Whichever direction he looks — whether it's forward toward a possible return to baseball, or backward at the collapse on stage at the Houston Astros' World Series parade in November that led to surgery to repair an acute subdural hematoma and nearly cost him his life — Tuesday is a milestone the former Orioles infielder won't soon forget.
"God decided that it wasn't my time to go, so obviously, there's something left for me to do," said Dauer, who played for the Orioles from 1976 to 1985 and won a championship in 1983 for Baltimore. "I don't know what that is. Maybe the All-Star Game is a start. I know a few things that I'd really like to do, but I'm just really, really thankful that I can not only be here on this Earth, but here at the All-Star Game. This is something that I've never done before. I'm thankful for A.J. [Hinch] for allowing me to come. I'm thankful for that."
Dauer, who was the Astros' first base coach for three years, including their championship season in 2017, coached for 18 seasons after his playing days ended. He was a minor league coach for the Orioles and was a candidate for the major league managerial job in 2003, but the team hired Lee Mazzilli instead.
He had been mulling retirement for years, but the near-death experience that gave him a 3 percent chance of living and left him unconscious for three days changed his perspective a bit.
He plans on using Tuesday as a barometer of whether a return to the game he believed he was going to leave behind after last year's championship is possible.
“It took me a while to start feeling good,” Dauer said. “I'm finally there, and I can tell because my wit is coming back a little bit, my sense of humor — things that I was known for when I was younger. I'm still not like my nickname, ‘Wacko,’ back in Baltimore. But it's coming back. I feel great. I'm working on it every day. I wanted to wait until at least the All-Star Game to see if everything was right to come back. There's no doubt I can do it. Now, you have to be wanted."
Before Tuesday's game, Dauer looked right at home in the navy blue batting practice uniform of the American League, catching tosses back to the home plate area as another coach hit fungos before perching himself beside Hinch, the Astros' and American League manager, behind the batting cage as Manny Machado and Aaron Judge took their pregame cuts.
It wasn't lost on him that his return to coaching was in Washington, as close as he could be to Baltimore without actually being there. There's also the serendipity of the World Series banner-raising ceremony April 2, when the Astros hosted the Orioles and an emotional Dauer threw out the ceremonial first pitch.
Now that he's thinking about baseball again, his mind can't help but consider the possibility of doing something for the Orioles again. He just wants to help out the organization that gave him his start, however he can.
"I always had a desire to get back to Baltimore," Dauer said. "Every single time I've had an opportunity, it just didn't happen, or when there was another opportunity, I had been given a job with somebody else, and I'm certainly not going to give up something that somebody has given me. There's two things I've learned — trust and loyalty in this game is what I want to be known for when I leave."
Baltimore Sun reporter Eduardo A. Encina contributed to this story.