Manny Machado brings chess (and hits) to the Padres

SAN DIEGO – The pawns are lined up and the shiny white knight is ready to attack. The game resumes immediately after the hitters’ meeting and the star third baseman light up the box score.

Considering Manny Machado’s intense start for the San Diego Padres this season, the five-time All-Star could be joking that his peers played chess while playing chess. But in Machado’s case, this is true: when he doesn’t hit opposing pitchers and steals hits with acrobatic defenses, Machado is seen keeping his mind sharp on the chess board.

Machado said he learned the game in 2017 from former player and Orioles executive Brady Anderson in Baltimore. “Chess is interesting. You have to think in advance of what your opponent is thinking, what he is trying to do to you, how he is trying to attack you.

The match was intriguing from the start. He places a board on a small table between his locker and his clubhouse neighbor, Fernando Tatis Jr., with another board in the nearby players’ lounge; And he plays at home in the winter with his father-in-law Luis Alonso, the father of former major league player Yonder Alonso.

When it was revealed last season that Tatis Jr. would occasionally play chess, Machado began to bring the board to the park for matches during his downtime, similar to games played in Baltimore.

“If you’re playing every day, you’re at war with him,” Mets’ first-base coach and regular opponent for the Machadoes, Wayne Kirby, said in Baltimore and last summer in San Diego.

Kirby said that the Orioles played chess during Machado’s time, and players called “I came forward” for a pickup basketball court and eventually the team placed three chess boards in the clubhouse. Travel panel for road trips. Machado said he still has the wisdom to work with outfielders Will Myers and Trace Thompson, who were designated for this week’s assignment (in baseball, not chess), and that they are still hiring new opponents in San Diego. Machado has played quite a bit with Tatis Jr.

However, San Diego’s first-year hitting coach is Michael Brother’s regular opponent.

“It’s fun,” Brdar said. “He is good. He’s so good. ”

Machado vividly remembers the first time he and his main Orioles played the game of Nemesis, Jonathan Scoop. Machado said it was in Seattle in 2017. The two were then openers, so Crutch Machado said his first match was only three minutes away.

“We both sucked,” Machado said. “It’s interesting to take it and learn.”

Machado and Scoop rose together in Baltimore’s farm system, and were competitive in everything, including having a strong throwing arm. He continued to improve as a chess player until his matches got close to addiction, which is still complete with trash words that still resonate today.

Who won the most?

Said Scoop, who now plays second base (and plenty of chess) for the Detroit Tigers. “To make him feel good, I let him beat me a couple of times. If we played 100 times, he would beat me 10 times.

Machado laughs when this is broadcast to him – and corrects Scoop’s math.

“Honestly, it was a little rough at the beginning because he knew a little bit more than I did when I started,” Machado said. “But once I learned how to make a couple moves, he had no chance against me. Now, it’s probably 70/30 – I’m 70, he’s 30.

Machado later added a boost: “I don’t think they can win a match against me now. He does not mislead his queen. He’s finished. ”

Scoop, however, claims to know “all of Manny’s walks”, a trend in particular. “If you take the horse from him,” he said, referring to the knight, “he’s done.”

Kirby agreed. “Horse is great for manny,” he said. “He likes that horse.”

Kirby and Scoop said games between players sometimes evolve into arguments because the two are so competitive. Sometimes, Schoop said, Machado accuses him of cheating.

“They don’t come to 100 games. They argue too much,” Kirby said. “They go into it because once you touch your queen or something, and then remove your hand from it, you’re done. They both claim that they didn’t take their hand off the piece.

In San Diego this season, Machado is on top of everything – and in -. As of Thursday, his .383 batting average, 46 hits and 27 runs have led all major. At age 29, he is already 19th on MLB’s hit list (1,471) and 18th on home runs (258).

As the end of Albert Pujols and Miguel Cabrera’s illustrious careers approaches, the long-awaited future members of the 3,000-hit, 500-homer club. But Machado’s extraordinary combination of youth, production and durability could make him a candidate to one day join that fraternity.

Machado called Cabrera “the best hitter I’ve ever seen” and praised his build.

“I know the game is changing a little bit, but there are no such hitters anymore and they get 3,000 hits, 500 homers – and 600 doubles, right?” Machado said. “That’s slugging.”

It strives to be a Machado-like hitter, and he is a hitter again after his left shoulder injury last summer and unable to lift his hand for a while. He still played 153 games, refusing to go on the injured list, and even laughing while refusing to reveal the exact diagnosis of the injury. (“I can’t say it. I can’t tell you. I don’t know what it is. I’m not sure what it is.”)

It is a complete package of slugger, star fielder, lineup staple and chess kingpin, which has recently elevated him to be a team captain for the club with its problems.

“You look at him from a distance and you have your own opinions about him,” Bob Melvin, the Padres’ manager this offseason, said of Machado, whose anger has led to some high-profile problems in the past. “Then you go in here and see what’s up about him. He’s a little vocal, definitely leading by example. He appears to play every day. He performs every day. There are subtle things about him that scream leadership.

Brother, who started playing chess after watching “The Queen’s Gambit” two winter ago, suggested there might be a link between chess and striking.

“You’re going to make a bad move in chess, and most of the time you will recover from it instead of letting it spill over into two, three, four bad moves,” Brother said. “It’s similar to hitting.

“You’re going to chase the pitch here and there. You lose guilt here and there. But mostly what you do on the next two, three, four pitches or the next two, three, four bats. I think there are definite parallels.

Machado admitted, “You’re training your brain to do something right. People read, people make small puzzles to activate their minds.

For Machado, chess fills that role.

He and Braddard play “slow” games on the board in front of the Machado locker – if the striking coach walks through the clubhouse and sees Manny make a move, for example, Bradard stops and does his own thing and vice versa. Then, after a meeting of hitters or batting practice, they play long games on the board in the players’ lounge.

“Right now they play Fianchetto with their bishop,” Brother said of Machado’s early strategy in many games. “So he likes his bishop to have the whole scene diagonally across the board.”

“That’s my walk,” Machado said. “When I saw ‘The Queen’s Gambit’, I didn’t know the names at the time. I don’t know much. I know a few. But it’s all about openings. This is one of the moves I use the most.

Brother proudly reports that he has learned to shut down that move. In his games so far this season, Machado has admitted rudely that the hitting coach has won three times and Machado only once.

“But it’s been a long year,” Machado said. “Things change. It’s like baseball. You go to the hot line, you go to the cold line. I’m on my cold path right now.”

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