Trembley appreciates every stop on road to Majors
Third-base coach worked in Minors for 20 years, managed Orioles from 2007-10
BALTIMORE -- Dave Trembley paid too many dues and worked too hard to have any regrets about his days as a part of the select fraternity of Major League managers. And he's not about to hold any grudges against his former team, the Orioles, for the way in which he was dismissed.
Instead, Trembley will be in an Astros uniform this week at Oriole Park at Camden Yards with his omnipresent smile, eager to shake hands and greet old friends. Trembley, the Astros' third-base coach, will return to Baltimore when Houston opens a three-game series on Tuesday for the first time since he was dismissed as the Birds' manager three years ago.
Trembley has watched the Orioles, led by a corps of young players who made their debuts while he was still at the helm, turn into contenders in the rough-and-tumble American League East, something which gives him a sense of pride. He's also proud of the enduring friendships he built as a member of that organization.
"This will be a special time, because we have some very good relationships with a lot of nice people in Baltimore -- fans, stadium employees," Trembley said. "A lot of people have been very supportive through the years, so I'm going to get an opportunity to see them again."
Trembley, 61, spent three years as the manager of the Orioles, taking over in June 2007 when Sam Perlozzo was dismissed, and then he was let go midway through the 2010 season. He learned of his termination when he saw his name scroll across the bottom of a television screen while watching ESPN.
The Orioles went 187-283 during Trembley's tenure as manager, which came to an end on June 4, 2010, when the club was a Major League-worst 15-39 following a 2-16 start. He admits that he struggled when he lost his job, becoming reclusive and shutting people out.
Still, Trembley cherishes the opportunity he had to lead a team at the highest level.
"I'm never going to say anything bad about my time managing Baltimore," Trembley said. "It was the time of my life. And for all the hurt and everything else I went through at the end, I'd do it again. The guys that matter the most to me are still playing, have gotten better, and I know they appreciate what we did for them. I know that. They've told me."
Trembley leaned on friends -- including Tigers manager Jim Leyland, former Cardinals manager Tony La Russa and Rays manager Joe Maddon -- to help him through his darkest times. Indians skipper Terry Francona called him, too.
"A lot of people you had relationships with, the phone stops ringing because they can't help you anymore," Trembley said.
Trembley's journey to what he called "the pinnacle of my career" was as unconventional as it was challenging. It was filled with obstacles you might expect for a man who had never played professional baseball at any level.
A former coach and teacher at an inner-city high school in Los Angeles in the 1970s, Trembley's path was anything but typical. He coached baseball and taught psychology at Antelope Valley College before Dallas Green offered him a position as a scout for the Cubs in 1984 -- his first big break.
Trembley would go on to manage for 20 years in the Minor Leagues with the Pirates, Padres, Cubs and Orioles, winning two league titles and taking home Manager of the Year honors three times (1987, '95, '99). He never made more than $40,000 a year.
"We understand about being patient, persistent, and the players in this game will either be your best ally or your worst enemy," Trembley said. "I've never been in this thing for myself. I've been in it because I love the game. I care about the players, and we have respect for the people and the game, and we try to teach the guys to get better. We've been fortunate, very fortunate.
"I think what we've done is given an incentive to an awful lot of other people, not only in this game, but in every profession they chose, that you can get there. People aren't going to give it to you. You're going to have to work hard for it, and they're going to find out how bad you want it."
How badly did Trembley want it? He was a baseball vagabond for much of his life, sleeping on friends' couches, eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and taking advantage of the free Thursday night suppers at the local church. He got his mail at a post office box because he didn't have a permanent address.
Trembley managed in the instructional league for 16 years and spent winters managing in places like Venezuela, Mexico, Korea and Taiwan. It wasn't until he married his wife, Patti, in 1999, that he began to finally lay down some roots. She'll join him in Baltimore this week with their son, Kevin.
"People say I've been lucky," Trembley said. "Without being egotistical, I've earned it. They didn't give it to me. I know how to treat people; I know how to treat this game. There's something to be said for that."
One of the many young players on which Trembley made a positive impression was an outfielder named Bo Porter, who played for three different Minor League teams that Trembley managed. When Porter was a third-base coach for the Marlins, he told Trembley he was going to manage in the big leagues some day -- and that he planned to bring his former skipper with him.
"I'm at the end of instructional league last year, and it's midnight. My phone rings, and it's Bo Porter," he said. "He says, 'Dave, on Monday, the Houston Astros are naming me manager. We got the job.' I said, 'What?' He said, 'We got the job.' I said, 'Bo, I'm so proud of you.' He said, 'You don't understand. We got the job. You're coming with me.'"
Now Trembley is back in uniform, back in the Majors and headed back to Baltimore.
Trembley, who first put on a Major League uniform when he was 55 years old, lives by this motto: If you're going to dream, you better dream big, and don't let anybody tell you that you can't do it.
"You have to let these guys know how special an opportunity this is and to never take it for granted," he said. "Appreciate it, but know it's not going to last forever."