Bo Porter strolled behind the Nationals batting cage Tuesday morning, walking toward the dugout and team he called home for the past two years. He chatted with Nationals Principal Owner Mark Lerner, shook Adam LaRoche’s hand and hugged Jayson Werth. He laughed as he greeted Davey Johnson, still a mentor as he becomes, for one season, one of his 29 competitors.
Porter wore the new block “H” of the Houston Astros on his chest and cap, the logo he is tasked with injecting respect back into. In his first year as a major league manager, Porter is taking over a major project. A team that lost 207 games the past two seasons is moving into the rugged AL West with a roster torn down to the studs.
“I think he’s a perfect man for the job,” Johnson said. “It was a big loss here. But I think he’s fully prepared to be an outstanding manager in the major leagues. They’re in their rebuilding program, obviously, but he’s very fundamentally sound in all aspects of the game, and he’s a great judge of talent.”
As he has since the Astros named him their manager last September, Porter rejected the notion of “rebuilding.” Tuesday morning, a reporter asked him how he sells rebuilding within the clubhouse.
“What’s that word you just said?” Porter said. “I didn’t even know that word was in the dictionary. I haven’t used that word, not one time, since September 27 last year. And I’m not planning on using it.”
Johnson has remained a close friend and resource to Porter. After he left the Nationals, Johnson told Porter that, since the Astros were moving to the American League, they could stay in close communication. They discuss their respective rosters, the process of taking over a team – anything Porter wants to know.
“He is completely there to help me,” Porter said. “He’s very interested in what’s going on in our camp. There are a lot of times I may call him with a question and he’s been there. We’ve talked throughout the offseason, we’ve talked during spring training, and we will continue to talk. When you have someone of Davey’s accomplishments and he’s readily available to help you, I’d be foolish not to take advantage of that.”
Johnson has led reclamation projects in his career, and the experienced helped him guide Porter. Johnson believes it’s better to take over a team at the bottom than on top, because it allows the manager to create something of his own.
“Well it’s actually something that Davey and I talked about last year when I took the job,” Porter said. “He goes, ‘Bo, knowing everything I know about you, you’re the right guy for the job, because you’re going to be able to build it and mold it into a winner.’ It’s something that we all take pride in from an organizational standpoint. I said this in my interview: What he had here was a blank canvas. We’re able to basically draw it up to what we want it to be, and that’s why we’re going about it systematically. The way we’re going about it is so when we look 10, 15 years down, this is where we started and this is what we were able to do.”
Nationals management respected Porter greatly, and it would not be a surprise if they make a run at bringing him back when Johnson retires from managing at the end of the year. But Porter seems intent on leading the Astros, his hometown team, back to prominence for the long haul.
“One of the things we set out, and was a huge thing as an organization, was we needed to change the culture,” Porter said. “Looking at where the organization had been the last few years, it was something that we set out and said, ‘Okay, how can we change the culture? How can we change these guys’ mind-set?’ In order to do that, the first thing you have to do is make everybody understand that things will never be the same.”