LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – When Fredi Gonzalez began his first job as a major league manager five years ago, having five former big-league managers on his spring training coaching staff might have seemed intimidating. Maybe unbearable.
“Probably — I’m not going to lie to you,” said Gonzalez, now in his first season as Braves manager after 3-1/2 seasons as Marlins manager. “But you know what, these guys are good people. Two or three of them don’t want to manage again. Maybe LP, Carlos and Tremb are guys who deserve another opportunity [to manage].”
LP is Larry Parrish, the Braves’ new hitting coach. Carlos Tosca is the new bench coach, who served in that same role under Gonzalez in Florida before they were fired in June. Tremb is Dave Trembley, the Braves’ new minor league field coordinator.
All are in the army of coaches in Braves camp, along with the venerable duo of Lee Elia, a special assistant to general manager Frank Wren, and Jimy Williams, who has served as a special instructor in spring training with the Braves for years.
“That’s experience,” said Gonzalez, 47, who managed the Marlins for 3-1/2 seasons. “But you’re absolutely right. Four years ago you come in and look at that roster and there’s five ex-major league managers – plus we forgot Jim Fregosi, so that’s six – you looked that and you’d be kind of worried. Four or five years ago, you’re worried.
“But after going through it four years, I better view them as helpful.”
Gonzalez has also encouraged as much involvement as possible from his old boss Bobby Cox, the retired Braves manager who’s in camp as an advisor. He’s asked Cox to put the uniform on at least briefly this spring, and Cox said he might for a day or two.
“He’s been down that road before, and I think Fredi has a lot of confidence,” said Trembley, a former Orioles manager. “He wants as many people as he possibly can get to help the players. That’s what Fredi Gonzalez is all about. So I think we’re all fortunate to be here. Very fortunate.
“I think experience counts, and there’s a lot of young players here in camp. Those are the guys that really benefit the most. The veterans know how to take care of themselves and get ready, but I think you get as much experience as you can in major league camp to help the young players.”
Fregosi is special assistant to Braves general manager Frank Wren, and served in that same capacity when John Schuerholz was GM.
“It’s pretty awesome to have that many people to turn to,” Braves catcher Brian McCann said. “It’s a lot of guys who are passionate about the team, passionate about helping out, passionate about baseball. Good guys like that, it rubs off on people.”
In all, there were seven former major league managers walking around the backfields at Braves spring training on Wednesday, Cox and Fregosi in street clothes, the others in uniform.
“What makes it unique is, there’s no egos,” said veteran pitcher Derek Lowe. “Roger [McDowell, pitching coach] doesn’t care if you go ask the Double-A pitching coach something. Larry Parrish isn’t going to care if you talk to Lee Elia, who’s been in the game 50 years or whatever it is. Or to [special instructor] Bobby Dews.”
Most of them are far from wallflowers. There are some big personalities in this bunch.
Parrish is a towering figure with a booming voice and a bold, white goatee. Fregosi is another big man whose presence – and voice — fills a room the minute he enters.
Cox is an icon, commanding attention even when he’s trying not to — when he’s sitting in a covered golf cart 30 feet behind Gonzalez at the batting cage, as he was Wednesday.
All seven of these guys have managed major league teams, and most of them did it for a lot longer than Gonzalez has. For the first time at spring training, the Braves are using all the backfields as well as the stadium at the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex.
“Every field you’re on, you have ‘Los [Carlos Tosca], or you have Trembley, all these guys,” said right-handed pitching prospect Cory Gearrin, who is in his first major league camp. “There’s always somebody there, so if you have a question, you’re getting the most expert advice you can get.
“As a younger guy I just want to pick their brain on the little things. It’s a huge advantage. The comfort you can have in knowing that you can be confident in these answers, knowing they’re major league managers. There’s no other place you can go to get better advice. It feels good as a player to be able to go out there and know that.”
Wherever they are at Braves camp this spring, players don’t have to go far to find a former major league manager to run something past.
“Those guys are here to help out,” Braves second baseman Dan Uggla said. “They’ve all been there before, so if a young guy wants to pick anybody’s brain, it’s not going to do anything but benefit him. Any time you’ve got five former managers helping out – I mean, they were managers for a reason.”