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Trembley gets his big chance

The Baltimore Sun

The story makes Dave Trembley's eyes turn moist again, as if he's reliving the moment that first moved him to tears.

He recalls telling his wife, Patti, that they needed to take a walk, that he couldn't drive her to the airport that day because something important had come up. His expression and the tone of his voice were so grim she became alarmed.

Trembley told her the Orioles had fired manager Sam Perlozzo, news that brought a sickening feeling to her stomach because she holds such fondness for the man. But there was more she needed to know.

"They've asked me to manage the Baltimore Orioles," he said.

The words barely left Trembley's mouth as he sat in the dugout Sunday morning, and he had to pause to collect himself.

"Wow," he finally said, shaking his head. "Wow."

Trembley patted his visitor on the arm, almost like a reflex to compose himself, hopped off the bench and climbed the steps to the field, where the Orioles were taking batting practice. Where his players had gathered for another game.

And just like that, he was back in the present, in a world he wasn't sure would embrace him.

After 22 years in professional baseball, all of them spent in the minors, with their long bus rides, cold meals and forgotten towns, Trembley is managing a major league team. It's on an interim basis, at least for now, but it's still his job, his team, and he'll bring it to Camden Yards tonight for the first time since returning from a West Coast trip that followed his promotion June 18.

"I'm a very sensitive person, and my first reaction was my heart was just broken for Sam," Patti Trembley said. "I don't like to see anybody lose their job. And there was just the shock along with that. It probably took me a whole day to get over my sadness for what Sam was going through. Then, I was just over the moon, I was so happy."

When they returned from their walk, a message was waiting on their answering machine. Perlozzo had called the house.

"He was real worried about Sam," Patti Trembley said of her husband. "I kept hearing him say, 'I just want you to be OK, I just want you to be OK.' That's the kind of person he is."

Trembley's popularity in the game is evident by the 138 e-mails and 120 voice mails that found him on the first day. Calls and messages came pouring in from guys he managed in the minors, coaches he worked with, family, neighbors, friends, members of his church. He returned them all.

"These are people who, I guess, relate to where I've been and now where I'm at," Trembley said. "We're all a product of where we come from, and there are so many people who are responsible for allowing me to get this opportunity. In San Diego, I saw former players who are now released and are in their 40s with three kids. I saw a couple guys [in Arizona]. Somebody must have been listening, and that's what makes me feel good. It's been incredible for me."

Trembley managed two years at Double-A Bowie and two more at Triple-A Ottawa before the Orioles hired him as field coordinator over the winter. They soon added bullpen coach to his duties after Rick Dempsey took a broadcasting job with Mid-Atlantic Sports Network, and asked him to serve as bench coach whenever Tom Trebelhorn left the team to be with his ailing wife.

"I was lucky that I came into spring training and had a chance to do what I did because they got to know what kind of person Dave Trembley is," he said. "They got to know I was there to help them, not hurt them, and that's what I'm trying to do now."

Earning O's trust

The Orioles went 3-3 on a trip that brought more challenges than Trembley could have anticipated. Miguel Tejada fractured his left wrist but kept his consecutive games streak alive for one more day, to 1,152, by bunting as the No. 2 hitter and leaving in the first inning. The player and manager were open to criticism, but Trembley never wavered in his support of Tejada.

"[Trebelhorn] called me 'Brushfire Dave,' " Trembley said "They came one right after another, and I think everybody was looking to see how I handled it, to see if I was going to blink. I wasn't going to blink."

The clubhouse seems a bit looser these days, even with the Orioles still mired in last place. And especially after Saturday's loss, when Trembley broke through the silence by insisting that the players turn on the television, get something to eat and talk among themselves like grown men.

"When I was done, a couple guys stood up and said, 'Hey, Dave, thanks,' " Trembley said. "I feel like I've got them. I feel like they trust me."

The gesture caught most players by surprise.

"That's something I have never had here before," outfielder/designated hitter Jay Gibbons said. "If you lose, you sit at your locker. It's like, you don't deserve music. But it shouldn't be like that. There are too many games to ride the highs and lows. Everyone out there is trying hard. And that's refreshing. He's just so positive. It's hard to be down, even after a loss."

Said third base coach Juan Samuel: "He's very upbeat. He's keeping the guys loose in here."

Stressing solutions

Trembley is also keeping them moving. The Orioles have been more aggressive on the bases, stealing early in the count and once executing a safety squeeze. And relievers such as Chad Bradford and Jamie Walker, who were on pace to appear in close to 90 games, are told ahead of time when they'll likely pitch and when they can expect to rest.

"You don't wait for things to happen," Trembley said. "You don't play out of control, but if a guy's tools are he can run and he can bunt, you do it. And the element of surprise plays a big factor in this game. One little thing can get you going. One little thing can put the light back on for these guys."

The Orioles also are taking infield practice before the first game of every series.

"Our preparation has to improve," he said. "Our sense of accountability has to improve. We have to work toward solutions and not worry about problems. We had to tweak it a little bit to soothe some people's wounds, be sympathetic toward what everybody's going through, but also tell guys the way things have been done and the way we've gone about it is not acceptable."

It's the same drill wherever he goes, because only the uniform changes, not the man.

"He just has a classic work ethic," said former major league first baseman Mark Grace, who played for Trembley in the Chicago Cubs system. "He's a teacher of the game. He loves baseball and he's given all his adult life to it. He's made myself and hundreds of other players better because of his work ethic and his teaching.

"The best news I could get from this situation would be that they take the interim tag off him and let him manage the rest of the year, at least. He's certainly paid his dues at the minor league level and I think he deserves a chance to manage, if not the Orioles, than somewhere. Any team will be better off with him."

Last week, the Orioles offered the job to Joe Girardi, who turned them down. New president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail is expected to have a candidates list in the next few days.

"There's no reason to bring anybody in right now," Gibbons said. "The team emotionally has responded well to Trembley. Everybody's playing hard, regardless of the results. He's a good baseball man. He's real honest and up front with everybody all the time, and it's just been really refreshing."

The uncertainty doesn't bother Trembley. He'll still preach the importance of being on time, being professional and respecting the game - a slogan he posts on clubhouse walls. And he'll assume he's the manager for as long as he's making a positive contribution.

"I think that's realistic, I think that's honest and I don't worry about it," he said. "I have confidence in what we're doing, I have courage to do it. I have the courage to make decisions that, in some people's eyes, might not be the right ones, but I'll give you an explanation for why I did it and I'll take the hit if it doesn't work out," he said.

"I don't look at it like I'm the interim anything. I look at it like I'm Dave Trembley and I'm managing the Baltimore Orioles."

The Trembley file

Born: Oct. 31, 1951, in Carthage, N.Y.

Education: Bachelor's (physical education) and master's (education) degrees from SUNY-Brockport

Amateur baseball experience: High school and junior college coach in Los Angeles area, 1977-84

Professional baseball experience: Los Angeles area scout for Chicago Cubs, 1985; minor league coach for Cubs, 1986; minor league manager, 1986-89, 1991-2006 (Cubs, Pittsburgh Pirates, San Diego Padres, Orioles); director of Pirates minor league complex, 1990

Major league experience: Bullpen coach, interim manager for Orioles, 2007

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