SAN JOSE -- There's something about Class A baseball that keeps bringing Lenn Sakata back to the San Jose Giants' dugout.
Specifically, it brings out the teacher in him.
"I like this level," said Sakata, who will begin his fourth stint as the Giants manager Thursday when the team opens its 2014 season at Rancho Cucamonga. "The kids are the most receptive and malleable at this level -- they're willing to come to the ballpark and work at it. The higher you go, the more difficult they become to work with."
Player development is perhaps the most important part of Sakata's job as manager of the San Francisco Giants' California League affiliate, and he's done quite a bit of that. He's also done quite a bit of winning in the process.
Sakata's 684 career victories are a Cal League record. Of those, 466 came in a San Jose uniform, a franchise mark.
In six previous seasons at San Jose's helm -- not all of them consecutively -- he has won a league-record three championships, in 2001, 2005 and 2007. Sakata also holds Cal League marks for playoff appearances (eight), playoff series won (10) and playoff games won (33).
"He's a winner, and a winner is who you want to play for," Giants pitcher Chris Stratton said.
Sakata attributes his success to the players he's had over the years as well as to the parent club's philosophy of instilling a winning mindset at baseball's lower levels.
"That's what you develop players for, is to win (at the major league level)," Sakata said. "Is that not as important as how you play individually? Players need to know how to play together to win and not treat (the minors) as an all-star showcase, because it's not."
From 2004-07, Sakata was a fixture in Municipal Stadium's dugout. He left after the 2007 season for a job in Japan as a field manager for a minor league affiliate of Nippon Professional Baseball's Chiba Lotte Marines.
"I would have killed myself if I'd turned it down," Sakata said. "Being a field manager over there is like being a farm director over here."
He returned stateside in 2011 and joined the Colorado Rockies farm system. That association ended when he was fired as Modesto Nuts manager in July 2013.
Now that he's back in orange and black, Sakata aims to help prospects advance to the majors by exceeding the parent club's expectations.
"The trick is to get guys on the radar screen," he said. "You do that by helping guys become overachievers."