You’re the Los Angeles Dodgers’ newest manager. How will you handle the pressure?
I’ll focus on being who I am and being real with people. That’s been my approach wherever I’ve been in baseball, whatever role I’ve been in.
Expectations are going to be pretty high for you guys.
Expectations are great. You want a situation where fans and media expect you to win the World Series. We have that same expectation.
Division rivals San Francisco and Arizona have improved. Does that scare you?
It’s not surprising; we’re coming off winning three straight division titles. They’re being aggressive, but in all my years in baseball, a championship has never been won in the off-season. I don’t think our guys are too concerned.
You played with Dodgers first baseman Adrian Gonzalez. Did he tell you anything?
The one thing he said is that the clubhouse dynamic is not as bad as it is perceived. The guys genuinely like one another.
Do you think young outfielder Yasiel Puig can improve?
There’s no reason he can’t be an All-Star-caliber player. Even being hurt last year, he was still productive. I just want to wipe the slate clean. We’ve exchanged text messages–he seemed excited to have me as the manager.
You’re the first African American to manage the Dodgers. What does that mean to you?
I’ve always been a Dodgers fan, and I went to UCLA so I’m a huge Jackie Robinson fan, and I know Sharon, his daughter. When you look at what Jackie and [Don] Newcombe and Campy [Roy Campanella] and [Sandy] Koufax did for this organization, for this country and for civil rights, I want to do everything I can to remember the sacrifices that were made to present this to me.
Is it weird being known primarily for one stolen base for the 2004 Boston Red Sox?
I used to say, “You know, I did more than that.” But when you step back and put your ego to the side, you can see what an effect that team had on so many people–it’s mind-blowing. Any ballpark I’d go to, someone would thank me on behalf of Red Sox Nation, or on behalf of a parent that passed away but finally got to see the Red Sox win the World Series. I’m pretty grateful to be identified in such a great light.
What’s the best advice you’ve gotten?
I talked to [Pittsburgh Pirates manager] Clint Hurdle. And he said you need to be able to answer yes to three questions to be a good manager. Players want to know if they can trust you, if you care about them and if you can make them better. I’m going to keep that close to me.
This appears in the December 28, 2015 issue of TIME.
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