ST. PETERSBURG — Kevin Cash is already seeing one tangible benefit of being in his second year of managing the Rays: When he shows up at the Trop for winter workouts and meetings, he doesn't have to introduce himself.
That familiarity is one of several reasons to assume Cash will manage better this coming season than during his 80-82 indoctrination.
He will know more about his players, in terms of what they can do and how to best motivate and manipulate each one, as well as the strengths and weaknesses of opponents, the strategies and tendencies of other managers, even the quirks of the umpires.
He now has firsthand knowledge of how best to handle the protocols and procedures of everything from replay challenges to clubhouse discipline to budgeting his time among myriad on- and off-field responsibilities, such as media interviews.
And he has a better sense about himself, what areas of decision-making he feels comfortable with and which he needs to focus on, when to go with the accumulated data or the feeling in his gut, why a certain move worked or didn't.
"Last year, there wasn't much I could fall back on," Cash said.
Colleagues and executives around the game say the experience gained in the first season as a manager — good and bad — makes for the most significant improvement going forward.
"I think he did a pretty good job in his first year," Hall of Fame manager Bobby Cox said. "But the more you're in the league and the more knowledge you gather in your head, it's easier to make decisions. With a full year under his belt, that experience is more than helpful."
Longtime successful general manager Pat Gillick said a key is constantly learning more.
"Once you get to know your players — and that takes a while; you might do it with some players in spring training but other players it might take the whole year — but once you get to know them and you get to know the opposition, you kind of don't forget about them, but you kind of put those behind you and concentrate on some new challenges," said Gillick, another Hall of Famer.
"So, consequently, I think the first year is the most difficult. Getting to know not only your players, but the other managers and how they manage, getting to know the umpires. And turning your head on unimportant things. There are things you thought were important, but you dismiss those and really concentrate on the issues that are important."
Cash acknowledges there was a considerable learning curve in his first season managing at any level. While he has targeted specific areas he needs to improve on — topped by his handling of the running game — he figures to benefit just from being more comfortable in the position of ultimate on-field authority, where everyone from the clubhouse staff to the owner want his opinion or okay on something.
"You get a better feel for what's going on around you," said Joe Maddon, who started his full-time managing career with the Devil Rays in 2006 and moved to the Cubs last year, where he won his third manager of the year award.
"Just doing this, you become more aware. I think there's a level of awareness that becomes more comfortable. As you become more aware, you become less fearful of things. You really become more absorbed in the process of the day. … You just feel what's going on around you in a better way and able to react to it better."
Cincinnati's Bryan Price felt the biggest advantage heading into his second season was going through the travails of his first.
"It was managing those previous 162 games," Price said. "When you get an opportunity like this, I think that the first thing you tell yourself is don't screw it up. You don't want the team to be worse off because you're managing the club as opposed to the guy before you or somebody else that was an option.
"The other thing is that you have to stay true to what you believe in as a manager, and you have to learn, because you'll make mistakes or you'll do things and you'll go, 'Oh, boy, given that opportunity, I might do it differently the next time.' "
Colorado's Walt Weiss said his biggest gain was knowing more about his own players, individually and as a team.
"I felt my second year that I just knew my club a lot better," he said. "That first year was a year of assessment, really in a lot of ways for me. But that second year, I felt like we knew who we were and what we needed to do to get better and to be more competitive. I think that was probably the biggest change from one year to the next."
Cash, 38, openly admits he has a lot more to learn. But he also feels a lot better about how much more he knows this year than last.
"Ultimately we are in a better place as far as our relationships with the players," he said. "There were a lot of unknowns. I think we all did a really good job of coming together. But it's going to be exciting to get back in there come spring training and see everybody. Much more high-fiving and hugging and seeing how everybody is, how they did, their families, rather than shaking your hand and introducing yourself."