JUPITER, Fla. -Dave Trembley was a no-nonsense minor league manager who preached respect and responsibility and tolerated nothing less. Lou Montanez was a hot-shot prospect with high expectations but not the maturity to handle them.
It was a volatile mix for the Single-A Daytona Cubs in 2002, and it didn't end well. Trembley was fired by the Chicago Cubs' organization after the season because he was seen as too much of a taskmaster. Montanez was ticketed for another season in the Florida State League, far away from Wrigley Field, where he was supposed to man the shortstop position for years to come.
"There are a lot of people that lost sleep over this kid. There are a lot of people that were held accountable for this kid," Trembley said this week. "He didn't meet his obligation back to the Chicago Cubs because, quite honestly, he wasn't mature enough. He admits that. I wish him well. I'm glad the lights have gone on. I feel real good for him."
Trembley and Montanez are back together under far different circumstances. Entering his second full season as Orioles manager, Trembley is trying to leave his imprint on the organization by stressing dedication and discipline. Montanez is hitting .354 this spring while trying to crack the Orioles' crowded outfield picture and establish himself as a major leaguer. The two, who have a fine relationship now, have come too far to dwell on the past.
"It's kind of like a parent that wants your child to do well and he's not doing well, so it becomes frustrating. That's the way the relationship with Dave was at that point," Montanez said. "I was real immature. I'm 18, 19 years old; I have a relaxed personality. Dave's a little more tense and wanted me to get after it a little more. There was a little bit of frustration, like, 'Why doesn't this kid really care?' That's probably the perception I gave off. It's not that I didn't want to do well. I cared a lot."
Last year, Montanez, now 27 and free of the burden of massive expectations, hit .335 with 26 home runs and 97 RBIs for Double-A Bowie, becoming the fifth player to win the Eastern League Triple Crown.
His contract was selected in August after center fielder Adam Jones fractured his foot, and Montanez became just the second player in team history to hit a homer in his first major league at-bat (the other was Les "Buster" Narum in 1963). Montanez's homer off Los Angeles Angels right-hander Ervin Santana was part of a solid major league debut during which Montanez hit .295 with three homers and 14 RBIs.
"The year was like a dream," Montanez said. "It went exactly the way you plan it."
Not much in Montanez's career has turned out that way. A sweet-swinging shortstop out of Miami Coral Park High, Montanez was drafted third overall by the Cubs in 2000 and given a $2.75 million signing bonus. The expectations for a player some compared to Alex Rodriguez were immense, and Montanez acknowledged that they got to his head immediately.
The low point came in 2004, when Montanez, starting his third straight season in Single-A, was jettisoned to the Cubs' Rookie-level team to work on his defense.
"Sometimes you question whether you're good enough, but I mostly questioned whether I really wanted to do it," said Montanez, who credited moving to the outfield for his resurgence. "I was considering moving on with my life in another direction. But I sat down, thought about it, and said: 'Forget about that. This is a privilege. Everybody wants to do this.' "
Despite his strong offensive numbers and defensive improvements this spring, Montanez will likely start in Triple-A because he is caught in a numbers crunch. Felix Pie and Ryan Freel will platoon in left field, and designated hitter Luke Scott will also get time there.
"I think at the end of the day, I just want the best players to be on the team, the guys that earn it," Montanez said. "Trembley always said that. He's fair with everybody. If I don't earn it, I'd go as happy as I can be to Triple-A."