WThe eve of Opening Day was no time for Marlins rookie skipper Mike Redmond to pause and savor the magnitude of his impending major-league managerial debut.
On a drizzly Easter Sunday at Nationals Park, Redmond scrambled to patch up a pitching rotation that was suddenly minus two starters. Nathan Eovaldi and Henderson Alvarez were placed on the disabled list, necessitating the premature promotion of Jose Fernandez, the 20-year-old Cuban prospect, and call-up of Alex Sanabia from Triple A.
Then again, chaos has been the name of the game for Marlins managers. Redmond is the fourth Opening Day manager for the franchise in the past four years. He succeeds Fredi Gonzalez in 2010, Edwin Rodriguez in 2011 and Ozzie Guillen in 2012.
He is the best man for a daunting job in 2013, and hopes are high he will endure through 2014 and longer.
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That’s because, like most of his players, he knows exactly what it’s like to be a no-name for whom no one has any expectations. Owner Jeffrey Loria’s purge of the franchise following the expensive flop of last season has made the Marlins the automatic last-place pick in all but the boldest or most deranged prognostications.
For Redmond, a former Marlin catcher, that means Miami is at the bottom of a well of opportunity.
“We have guys with a lot to prove,” he said while the Marlins held a workout to prepare for Monday’s 1:05 p.m. game against the Washington Nationals. “Nobody gives us a chance. So, we can’t lose.”
It’s the only attitude he can take, and it comes to him naturally. Through sheer resourcefulness, Redmond, 41, created a 13-year major-league career for himself and won a World Series in the process.
“I was always an underdog,” said Redmond, who is known as “Red” by his friends in baseball. “I heard, ‘This guy is a career backup; he won’t be around long.’ I hit .320. They said, ‘He can’t hit righties.’ Eventually I hit righties. They said I was done in 2005. I played five more years.
“I think it’s a perfect fit. I can relate to these guys.”
After firing Guillen, the Marlins could have opted for another veteran manager. Instead, they chose the anti-Ozzie. Redmond, whose managerial experience consists of one season with the Class A Lansing (Mich.) Lugnuts and one season with the Class A Dunedin Blue Jays, is not a loudmouth. As a Marlins player from 1998 to 2004, he used to drive a 1991 Ford Explorer with a broken air conditioner.
“I’m not a materialistic guy, and I never wanted to be flashy person,” said Redmond, whose late father was a grocery store merchandise manager.
But like Guillen, he does have a sense of humor. During a losing streak in 2003, Redmond decided to go to batting practice wearing only shoes and gloves. A winning streak began that night. The Marlins rode a wave of good vibrations all the way through their World Series triumph over the New York Yankees.
“It served its purpose,” Redmond said of his naked cage escapade. “The guys were miserable. They needed a laugh to get out of that funk.
“I did whatever it took to win. My role wasn’t just as player. I was psychologist, comedian, mentor. That’s probably why the transition to manager was fairly easy.”
Juan Pierre, who was Redmond’s teammate in 2003 under manager Jack McKeon and is back on the team as an outfielder, said he always figured the analytical, personable catcher would one day become a manager.
“He was a funny cat, and it’s still in him, but he has to be in charge now,” Pierre said. “I’ve had all kinds — Jack, Ozzie, Joe Torre, Dusty Baker — and I think Red is a younger guy who can help the younger players so they won’t feel overwhelmed. He’s not that far removed from playing. A guy like Jack — he’s old school. He doesn’t understand iPads or iPods. Red is part of our generation.”
Larry Beinfest, Marlins president of baseball operations, said he was struck by Redmond’s “genuine” personality.
“He’s a Marlin who can reunify the organization,” Beinfest said. “I’d love to have some stability in the dugout. It was nobody’s intent to have the managerial upheaval we’ve had.”
Beinfest envisions Redmond growing with the team and sees a best-case scenario like that of Mike Matheny with the St. Louis Cardinals.
Redmond is really doing what he did as a player — directing the team on the field or from the dugout. When he wasn’t starting, he was on the bench, strategizing.
“I watched, I asked, I broke it down, I second-guessed,” he said. “I’m a hybrid of the managers I played for. Jim Leyland was good at matchups. Ron Gardenhire showed faith in his players. Jack was honest and kept the communication lines open. What I love most is interaction with the guys.”
What he’s telling his young, unknown Marlins is to have fun and focus on the upside. Who knows? If things get really bad this year, Redmond may go back into the cage, naked.
“It’s crazy already, not how we drew it up,” Redmond said of the pitching rotation alterations. “But we’re stressing opportunities. I always found a way to step up. That’s what I’m looking for.”