Hours before he was the featured speaker at this year’s Hot Stove Dinner, I had the opportunity to sit down with Dave Trembley to discuss his years in Harrisburg, the Senators’ fans, and his new job as the Houston Astros’ third-base coach.
The fans here hold a special place in their heart for you, and I know you do for them as well. How were you able to create that strong bond your three seasons managing here?
Dave Trembley: It was a unique opportunity. I think very early in our tenure here we recognized that and we got that point across to our players. We were the first team here. Baseball had not been here for a long time so I think we were in a situation to set the tone in a positive direction and it was an opportunity to lay the foundation and establish some things that are very, very important. I think very early I understood what kind of people were here in Harrisburg: people that care, have respect, common courtesy, they work hard, they want you to be honest, they want a good effort, they have an identity, and they have a sense of pride for what they have here.
I think we were on a level playing field. I don’t think anybody put themselves above anybody or looked down at anybody. We always had time for people. To this day, I have lifelong friends here. There are people that I’ve seen their kids grow up and ones I talk to all of the time. We’ve grown older together and we’ve shared stories of a sense of appreciation for the beautiful stadium that now is here and all the players that have come through here. The great vision of Steve Reed and the people that first worked here. Our players the first three years were in trailers down the rightfield line. Four little showers. But it was fun.
It’s home for me.
Some casual fans might not realize that you were pretty young and inexperienced when you came to Harrisburg as it was only your second managing gig at the professional level. How did your time here shape you as a manager and teacher?
DT: Before I came here, I had managed one year for an independent team in Kinston in the Carolina League. I brought two players with me that were on that team. One was Geno Gentile and the other was Randy Kramer that both played prominent roles in us winning that championship in ’87. It was just myself and Spin Williams, he was a pitching coach and was a tremendous ally for me. Nowadays in the minor leagues you have two of three extra coaches and a lot of people from your parent club coming in to help. We didn’t have that. It was Spin and myself. It was a young front office staff with Rick Redd, Todd Vander Woude, and Mark Mattern. It was the opportunity to start fresh. It was grassroots baseball.
Timing was everything. The players that came here had attitudes that were not very good. Their self-concept was very low. They had played in Nashua, New Hampshire the year before and if they got 50 people at a game, that was a lot. They were in dead last place. They felt like they were no good, people had told them that they were no good, and they believed that they were no good. It started in spring training being positive, but being a stickler for details and fundamentals. We got guys to buy into playing hard and giving a good effort.
I think what I learned in the three years I was here was that the game is not about one person. It’s not about nine players. It takes so many other people to make it all happen when they click those lights on at 7:05. A lot of people make a lot of sacrifices. They have to perservere a lot in order for all this to happen. It’s not going to be a gimme. You’re going to have to earn everything you get, but when you get to that point understand how you got there was the basics. Treat people the way you want to be treated. Have respect for the opportunity that you have. Don’t let anybody take it away from you and don’t let anybody tell you that you can’t do it.
That was always my drive – don’t let anybody tell us that we can’t do it. We were 25-35 at one point. We had lost 11 in a row. We came off the road from New Britain and we got in at 5 in the morning and I told the team that we were going to meet out on the field at 9 o’clock that morning. We had a workout that was not very pleasant. We played Williamsport that night and we won. We went 52-28 after that. (In the first round of the playoffs) we were in the fifth and final game against Reading and down 3-2 with two outs and no one on in the 9th. Todd Frohwirth, who was the best reliever in the league, was on the mound and the first pitch he threw to Princey (Tom Prince), he hit it over the fence in left field to tie it. (Lance) Belen ended up hitting the gamewinning single in extra innings and we won it. We then went on to beat Vermont with Randy Kramer striking out Chris Jones to end it.
It felt like a dream come true. But it was more. It was something that was shared on an equal basis on an equal level. Team and Harrisburg. It was Harrisburg’s team and we knew that. And when we won, it was not the Harrisburg Senators players and coaches who won, it was the city of Harrisburg who won. They had waited for so long. I think it started a tradition here of expectations that has not diminished one bit. The standards of what’s expected when you come here has only gotten better. I think the worst mistake the Pirates ever made was when they left here. Montreal came in and I remember talking to John Boles (then Expos’ Director of Player Development) and I think they felt obligated to put good teams in here. I think the Washington Nationals feel obligated to put good teams in here. Because everybody understands very clearly what this team means to this community and to people that live and die with this team. It’s their team. I knew that real quick. I think that’s why people have been so nice to me.
Your approach and appreciation for the fans is special and not a lot of guys coming here would have necessarily been that way.
DT: A lot of people think their worth is equated to how many games they win. Your worth is equated in the long run in this game by how you treat people. Remember where you’ve come from and have respect for the people that have allowed you the opportunity to be here. Most importantly, what kind of players do you put out there every night and develop? And what happens to them once they leave here?
I think our approach was I never said no to anbody. If Rick or Woody asked me to do something, I always did it. We have time for people. When I managed in Baltimore, we would go down the rightfield line before every game and and countless people would come down to the railing and want me to sign an autograph or take a picture and they would have their son with them and they would say, “Dave, my dad used to take me to the games in Harrisburg when you were the manager and now you’re in Baltimore and I want to do this for my son.” People have no idea (what that means to me).
I know we treated people right here and we got in return what we gave and it was called respect. A lot of people have no idea that’s really the most important thing here. Baseball here is a lot more than just winning and losing, it’s about the people here. It’s about the people in this city and this community that just do things right…There’s no way I would have ever had the opportunity I had to manage in the big leagues if I didn’t do it here first. No way.
I was at an advantage when I lived here. I stayed at the Holdiay Inn, which is now the Crowne Plaza, and I would walk to the ballpark and stop and talk to people on the way. People made you feel welcome and when people make you feel welcome why would you not want to reciprocate? Why would you think you’re above them? Why would you think you can walk right by them and not say anything to them? We all know what that feels like. That’s not what this place is all about. People here are very sensitive. They care. They have a lot of pride. And we were lucky. I was here at the right time and knew it and recognzed it. I didn’t set out thinking I was going to get anything back. You do it because that’s the way it’s supposed to be. That’s what you thought was the right thing to do. It’s paid off. It’s paid off in a lot of ways.
You managed Bo Porter for four seasons in the minor leagues now you are on his staff in Houston. What can we expect him from him and the Astros?
DT: Bo is a great story. Bo was a two-sport star at Iowa in baseball and football and played in the Rose Bowl. Bo has passion and a lot of energy. Bo is a man’s man. He is straight forward and honest. He loves the game. He’s a very, very good teacher. He knows where’s he’s come from. He’s goal oriented and very positive. He’s not going to sugarcoat it.
He told me when he was playing for me that when he got done playing he wasn’t quite sure if he was going to be a big league manager or general manager. I told him that he could do one or the other because he has the capabilities of doing that. His people skills are off the charts. He is a warrior in competition. He will not settle for less than 100% effort because he’s going to give you everything he has all of the time.
He always told me, “I’m going to manage in the big leagues and when I do you’re going to come with me.” A lot of people tell you those things. The night he got the job it was midnight and I was in instructional league with the Braves at the end of September when my phone ran and I was fast asleep. I looked at the phone and saw it was Bo and I answered it. He said, “We got the job.” I said, “What?” He said, “Dave, we got the job. I’m just coming back from Atlanta where I had my last interview and we got the job.” I said, “Bo, I’m so proud of you. Whatever I can do to help you, I will.” He said, “No, you don’t understand. We got the job. You’re coming with me.” Two days later the Nationals got eliminated in the playoffs and Monday Bo was named the manager. I flew to Houston and I’m going to be his third base coach. He remembered. He remembered how he was treated. It’s full-circle for me. He’s a first-time manager in the AL. and I’m going there to try and help him. I feel very, very fortunate.
Bo has integrity. He has values and he does not compromise in those areas. And he won’t compromise. I see this opportunity being very similar how it was when we took over in Baltimore. Bo’s going to have to exhibit an awful lot of patience. He’s going to have to be very positive and see the big bicture. But he’s the right guy for it. A tremendous young man. He’s been like a son to me. It’s going to be fun.
Thanks to Dave for taking the time out of his busy schedule to talk with us and to the Harrisburg Senators for the opportunity.