OK now, here’s the challenge for the Washington Nationals and everyone else as they scheme against the Los Angeles Dodgers: finding a way to rattle Corey Seager.

But unless you were one of three Dodgers living with the probable NL Rookie of the Year this summer, good luck zeroing in on it.

From the rival manager’s seat, it’s a head-scratcher.

“You look at that Dodgers team on the field and you see all of those veterans,” says recently deposed Arizona manager Chip Hale, envisioning first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, second baseman Chase Utley, outfielder Howie Kendrick and more. “But their best player is their youngest guy on the field.”

From the opposing dugout, it’s akin to playing Stump the Band.

“I know Kris Bryant will get a lot of the MVP votes,” Padres bench coach Mark McGwire says of the Chicago Cubs star. “But to me, if Corey Seager wasn’t playing shortstop and doing what he’s done, I don’t know if the Dodgers would be in the playoffs. I really, really hope people sit down and think about an MVP vote for him.”

From the advance scouts dogging the Dodgers like bloodhounds, the mysteries will not unlock.

Throw your best hook, and Seager will rope it. Drill a ball into the hole, and Seager will close it. Leave the tiniest opening for an extra base, and Seager will take it.

He finished with 193 hits, the most by any big league rookie since 2001, when Ichiro Suzuki had 242 and Albert Pujols 194. He covers ground more efficiently than a Prius.

Yet the way to throw Seager off his game is so simple, it’s child’s play. And until now, only three people in the world have known the secret: his summer housemates in Los Angeles, pitcher Alex Wood and outfielders Joc Pederson and Trayce Thompson.

“As long as you don’t take the last couple of frozen M&M’s from the freezer, or the last of the break-and-bake Nestle Toll House chocolate chip cookie dough, you stay on Corey’s good side,” Wood says, chuckling. “Those are his favorites.”

“You got me,” Seager says. “M&M’s are the death of me, I think. Those are my go-tos.”

The All-Star shortstop stocks the freezer with a large bag, just like Mom did back home while he was growing up in North Carolina with two older brothers, Kyle (third baseman for the Seattle Mariners) and Justin (a Mariners farmhand). Always, peanut M&M’s. On a hot summer day, what snack could be better?

So yes, an empty bag in the freezer or an Aroldis Chapman heater? No question which of those would shake him to the core. And his housemates know it.

“They might get an outlashing,” Seager says. “It’s all friendly, even though those are mine. They’re there for the whole house, but if you finish the bag, you’ve got to replace it. That’s one of the house rules.”

At 22, both Seager’s game and poise stretch well beyond his years. He is friendly, polite and smiles easily. He is as fluid off the field as he is at shortstop. Which, a couple of years ago, was a bit of a sore spot. The shortstop part.

He’s a true 6’4″, and starting within seconds of the Dodgers drafting him in the first round in 2012 (18th overall), he listened to the talking heads and even some folks inside the Los Angeles organization predict that he would be moved to third base because of his size.

He answered with cool, consistent steadiness and grace that now have folks understanding it will take an act of God to move him from the position. Aside from the natural rush of being named to his first All-Star team this summer, one of the perks was the sigh of relief he could breathe that all that hard work over the years at short paid off.

He also understands it is still going to be “an everyday thing to maintain it and sustain it, and I look forward to it.”

Alex Rodriguez and Cal Ripken long ago proved that tall plays at shortstop if you’re both nimble and smart, and Seager is both. He is grounded enough to put in the work and reverent enough to acknowledge, “I still get goose bumps, chills, hearing those names. I don’t think you ever get used to something like that.

“It’s a lot of fun, and life’s pretty good.”

McGwire was the Dodgers’ hitting coach last year when Seager first arrived in the majors as a September call-up, and on the shortstop subject, he notes that despite Seager’s height, “his glove never leaves the ground. He’s the total package.”

But it was while he was working with Seager on a hitting tee last September for the first time that the kid made an impression McGwire will never forget.

Amazed at Seager’s short, compact and direct swing path, McGwire finally stopped the drill.

“Who taught you how to hit?” McGwire asked.

“My dad,” came the reply.

“When you get home today,” McGwire instructed, “you call your dad and tell him he did one hell of a job.”

Driving home from his job as an IT specialist for a bank in Charlotte, North Carolina, Jeff Seager, who played baseball at Fairleigh Dickinson University, listened to those words, which his son quickly passed along after McGwire spoke them, and did what a good dad does. He deflected the attention back to his kids.

“Right from the beginning, in a lot of ways, Kyle kind of paved the way for me,” Jeff says of his Seattle-based son, 28, who hit .278/.359/.499 with 30 homers and 99 RBI this season for the Mariners. “What I mean by that is, you kind of discover things with your oldest that you realize you can do with your others at an even earlier age. It was pretty apparent with Kyle’s team that if you teach kids the right things from the beginning and make it fun, you know what, they learn and they will do.

“Right when Corey wanted to play, we worked on doing things fundamentally sound. Believe me, my boys have taught me a lot going the other way, too… As they’ve gotten older and gotten into the professional ranks, I’ve always told them to keep it simple. It’s easier to maintain. That was the goal: Keep it simple, not a lot of movement. It’s easier to make an adjustment to get it back to where you want to.” 

That artful swing produced results week after week this summer. With a .308 batting average (he ranked seventh in the NL) and a .512 slugging percentage (10th), Corey Seager in 2016 became only the fourth rookie in the divisional era (beginning in 1969) to finish in the NL’s top 10 in both categories, following the Braves’ Dusty Baker (1972) and the Dodgers’ Mike Piazza (1993).

Time was, Seager was going to play college ball at the University of South Carolina. Kyle played three seasons at the University of North Carolina before signing with the Mariners when they picked him in the third round of the 2009 draft. Justin, 24, played ball at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte before the Mariners picked him in the 12th round in 2013. Corey committed to USC, but the trappings that accompany being picked in the first round—let’s just say his $2.35 million signing bonus will buy a lot of M&M’s—took care of that.

There were moments when Seager felt like maybe he was missing out by not going to college.

“I used to think about it,” he says. “It’s human nature to wonder. But it’s kind of gone away. Obviously, in the offseason, I would go see some buddies at school. I got a little bit of it. I don’t regret it. It was the right fit for me, the right decision for me at the time. When everything works out like it did, there’s no turning back from it.”

Levelheaded as always, Seager credits his parents, Jeff and Jody, with emphasizing that their sons should be better people than ballplayers.

“You see a lot of people lose themselves off the field,” Corey says. “They get in trouble, and it affects their career, it affects their team, really, it affects their city. It’s always been an important thing to be respectful around the town, inside the clubhouse; these are the kinds of things my parents always talked about. It’s how I was raised.”

And he thanks his brothers for helping to develop his stay-calm-and-carry-on personality.

“When you have two older brothers, you can’t always let them know how you’re feeling,” he says. “It’s always been, from day one, them training me on how to not show emotion, how to not let them know when they get to me, how to calm everything down.”

Of course, there was plenty of teaching by example. Like the time Kyle was in high school and was playing Ping-Pong with his father in the family garage when Corey and Justin wanted to play basketball.

“[Kyle and Jeff] basically told us it wasn’t a good idea,” Corey says. “We told them we’ll be fine, we won’t get mad at each other. One thing leads to another, either he fouled me hard or I fouled him hard, and he threw the basketball at me.”

Jeff, who chuckles at the mention of one of the family’s most memorable brawls, estimates this was when Corey was 10 or 11 and Justin was 11 or 12.

After Corey caught the basketball, he wound up and fired it back at Justin, missed, and nailed the back taillight of Kyle’s Jeep.

“We both got in trouble,” Seager says, grinning. “That was probably one of the most famous fights. I got lucky. Thank God [the taillight] didn’t break, or I would have been in some serious trouble.”

Adds Jeff, “That was a very typical one. The four of us, we’d go out, and whatever sport it was, we’d be throwing footballs around, and it was always me guarding Kyle and Justin and Corey guarding each other. Football was two-hand touch. Soon it became two-hand shove. Then it got to be tackle. Then it got to be a brawl. And I’d have to say, ‘Boys, if you don’t let up a little bit, this is no longer fun and we’re going to have to stop.'”

Kyle developed quite the knack for egging on his two younger brothers, whose quick tempers played right into his hands.

Ten years later, pick a button, any button, push it, and chances are Corey will take a breath, assess the situation and calmly handle it.

“I don’t even know where to start,” says his double-play partner, veteran second baseman Chase Utley, 37. “His ability to slow the game down is probably the thing that impresses me most, especially given that he’s just 22 and it’s his first full year in the bigs.

“Usually it takes a couple of years to figure it out. But he’s figured it out quickly.”

Among the small moments that third baseman Justin Turner treasures each night is watching the many brief in-game conversations involving his two infield mates.

“That’s the small tutelage he’s getting,” Turner says. “For Chase to pass along his years of experience, and for Corey, who already is a superstar, to look up to him…”

Says Utley, “Early in the season, it was essentially me making the calls on coverage depending on the pitcher, the pitch that was supposed to be thrown, seeing how [the batter’s] swing is going.”

They did what middle infielders docommunicate over who’s going to cover second, who goes where on bunt plays, hit-and-run plays, where Utley is playing, where Seager is playing, what they’re thinking about doing with runners on first and third and many other different scenarios. If a ball is hit here, should Seager go home or to second? Strategy.

Except, about a month ago, things slowly began to change. Utley could see Seager making in-game adjustments himself, positioning himself according to situations and who was hitting. So Utley started to seek Seager’s opinion here and there, rather than simply making the call himself every time.

Sure sounds like the old man was administering a test.

Utley simply arches an eyebrow at this and offers a knowing smile.

Yes, the kid who bypassed South Carolina essentially had reached a graduation day of his own.

“[Utley]’s a great guy to learn from,” Seager says. “He’s been on every level, every stage, and he’s performed. He’s definitely a guy you’re thankful to have to your left.”

Through his first 184 games in the bigs, the only time the Dodgers have seen Seager rattled came last Sept. 8, when he committed two errors in the seventh inning. As if that wasn’t bad enough on its own merit, the misplays came in the first game Seager started with Clayton Kershaw on the mound. Seager immediately apologized to Kershaw afterward.

“I don’t even remember that,” Kershaw says. “His personality, his temperament, I’ve never seen him overmatched.”

Moments, whatever they are, do not overmatch him. On the second-to-last Sunday of the season, in Vin Scully’s final broadcast from Dodger Stadium, Seager smashed a game-tying triple in the seventh inning and then walloped a game-tying home run in the ninth. When he pumped his fist and shrieked at third base following the triple, the Dodgers couldn’t believe it.

“Oh my God!” bullpen catcher Josh Bard screamed during the postgame NL West-clinching celebration. “You’re human!”

Back home, Seager and his brothers have moved well past the days of throwing basketballs at one another and taking cover when the fists fly. Corey moved out of his parents’ home last winter, and he and Justin share a place in Charlotte not far from where Jeff works.

Each Tuesday in the offseason, the brothers have lunch with their dad during his work break, and each Sunday, all three brothers make it a point to drive to their parents’ house for dinner. Where, presumably, frozen M&M’s continue to flow.

“That’s very important stuff right there,” Jeff Seager says, chuckling. “We used to tell my wife, ‘You can run out of milk, but don’t run out of peanut M&M’s.'”

So go ahead, put this in the advance scouting report:

Toss that fastball into Seager’s kitchen at your own risk, but whatever you do, stay out of the kid’s freezer.


Scott Miller covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report.

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