Friday, July 24, 2015

Interview Part 2: Dave Brundage, Always Rewarding

Lehigh Valley manager Dave Brundage coaches third during a July 2015 game at Frontier Field in Rochester, NY. (Greatest 21 Days)
Part 1: Lessons Learned | Part 2: Always Rewarding

As his playing career wound down, Dave Brundage had the opportunity to stay in the game, but as a manager in the minors.

The opportunity came from the Mariners. It was a job as manager of the high-A California League Riverside Pilots.

"It was (a big transition)," Brundage told The Greatest 21 Days. "But it was something that I loved. It was something that was fun, I mean getting to teach. Now here you have a team that you're able to pass along the things that were pass along to me."

All the managers and coaches Brundage had, he could incorporate all their advice into his own work.

He's spent much of his time since as a manager in the minors. Since 2006, he's done that work as a manager at AAA. He's manager at AAA Lehigh Valley for 2015.

With that AAA work has come what Brundage called one of the rewards of being a AAA manager: Informing players they've been called up to the major leagues.

"Some are unique, some are different, some are surprising," Brundage said of breaking the news. "I think some of the more rewarding ones ... some of the guys that are the fun ones are some of the guys who have spent a lot of years in the minor leagues, who have dreamed about playing.
Lehigh Valley manager Dave Brundage, center, before a July 2015 game at Rochester. (Greatest 21 Days)
"They all dream about it," Brundage said, "But at the same time they put in so much time and finally you get your guys that have been in the minor leagues so long, it means so much to them."

Brundage knows about that wait. He waited and worked in the minors as a player for nearly a decade, but his call to the majors never came. He's briefly made the majors as a coach, called up to help out in multiple Septembers, but his full-time job has always remained in the minors.

Brundage spoke to The Greatest 21 Days recently in Rochester, NY, as his Lehigh Valley IronPigs prepared to take on the Rochester Red Wings.

Speaking in the dugout hours before game time, Brundage covered his long playing and coaching careers. The 2015 season marks the completion of his third decade in the game.

Brundage's playing days began in 1986, taken by the Phillies out of Oregon State. He'd both played outfield  and pitched in college. The Phillies put him in the outfield and that's where he largely stayed early on.

He first made AAA in 1989, at Calgary. As the years passed, he began trying out his other college talent, pitching, finally getting 24 relief outings for Calgary in 1994.

"I think you always think you're going to make it," Brundage said. "I still say that to this day. I think everybody in that room is chasing a dream. I think that's what motivates them. That's what drives them every day. It would be wrong to tell somebody they're not going to make it because I don't think anybody in their right mind knows."
Lehigh Valley manager Dave Brundage goes to exchange lineup cards before a game at Rochester in July 2015. (Greatest 21 Days)
Once players get to AAA, Brundage noted, "everybody's name is in the hat."

As a player, Brundage recalled, he continued to hold out hope he'd get called up, even as he made the switch to pitching.

"Even then I thought there was still an outside shot," Brundage said. "As they say, being left-handed and having a heartbeat you're always going be in the mix."

Then Brundage was offered the job at Riverside for 1995. Knowing he could remain in baseball, that it was a good job and having his basic love for the game all led him to decide to end playing and start managing, he said.

"I had done everything I could to try to make it, at the same time I got rewarded and offered a managing job," Brundage said.

Brundage continued managing in the Mariners system through 2006, serving in the top job for AAA Tacoma that final year. He then headed the Braves' AAA team for six seasons before joining the Phillies and Lehigh Valley for 2013.

Along the way, he's made the major league coaching staff in multiple Septembers to help out. He called those experiences "always unique." At the same time, the responsibilities are limited.
Lehigh Valley manager Dave Brundage in the dugout during a July 2015 game at Rochester. (Greatest 21 Days)
Those trips have been as much a chance to watch the major league coaching staff do their work.

"It's just kind of more you try to stay out of the way, be respectful and just kind of take it all in along the way," Brundage said. "I enjoy watching the games and watching the managers and bench coaches and things like that and how they handle themselves."

How about a more long-term major league job? Is Brundage interested and hopeful for something like that?

"I'd be lying if I said I didn't. I think we all would," Brundage said, "but it's not going to make or break me. It's not going to define me. It doesn't eat at me every day.

"It's not going to define what I've done or what we go through," Brundage added. "Because I really enjoy, obviously being in the minor leagues for a lot of years. It's something you grow accustomed to, the way of life."

Brundage also spoke having earlier in the day experienced the reward of sending a player on to the majors. The recipient that morning was Phillies 2014 first-round pick Aaron Nola.

"I think that's what's always rewarding from our standpoint," Brundage said of telling players of a call-up, "getting the opportunity to do that."

Part 1: Lessons Learned | Part 2: Always Rewarding 

Be sure to read Part 1: Dave Brundage, Lessons Learned

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