SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Some of the old Angels gang has gathered again around Mike Scioscia this spring, and the manager with the longest tenure doing that job for one Major League team is enjoying a renaissance.
He's about to embark on his 17th season, and Bud Black and Ron Roenicke have rejoined him this spring in uniform, both back with the organization.
"It's been rejuvenating for me," Scioscia told MLB.com before traveling from Tempe Diablo Stadium on Sunday morning to play the Rangers at the other end of the valley in Surprise Stadium. "These are some of the best baseball minds I've ever been around. We just sit around and talk baseball, and it has been great."
This is in stark contrast to the past few years when Scioscia's relationship with former general manager Jerry Dipoto was strained, to say the least. For those of us who know Scioscia as far back as his heyday catching for the Dodgers, it was clear by the strain in his face and tone of his voice that he'd lost the joy he had in managing the team. Every move was an effort, every decision a fight.
That's over. Dipoto resigned July 1 and is now in the thick of it as GM in Seattle, trying to resurrect the Mariners. Dipoto was ultimately replaced in Los Angeles by Billy Eppler, Brian Cashman's highly regarded sidekick with the Yankees, who like his old boss, is analytical, affable and easy to talk to.
Baseball is fun again for Scioscia, who won the World Series as a player with the Dodgers in 1981 and '88 and again as Angels manager in 2002. You can tell because the easygoing smile has returned. He's re-energized.
"I am, I feel that," Scioscia said. "I love it. To be connected in so many areas, it's fun."
Black was dismissed last year by the Padres in his ninth season managing that club. Roenicke was early in his fifth season managing the Brewers last year when he was let go.
Eppler was smart to reintegrate both of these guys, who were coaches on the 2002 club that came from behind to beat the Giants in seven games and win the only World Series in club history.
Black was the pitching coach and Roenicke the third-base coach. Joe Maddon, the bench coach for that team, is managing the Cubs and was unavailable. Mickey Hatcher, dismissed by Dipoto as Angels hitting coach in 2012 only months into his first season as GM, is evidently not coming back.
Dipoto and Scioscia clashed over analytics and the new school/old school approach that has been a source of strained relationships throughout the sport. But Hatcher was Scioscia's closest confidant and friend going back to their days playing for the Dodgers. And that was a wound that never healed.
Black is back as an assistant to Eppler in the front office and could act as a buffer between the new GM and ancient manager, although it sounds like neither will need it. Black's been on the field this spring working with players. Roenicke is again Scioscia's third-base coach.
"Everything has flowed incredibly well," Scioscia said. "Billy Eppler bringing the whole crew together, the baseball dialogue has been incredible. Buddy, Ron Roenicke. Those guys are back with a lot more baseball experience. There's a lot of road in their rearview mirrors now from playing to instructing to coaching to managing in the Major Leagues. I mean, the conversation has just been terrific."
Eppler has put together a massive staff replete with two assistant general managers and five special assistants. Also on his staff are Mike Gallego, the director of baseball development, plus Black, Marcel Lachemann and Eric Chavez as special assistants.
But one thing Eppler wanted to make clear in a recent conversation: Scioscia very much has a seat at the table.
"I don't know what happened with Mike here before," Eppler said after speaking on a panel during the annual SABR Analytics Conference. "But he's very bright and has a lot of good ideas."
Really, that's all Scioscia ever wanted. At 57, along with Bruce Bochy of the Giants, he's the last of the old dugout lions whose managing careers began long before analytics dominated the business.
Be that as it may, Scioscia is one of only six current managers who have won a World Series in that job. Bochy, Ned Yost, Terry Francona, John Farrell and Joe Girardi are the others. Scioscia and Girardi are the only active ones to have won as a player and manager.
Despite the fact that this is a different era, there is some worth in having that experience. Eppler worked with Girardi, who in New York still has a loud voice at the table. Now, once again, so does Scioscia.
"We talk baseball. We talk as equals, all of us," Scioscia said. "It's great. Our Major League staff hasn't stopped talking since we've been here. Guys are always in that [conference] room over there.
"There's a comfort level that everybody has. Ideas are thrown on the table. There have been great discussions. Eventually somebody has to make a decision, but that's always the nature of all that."
Whether all that helps the Angels get back to the World Series still remains to be seen. But at least this year, the manager is obviously already having a good time trying to get there.