Our Stories: How AJ Hinch treats everyone -- Astros employees, media members, maintenance staff, fans -- with respect
Editor's note: The author of this piece, Dena Propis, is the Pac-12 Networks Director of Communications. She worked closely with AJ Hinch, the focus of a three-part “Our Stories” special, during her time as the Senior Manager of Communications for the Houston Astros. Below, Propis writes about the former Stanford catcher she knows firsthand. See more of Hinch’s story during the debut of "Our Stories: AJ Hinch" on June 2 at 7 p.m. PT/ 8 p.m. MT on Pac-12 Network.
AJ Hinch is unlike any other manager in Major League Baseball. I don’t say that because I worked with AJ while with the Houston Astros, or because he led my favorite childhood team to its first World Series Championship. He is unlike any other manager in MLB because he is one of the most articulate, thoughtful and human guys in the business.
I emphasize “human,” because it’s pretty easy to lose some of that over the course of a season, no less a lifetime in baseball. This sport is a grind. It’s not just 162 games during the regular season – it’s a month and a half of Spring Training to start and then, if the baseball gods have smiled down upon you, another month of postseason baseball, which comes out to about nine straight months of seeing the same exact people nearly every single day. All of that time, combined with the spotlight that comes with the job, can make a skipper insulated, suspicious, guarded and generally a bit grumpy.
But AJ’s different. I think it’s because he deeply understands and cares about people.
As you’ll see in this episode of “Our Stories,” AJ had a unique career path through baseball. Sure, he was a standout athlete growing up in Oklahoma, winning awards and receiving accolades – standard stuff for a future Major Leaguer. Then he went to Stanford and got a degree in… psychology. I think that degree, combined with AJ’s natural curiosity and approachable demeanor, uniquely positioned him for the various roles he’s had in baseball.
— Pac-12 Network (@Pac12Network) November 11, 2017
AJ’s relationship with Pac-12 Networks analyst Eric Byrnes is another example of just how (and I know AJ would hate me using this word) special he is as a baseball lifer. Already a mainstay at Stanford, AJ hosted Eric as a potential recruit on The Farm. Needless to say, AJ mustn’t have done that great a job as host, because Eric went on to play at UCLA. A few years later, their paths crossed again as teammates in Oakland. But what really solidified their friendship was their time together in Arizona.
Just one month after he retired as a Major League player, the Arizona Diamondbacks hired AJ as their Director of Player Development. Usually, players transition to coaching or broadcast gigs after they retire, so to go straight to a front office role was already a bit irregular. From there, AJ found his way back to the dugout, serving as the youngest manager in MLB by a very wide margin at just 34 years old.
When I think about what it must have been like to be all of 34 years old and in charge of 25 Major Leaguers, some of whom were older than the manager himself – that’s a tough situation. It’s hard to earn respect in a clubhouse. But now that I know AJ, I totally get it. You really can’t help but like the guy. He’s personable, genuine, quick-witted and an absolute baseball junkie. And he had a guy on the inside.
One of AJ’s most important moves as newly-minted manager was bringing back his old friend, Eric Byrnes, in what would prove resurgent for Eric’s career. Having Byrnes in the clubhouse as he navigated his first managerial stint eased what was no doubt a difficult situation for AJ, and set him up to be the World Series Champion skipper he is today.
AJ takes the time to get to know people, to consider the folks behind the scenes. He treats everyone with respect – his players, his coaching staff, media members, front office employees, maintenance staff, fans – everyone. Though it should be the norm, it rarely is among the elite in the game. So, for that reason (and his tremendous comedic timing), I will always root for AJ Hinch.