NEW YORK -- His eyes were fixed on the Cubs player in the batting cage. His hands were stuffed in the back pockets of his uniform pants, probably because global warming had taken the day off. Those who study body language say the posture Rick Renteria had assumed at 11:30 Wednesday morning -- standing upright and relaxed, looking straight forward with hands behind him -- suggests he is a man with nothing to hide.
His expression was a smile, one of the coast-to-coast variety. As Renteria spoke, his eyes suggested a sincerity that was quite disarming. Life seems good for the Cubs' rookie manager. He says it is. And who are we to question the sincerity of a man who apparently hides nothing and smiles when he inhales, exhales and in between?
His team is in last place in the National League Central, a tad deeper after losing twice to the Yankees on Wednesday. Yet Renteria smiles as much as Gary Carter or Whitey Ford ever did.
The Cubs were about to engage the Yankees in the afternoon and attempt to accomplish what no Cubs team ever had achieved; that was to beat the Yankees in the Bronx. They had lost two games in the old Yankee Stadium in the World Series of 1932 and 1938 and three games during an Interleague interlude here in 2005. Their luck would be no better in the newer, regal palace that The Boss gave the people of New York five years ago. The Yankees would win, 3-0 and 2-0, on Wednesday. Eighteen innings all for naught.
No matter the daunting nature of the challenge, Renteria was upbeat and energized as he took in BP, chewing his gum in a manner that made his cheeks inflate to near-Zimmer proportions. Bring on Masahiro Tanaka, Carlos Beltran and Brian McCann.
He is an engaging sort, willing to swap words, thoughts and opinions while he watches BP with focus and counts his blessings. His is a different type of multi-tasker.
So it was that, as noon approached, Renteria willingly participated in a dialogue about a seemingly serious and intriguing report that had been posted 24 hours earlier on the CareerCast.com website in which the best and worst jobs, 1 to 200, were identified and assessed in terms of stress, compensation, work environment and hiring outlook. Some quasi-subjective formula had been implemented. And some blissfully employed folks at CareerCast determined that newspaper reporter -- unsaid is whether website reporter was under the same umbrella -- is a most unattractive occupation. Indeed the folks in the Yankee Stadium pressbox Wednesday were involved in the second worst job on the CareerCast list. Only lumberjacks have it worse than those once identified as ink-stained wretches. Oh well.
After all that had been explained to the Cubs' manager at the cage, he was asked "How would you rate your job?" [Not the performance, but the job itself -- manager of the beloved, but struggling Cubs.] Never mind what the other 199 jobs are, where would you put 'manager of the 2014 Cubs?' on any list of jobs?
Such an inquiry posed adjacent to the batting cage was well outside the batter's box, so Renteria momentarily paused before emphatically he said "Right on top." And he meant it. This 52-year-old baseball lifer -- well, almost, he took off a few years after completing a modest playing career with the Pirates, Mariners and Marlins -- revels in the position and responsibilities that are his. His team's record matters, of course. But Renteria carries perspective and priorities in the valise he drags to the office.
His outlook parallels that of Chuck Tanner whose mantra was this: "The best thing you can do on a given day is win a baseball game. The second best thing you can do is lose one." Losing twice went unmeasured. Renteria, who met the late Pirates manager in 1981, a year after the club had chosen him in the first round of the amateur draft, had been impressed by Tanner's glass-half-full approach. It has stayed with him and fueled him, as well.
"If the only way we could like our jobs and survive," Renteria said, "was to be successful in ways that can be measured, like wins and losses, there'd be a lot of miserable people on the face of the earth."
Tanner himself might have expressed the same thought at some point.
And so, after the first game of the day-night doubleheader was complete and a dozen-plus reporters -- members of the fourth estate with the second-worst job in the nation -- poured into the visiting manager's office, they were met with a warm smile and softly-spoken postmortems. The Cubs' winning percentage, pending the second game, was .307. By 10:30 p.m., the number was quite unbecoming, .286. But the postgame reception from the manager no indication of what his team had endured. He spoke with his arms folded across his chest. Body language interpreters say that means he is being protective. "No sense in getting on my players," Renteria said. "What does that accomplish?" He has some Ralph Houk in him too.
He cautioned his audience though. "It's not that losing doesn't bother me," he said. "Don't misconstrue how I react with weakness or not caring."
He sipped again from the glass-half-full and hailed his two losing pitchers. Each has kept the Cubs in the game, he said. Without rancor, he also noted how the Cubs had pursued Tanaka. "The Cubs, the Yankees and other teams made their offers," he said. "And the Yankees won." That too.
Disappointed the Cubs were then and Wednesday; Renteria too. But he hardly was disenchanted. His folded arms said so.
When the trying, scoreless day was done, Renteria found a smile somewhere and used it. Additional challenges await him in his first year in the dugout. "This is a great job," he said.
Marty Noble is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less