No doubt Dave Trembley would rather be in Buffalo. But don’t for a minute think the popular skipper of the Harrisburg Senators isn’t happy in his third season at RiverSide Stadium. The one person who is synonymous with the renaissance of baseball in Harrisburg since opening day in 1987 is Dave Trembley. Today, he is the senior manager in the Eastern League, an honor that signals extraordinary patience on the part of the holder.
To be sure, Trembley could be elsewhere doing the same thing, probably at the AAA level. However, he possesses a sense of loyalty that isn’t seen too often anymore. So when Pittsburgh Pirates manager Jim Leyland visited Trembley in Bradenton, Florida, last fall and told him to be patient, that his day would come, that sense of loyalty surfaced. Trembley understood the decision to bring Terry Collins, who enjoyed success and some fame managing at the AAA level in Albuquerque, in to handle the reins in Buffalo. Dave might not have liked it, but he understood the reason.
Why? Trembley is an organization man. There are few tutors in baseball who can do the job better. For you see, coaching and teaching, not necessarily in that order, have been Dave Trembley’s life for more than a decade. The game has been an obsession. The more he gets, the more he wants.
How did this love affair for the game start? “As a kid, I was a fanatic,” (he still is) Trembley said. “We had a shortwave radio, and I listened to games whenever I could. From the time I was eight or nine, I’d listen to Ernie Harwell in Detroit, Jack Buck on KMOX (St. Louis) and Bob Prince on KDKA (Pittsburgh). About the same time, I started to get The Sporting News. I would follow the games, cut out the box scores and keep a scrapbook on every club.”
That wasn’t the extent of Trembley’s involvement in baseball. There were days when he and his buddies played ball from morning until night. Organized play began when he was six with midget ball. As he grew older, there were teener, high school and legion seasons. During that time, all Trembley knew was being behind the plate as a catcher. It’s the only position he’s played. “I didn’t know what a summer vacation was,” he noted. “I’ve just kind of grown up from a very early age with baseball as my No. 1 priority. I grew up in a neighborhood where all we did was go to the park and play ball all day. We played some sort of organized ball all the time.”
Winter life in rural New York can be hard with freezing temperatures, chilling winds and an abundance of snow. Spring always came late. “We would shovel the snow off the driveway to play catch,” he recalled. “When spring came, it was very rare to get outside to practice before the first game. We just couldn’t wait for baseball season. We would live from one season to the next.”
Now in his late 30’s, life is much the same for Dave Trembley. It’s baseball from morning to night virtually uninterrupted from February to January. “It hasn’t changed,” he admits. “Now it’s just that the seasons are running into each other.”
Last fall after the Senators ended their season, Trembley relaxed for a few days then headed for Florida and the Instructional League at Pirate City. From there, he flew to Venezuela early in October for winter ball. That ended in mid-January and allowed him to spend some time at home in California, a respite he didn’t get to enjoy a year ago. Without a doubt, the life of a minor league manager or coach, one who aspires to better things, is difficult and lonely. Yet Trembley continues to his love affair with few complaints. Has there been any loss of enthusiasm?
“No,” he responds emphatically, “my enthusiasm, if anything has gotten stronger. When my enthusiasm for the game starts to diminish, I will find another avenue of employment. But I don’t see that happening.”
This is his chosen avocation. There is no doubt that he is in the right field (no pun intended). “Baseball as a livelihood has always been my goal,” Trembley says. “In my environment, it was all I wanted to do. As I got into high school, then on to college, I felt I could do it best by being a teacher and a coach. So, I am fortunate that I am doing what I always wanted to do.”
The coaching preparation included four years at the high school level in Los Angeles and five years at Los Angeles Community College. It also included summers presenting his clinics or helping with others. That’s how he came to know recently retired Pepperdine coach Dave Gorrie and former major leaguer Ken McMullen, who works for the Los Angeles Dodgers in community services. It eventually allowed him to enter professional ball. Both men played prominent roles along the way.
On Gorrie: “He allowed me the opportunity to work camps every summer. He and Tom Gamboa (Detroit Tigers minor league coordinator) put on a two-week camp and I would work for them.” On McMullen: “Through him I got to meet a lot of people. I met Ken when I was a college coach and had clinics at Emerald Valley. I would write Ken a letter and he just came to camp. Then he would invite me to his camps.”
They were the stepping stones that led to his eventually becoming a scout and later a coach in the Chicago Cubs organization. There were two more influential people who played major roles in his progress. One was Tom Gibbons, his high school coach, the other, Buzzy Keller, Pittsburgh’s minor league player development director, who encouraged Dave to join the Pirates’ organization.
“Tom Gibbons was my best teacher,” Trembley reflected. “He was a real big influence on my life. He was a low key kind of person. Buzzy Keller is probably the guy I respect most. He doesn’t give in. He says we have to make certain standards and don’t take anything less. With the Pirates, Buzzy is the guy who helped me the most.”
Remembering these people is extremely important to Trembley. Without them, he’s back in California teaching and coaching.
“If you’ve been successful,” he says, “it’s because you remember where you have came from. It is important for young people to remember that. Many fail to recognize that the most influential people were your parents. They taught you common courtesy, respect and the work ethic.”
To achieve his goals, Trembley, like others in the game, has had to make sacrifices. Curtailments in finances and a social life are just two areas where sacrifice strikes deepest. Managers and coaches in the minors, like players, don’t enjoy the better things of life that a nice income brings until they reach the majors. Of course, working at night, since that’s when most of the games are played, drastically reduces any social life.
“The longer you’re in it, the more reluctant you are to give into the certain pleasures of life,” Trembley says. “It’s not fun having to give up certain social endeavors. But these are the sacrifices you have to make. If we want to be recognized as sincere and genuine with dignity and class, we have to pay the price; be consistent.”
What does the future hold for Dave Trembley? “I think Dave Trembley is an organization man and a team player. I thin understanding the nature of the business; if you strive to improve, good things will happen. I see things beyond Harrisburg afforded to me. Some time I’d like to be a major league coach because the thing we do best is to try to prepare a player for the rigors of a long season.”
With patience, it can happen to a person like Dave Trembley simply because he chose America’s pastime.
“Baseball is THE game in our society,” he concludes. “It is the game where everybody’s dreams can be fulfilled.”