There is an edge, an intensity.
Somewhere between he just woke up and he is contemplating a crossword clue and he might pull your liver out of your midsection with his bare hands.
But that’s not all, and it wouldn’t be enough on its own.
Amid the snippets and pearls of knowledge that drip out of his mouth in the course of virtually every conversation, Ian Kinsler laughs a lot.
His chuckle — it’s a giggle, really — serves sometimes as a break in the middle of a thought but more often as a fun exclamation point.
“He’s the biggest kid in here,” said Padres pitcher Garrett Richards, who was a teammate with Kinsler on the Angels last season.
Playing baseball for a living can keep a man boyish.
“I still see myself as a little kid,” Kinsler said. “The crazy thing about this game is we’ve all been playing since we were 8 years old. So any time you put the cleats on and you’re out there playing, the psyche of it is you still believe you’re a little kid.”
But when you are 36 and have played in the major leagues since 2006 as a member of four teams and been to three World Series, you are most certainly a man. When you join a club that hasn’t won a lot and has a bunch of players born at the same time you were in high school, even when Eric Hosmer is the team’s soul and Manny Machado is its muscle, you are pretty much the man.
And so it is that Kinsler is asked about the difference between winning, of which he has done a lot, and losing, of which he has also been party to over his 13 seasons.
It is mentioned to Kinsler how difficult it is to win and how his new team hasn’t won a lot and how it has in the past couple years celebrated pretty much every victory as if it was 1999.
“It makes sense,” he said, proceeding cautiously after an extended pause. “You go into any locker room across the game, when they win the music is playing; when they lose it’s not.”
And then, with no actual details of the Padres’ past postgame celebrations having been shared, Kinsler proceeded to make it clear things will be different this season — without explicitly saying that either.
“I’m not too keen on overdoing it,” he said. “It should be the same, regardless. … Obviously, it’s a good feeling to win. Everybody (is) proud of that win. When you take it the extra mile and have disco balls and flashing lights and all that (expletive) for winning, it means you’re not winning much.”
And then he laughs.
“From my perspective and what I’ve seen — I’ve played on 100-loss teams, and I’ve played on close-to 100-win teams, and last year the Red Sox won (108) games,” Kinsler said. “When I compare the two, the teams that I was on that were winners, there wasn’t an over-celebration. It was, ‘We’re supposed to win. We’re better than them, and that’s what is supposed to happen.’ And when you lose, it’s kind of a shock. The music is off and everyone is like, ‘What just happened? That’s not supposed to happen.’ Then you take a shower, wash it down the drain and you get ready for the next day.
“The teams I have been on that lost a lot of games have definitely tried to over-celebrate the wins. They try to make too much out of the wins, because you want to make that feeling as good as possible because you think that’s going to breed more wins.”
So, uh, no more disco ball or steam machine. Maybe there will still be cake smashed into the carpet when a birthday is being celebrated. Presumably, a beer shower for the rookie pitcher who just won his first game.
The Padres knew things would change when they mixed the man most in the game call “Kins” with their bunch of kids.
Kinsler’s gentle rant about the nature of a team that expects to win remaining even keel might have sounded like a record player’s needle abruptly running across vinyl to some, but it is music to the ears of those who brought him to San Diego.
“He’s got a presence,” manager Andy Green said a few times this spring.
It must be mentioned — because how he actually performs is important — that Kinsler played a virtually flawless second base this spring. At least in his first six weeks taking ground balls in a Padres uniform, he was every bit as fluidly reliable on the right side as Freddy Galvis was at shortstop last season.
“He’s legit,” said Hosmer, whose four Gold Gloves are twice as many as Kinsler has. “… I haven’t seen any actions like that, haven’t seen anybody move around the bases like he does.”
Kinsler’s production the past two seasons has dipped. While he won the second of his career Gold Glove awards in 2018, he also hit .240/.301/.380. His .308 on-base percentage over the past two seasons was 36 points off his career OBP to that point.
His WAR (wins above replacement) slipped from an average of 5.7 from 2013-16 to a total of 4.7 in 2017-18. His wRC+ (weighted runs created plus) was below average both of the past two seasons when it had been around or above league average each of his first 13 seasons.
But this spring, Kinsler hit four home runs and led the Padres with a 1.192 OPS (on-base-plus-slugging percentage) and .371 batting average in spring training games.
He can evidently still play.
But there is so much more that comes with Kinsler for the price of $8 million over two seasons.
The man has played 1,801 major league games — hundreds apiece alongside Miguel Cabrera and Mark Texeira and across the diamond from Adrian Beltre and Elvis Andrus.
Kinsler was part of a build in Texas that saw the Rangers get to the World Series in 2010 and ‘11. He was part of Tigers teams that won 90 and 86 games. The Red Sox traded for him last July, and he rode on a duck boat in a parade in October.
He has been a part of 927 regular season victories. There are just seven active players who have participated in more major league victories than Kinsler. His 4,296 plate appearances in victories trail only Robinson Cano and Albert Pujols among active players.
His 196 postseason plate appearances are 58 more than Hosmer, 97 more than Machado, 193 more than Greg Garcia and 196 more than every other player on the Padres roster.
The wisdom flows from him in drops and in waves.
Teammates — some not even yet having played a major league game, others in their second season, and those five and six seasons in — frequently gathered their chairs around his locker this spring. Who knows what tales he’ll tell and almost-accidental advice that will come on airplanes at 35,000 feet and in clubhouse dining rooms around the National League.
He’s possessed of the rare ability to be a leader just by being.
“I love the edge he’s bringing,” Green said. “… It will be organic. You don’t need to tell people how to converse with people. You let them be themselves. You invest in people who have great makeup and have been a part of winning clubs and want to win — are desperate to win. That’s the vibe he brings.”
Really, Kinsler just talks about baseball in between the batting cage and the weight room and the training room and the field.
“When you’re a young kid, it’s tough to listen,” Kinsler said. “That’s just the human nature. If someone would have come to me when I was 21 or 22 and talked about taking care of my body, I’d have been, ‘Whatever man. I’m going to eat In-N-Out and pizza and go hit baseballs. It’s not that hard.’”
So it’s not a “Back in my day” thing. It’s doing work and telling stories and answering questions when they’re asked. Through the course of the season, it will be a hint here and suggestion there. After all those games, he knows the cues. He knows what it takes to win and what it takes keep doing it. He knows how to play through injury and when to pull back without costing your team. He knows how to rebound and recharge.
And he’s drawing from his new teammates, too. Hosmer is seven years younger than Kinsler. Machado was born exactly 10 years and two weeks after Kinsler. The rest of the presumptive starting lineup on opening day, even with 28-year-old Wil Myers, will have an average age of 24 years, eight months.
“It’s awesome to be around,” Kinsler said. “It’s tremendous energy. You see the drive in this clubhouse. There’s just a lot of really good character in this clubhouse, and it was built that way for a reason. It’s really fun to be a part of.”
With the knowledge that winning is what drives Kinsler, what he finds most fun, his statement leads to a natural question. And this is how virtually every conversation with him goes, which demonstrates how it is the Padres envision him impacting the clubhouse.
He is quizzed on the importance of character as an ingredient for winning.
“You’re asking someone who thinks that’s probably No. 1 on the list,” Kinsler said. “Character is huge in this game. We’ve been talking about how many games we play — not getting too high, not getting too low. That all leads to character, because when you’re playing 162 games plus spring training plus postseason, there is going to be adversity. There is 100 percent going to be adversity. That’s the baseball season. So when you have guys who are high character and are motivated to get better and be better than the other guys, it makes that 162 a lot easier.
“It’s not really about the wins or losses. It’s about the mentality. The whole reason you come to the ballpark every day is to try to win that day or that night.”