Baltimore Orioles

Former big league catcher Merullo will stress 'fun' in first year as IronBirds manager

At a preseason news conference Thursday at Ripken Stadium, first-year Aberdeen IronBirds manager Matt Merullo said the time will come when fans become frustrated with him.

And that's because a time will inevitably come when one of his players on the Orioles' short season Single-A squad will be struggling. And that will be the time Merullo lets him play.


"I'm gonna give guys chances to pull themselves out of slumps and pull themselves out of tough times," said Merullo, a 48-year-old former big league catcher who rendered reporters solemn and observant in this instance.

At other times, he reduced them to laughter.


Asked what fans could expect from their new manager, their fourth in four seasons: "Well, I'm red-haired and Italian, so there's definitely some temper there," he remarked.

For a franchise undergoing a brand makeover and dubbing its 12th season — which begins at home Monday night — "a new era," perhaps Merullo is the face.

"He just brings life, he brings energy, he brings knowledge," said the team's pitching coach, Alan Mills, a former Orioles reliever in his second year with Aberdeen. "He caught for a number of years. Usually catchers see the game a lot differently than everyone else."

A third generation professional baseball player, Merullo has spent 25 years as a player and scout. This is his first job as a manager, a role that takes on many forms.

Thursday morning, he was apologizing and pausing during the news conference, smiling as he answered his phone — once for an assistant coach, once for Kent Qualls, the Orioles' director of minor league operations, where the stormy weather was brought up in conversation. "It's not gonna put a damper on this place," Merullo cheerfully said.

He called the job "fun," a word he unofficially muttered 17 times during a near 32-minute span.

Before Merullo ever played the game, he always remembered his father telling him, "Go have some fun."

"Seeing the kids make progress and feel good about themselves, that's the whole key," Merullo said.


As he knows from being a journeyman catcher who made appearances in six major league seasons between minor league stints, the game isn't always kind.

When a breaking point occurs, Merullo said he has a plan.

"I look forward to when some of my players are struggling and starting to mope around," he said. "I'll drag them over and make 'em watch those 8-years-olds do it, you know?"

Merullo showed a tendency to romanticize the game, even at one point with a question about what he's been up to the past two years. He took a break from years of scouting for the Arizona Diamondbacks so he could volunteer for youth teams in his native Connecticut.

"The game'll let you know. The game'll let you know how bad you are," he said. "Sometimes you need human beings around to remind you how good you are, you know?"

He hopes his players can find the game's moments of joy — like he did in April of 1989, when the Chicago White Sox called him up from Triple-A Vancouver to fill in for future Hall of Famer Carlton Fisk, who was put on the disabled list.


Before his first big league game against the Oakland Athletics, Merullo caught the ceremonial first pitch from Mayor-elect Richard Daley. Then he hit a home run off Dave Stewart, who went on to win the World Series MVP award that year.

Merullo remembers jogging back to the dugout, the pats on his back.

"It was amazing," he said.

And he remembers flipping his hat to his father after the game. He said his father still has it, where underneath the bill Merullo wrote something in Sharpie.

"Some fun huh?"