal -- Regan just strolled into the outfield.
There have been other meetings of significance, too, most of which no one will ever know about because the setting is so inconspicuous.
"What I like about it is that when you talk to them," Regan said, "it seems like a conversation, instead of a summit meeting. It's much more relaxed."
If a player is called into a manager's office, he could feel boxed in, in enemy territory. He might not feel as free to speak his mind. He knows that if a teammate or member of the media sees him go in or out of the office, he likely will be asked about what was said.
But chatting informally, on an open field, that's much easier, Buford and Hammonds say.
The time Regan met with Buford in the outfield, he stood next to the outfielder for a minute or so, making small talk, but knowing that Buford wanted to know if he was going to have a chance to win the center-field job.
Buford asked: "So, what do you think?"
And from there, they discussed how Buford could help the club, how a regular job could develop, how he should best handle his part-time role.
"You feel much more comfortable out on the baseball field than in any office," Buford said. "It's not like he's questioning you [directly]. It's like you're talking, and it just comes up."
Buford remembered one uncomfortable experience in a manager's office, in 1993. "There was a meeting with Johnny [Oates]," Buford said. "He called five guys in that weren't playing. Me, Jack Voigt, Jeff Tackett. He said to us, 'Hang with 'em. I'm going to try to get you in there.' That was it."
Hammonds said: "He [Regan] doesn't do it in front of everybody. You see him on the field all the time, so when he comes up to talk to you, there's nothing out of the ordinary.
"It's great. The man knows what he's doing."