Tuesday, December 10, 2013
WASHINGTON - The clubhouse attendant, barely out of his teens, walked tentatively into the visiting manager's office in the bowels of Nationals Stadium.
Fredi Gonzalez, manager of the Atlanta Braves, in 1996 followed Carlos Tosca as manager of the Portland Sea Dogs. Now Tosca is his bench coach in Atlanta.
The Associated Press
"Come on in," called Fredi Gonzalez, the barrel-chested 48-year-old manager of the Atlanta Braves, with a friendly wave.
The kid handed Gonzalez the night's lineup card for Washington. Gonzalez peered at it, then picked up a pencil and scratched a line through the second name in the batting order:
"Tell Davey," said Gonzalez, referring to Washington Nationals Manager Davey Johnson, "Harper isn't feeling well. He needs a night off."
The clubhouse kid hesitated, unsure what to do, until a big grin split the face of Gonzalez, who is remembered in Portland as the manager of the 1997 Sea Dogs.
As it turned out, Bryce Harper, the 19-year-old star of the first-place Nationals, indeed got the night off. As did the rest of his teammates and the Braves on this first Friday in June, because thunderstorms and tornado warnings swept across the nation's capital.
SHRUGGING OFF DISASTER
The two baseball teams that suffered through collapses of historic proportions last September are coming together tonight at Fenway Park. The Braves blew an 8 1/2-game lead over St. Louis in the final month of the season as the Red Sox were going 7-20 to fritter away a nine-game advantage over Tampa Bay. Both Atlanta and Boston blew ninth-inning leads in their final game of the season to lose a chance at the wild card.
While storm clouds seemed to settle over the Red Sox throughout the off-season -- turmoil, accusations, beer, fried chicken, Terry Francona and strength coach Dave Page thrown under the bus -- the Braves simply dusted themselves off and, with the only major change the departure of hitting coach Larry Parish, returned to their winning ways.
They enter the weekend five games over .500 and have been competitive all season in the National League East. The Red Sox, after stumbling out of the gate and spending much of the spring in last place, were two games over .500 entering Thursday night's game against Miami.
"You know, in my opening remarks in spring training, I told them how proud I was of them as a team," Gonzalez said, "how everyone took responsibility and nobody pointed fingers and we all moved on."
Some of that credit goes to Gonzalez and his bench coach, Carlos Tosca, his predecessor in Portland. Tosca managed the nascent Sea Dogs in 1994 and remained in Maine for two more seasons, both of them resulting in division titles. He later managed the Toronto Blue Jays before rejoining the Marlins under Gonzalez. Both went to Atlanta after the retirement of Bobby Cox in 2010.
In 18 seasons in Portland, the Sea Dogs have won their division four times. Three of those seasons belong to Tosca (94-95) and Gonzalez (96).
MEMORIES OF PORTLAND
Although they joked about driving two hours north to Portland for some lobster during their weekend in Boston, Gonzalez and Tosca aren't likely to venture back to Maine this weekend. That doesn't mean Portland won't be in their thoughts.
"Portland was the first time I was subjected to a big-time fan base," said Gonzalez, who spent six full seasons and part of a seventh managing at lower levels of the minors before reaching Double-A in Maine.
"I had learned about dealing with daily radio, dealing with the media, dealing with a (general manager) like Charlie (Eshbach) and an owner like Mr. (Dan) Burke, an owner who truly cared and asked what we needed."
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