Mariners Brumley ridin’ the roller coaster
The former M’s infielder is excited — and nervous — as his major league career resumes as Seattle’s new third base coach
“Are you excited about being back in the big leagues?” he asked.
“When you get on a roller coaster, are you nervous or are you excited?” he told Showalter. “That’s kind of how I see it.”
Monday will become one of the greatest days in Brumley’s baseball career, when he’ll line up with the Mariners before the season opener at Oakland and have all kinds of thoughts in his head.
He may sense the same pride he felt on his first day as a major league player in 1987, when he stood at Wrigley Field in a Cubs uniform and thought how important it was to complete a family cycle because his dad, Mike Brumley, was a big-league catcher in the 1960s.
Brumley, who’ll be 47 on Friday, will recall the memory of his 1990 season with the Mariners when he suffered an oblique injury and lost his playing time to a young shortstop named Omar Vizquel.
And most of all, he’ll think about the 13 years it took him to return to the majors since he retired as a player, none of it with regret because he chose minor league coaching and coordinating jobs that considered his wife and four kids first over a faster track back to the big leagues.
It’s been a roller coaster.
Not long after Brumley retired a player in 1996 after parts of eight seasons with five organizations, longtime major league executive Mel Didier told him he might make a good major league manager.
“My first thought was, ‘What’s the price?’” Brumley said.
Brumley and his wife had two young children at the time — with two more born since then — and he didn’t want to miss the important events in their lives at the expense of a baseball job that would keep him away from home for six months a year or more.
There were minor league roaving and coordinator jobs that seemed attractive because they would allow him to spend time with his family. That one reason he shocked the Arizona Diamondbacks in 1998 when he rejected their offer to manage their full-season Class A Midwest League team.
“I told them I wanted to go to rookie ball,” he said “My goal was to experience every level of player development.”
He had played college ball at Texas — winning a College World Series title in 1983 — and went straight to the high Class A level after the Boston Red Sox drafted him.
“I never saw any of the lower levels as a player and I had no idea what it was about,” he said. “My goal was to work into that field coordinator position and have some influence on things that were taught, how the workload went.”
The Diamondbacks’ reaction?
“They thought I was crazy,” he said. “They said, ‘Do you realize you’re going to be getting up at 5 o’clock in the morning every day? That you’re going to have players who have no idea what they’re doing? You’re going to have to deal with all the Latin program, and you don’t speak Spanish?’ I realized all that, but I was very enthusiastic.”
He has worked in the Diamondbacks, White Sox, Rangers, Angels and Dodgers systems, eventually progressing to full-season managing jobs at the higher levels.
Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu, then the Angels’ new minor league coordinator, hired Brumley to manage their Arkansas affiliate in 2001, and he led that team to the Class AA championship.
“I had already roaved and I had already managed in rookie ball and in A ball,” Brumley said. “I felt like it was the next step.”
He became the Angles’ Class AAA manager in 2002, leading the Salt Lake City team to the Pacific Coast League championship in the same year the Angels won the World Series.
“People told me, ‘You’ll hate Triple-A. It’s a bunch of bitter guys,’” Brumley said. “Unfortunately for me, I spent more time in Triple-A than I care to think about, so there was nothing in there that would happen that I didn’t understand — not from injuries, not from guys who felt they should have made the (big league) team, not from the guys who thought they shouldn’t have been the ones who got sent out. All that stuff happened to me.”
Angels manager Mike Scioscia told Brumley more than once that he’d make a good major league coach, and he seemed in line to take that step. But, with his two oldest kids getting more involved in school sports back home in Texas, Brumley knew he’d miss much of that if he took a big-league job.
“I had to ask myself, ‘Do I stay in Anaheim until the opportunity comes? Or do I take the field coordinator job at Texas to allow me to be home a little bit more?’” Brumley said. “The times I changed jobs were directly related to what I needed to do family-wise for my kids and it was important for me to stay in the minor leagues as long as I felt like I could, just to have that part of my life covered.”
Because of that, he left the Angels and became the Rangers’ minor league coordinator from 2005-2007, then spent the past two years in a similar job with the Dodgers.
All those jobs allowed Brumley to watch his son graduate from high school and begin his college career at Seminole State in Oklahoma, and be with his daughter as she graduated and searched for colleges where she could continue her swimming career.
“I got to be there with them and see a lot of games,” he said. “I feel good about that side of it.”
Last October, when Wakamatsu called Brumley and offered the Mariners’ third-base coaching job, he was ready.
“It was perfect timing for me,” he said. “I want to be part of what Don’s doing here. I would love to work 10 more years at this level and if something ever happened and I felt like I was mentally ready to take a shot a managing, I would do it.”
Professionally, Brumley is in a great place. Personally, he knows this year won’t be easy because two kids remain at home.
“It’s a long year for me knowing that that I won’t be able to do what I’ve done in the past, take a week off and go home and throw batting practice to my son,” Brumley said. “I don’t have that opportunity, but I feel like I’m ready.
“There’s some excitement, there’s some fear. It’s like sitting in that front seat of the roller coaster.”
Read Kirby Arnold’s blog on the Mariners at www.heraldnet.com/marinersblog
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