Garner enjoying Astros with Hinch at helm

Skipper from '05 World Series club mentors new manager

Garner enjoying Astros with Hinch at helm

HOUSTON -- Just a few miles separate Phil Garner and A.J. Hinch.

The managers both live in The Woodlands, a Houston suburb of nearly 107,000 where Hinch has settled his family during his first season as Astros skipper. Hinch's playing and managerial career spans the country, but Houston is the farthest south the Oklahoma native's professional baseball career brings him.

Garner, the revered manager who led the franchise to its only World Series appearance in 2005, knows the plight Hinch faced. Managerial stints in Milwaukee and Detroit preceded his time in Houston, so being the new man in charge in an unfamiliar baseball-crazed city was familiar. To ease Hinch's transition, Garner offered to help.

"When you come into a city I think it's important to know a little bit about the politics of the city and maybe a little history of the game. If I had any of those things to offer, I wanted to be a resource for him," Garner said Saturday after the Legends Weekend luncheon where the Astros honored that 2005 team.

"On the other side of that fence, I was hoping that what has happened would happen. The team would get back on track and get baseball on the front pages again."

10 memories from pennant-winning 2005 season

Garner's generosity has manifested into breakfasts, text conversations and phone calls with Hinch, who's fulfilled Garner's hopes with a team that's led the American League West for most of the season -- a result that's even surprising to Garner.

It shouldn't have been all that shocking. Garner gushed about those early breakfasts with Hinch, where he discovered a cerebral, calculated man who was sure of himself, but careful to present himself with class.

"If a guy is extremely confident, he's willing to ask questions that would seem to other people that he's exposing himself," Garner explained. "He wasn't afraid to ask questions that were like that. I felt like at that moment it gave me sort of a premonition that he was probably going to do well. He seemed to have a great deal of self confidence without being outwardly cocky or overconfident."

Garner preferred to keep the specifics of those conversations private. Hinch, who had heard of Garner's reputation through mutual friend Bob Melvin, used those early meetings to absorb as much as he could.

"[I] picked his brain on the Astros, the history and then just managing," Hinch said. "Sort of managing 101. He's done so well at so many places throughout his career, I think he's a great resource for me."

Hinch comes from a different baseball era. The Astros shift as much, if not more, than any team in baseball while Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow are committed to an analytical approach to the game.

Still, Hinch was able to glean valuable information from the scrappy, old-fashioned Garner.

"I think how we apply information has grown over the years, but the fundamentals, the importance of connecting with players, getting the most out of your players, knowing when to be a little harder on them, maybe a little softer on them is the same when managed as when I manage," Hinch said. "Someone who's had success connecting with players, building a team and taking them to the World Series is someone that I can get something from."

Sixty feet, six inches separated the two men on Saturday. Garner threw the ceremonial first pitch to Hinch -- a former Major League catcher who was flattered to be included in such a moment while still so new to the organization.

For both men, the decade since the World Series run is too long ago. Success is sustainable in Houston, and Garner is convinced Hinch is the man to maintain it.

Hinch saw the pitch a passing of the torch. His neighbor, and now friend, agreed.

"One World Series visit in 54 years for this franchise is not enough," Garner said. "I certainly don't want to go down in history as being involved in the only team in the Astros history that's gone to the World Series. It would be very, very nice if we could get back there, and it would be terrific if this team could do it."

"It's a good idea. Pass the torch."

Chandler Rome is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.