PEORIA, Ariz. – Mike Brumley ran into Buck Showalter over the winter, and the former big league manager congratulated him on being named the Seattle Mariners’ new third-base coach. Then Showalter asked a simple question.
“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. His dad, Mike Brumley, a former Spokane Indian, 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 as 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 – 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 roving and coordinator jobs that seemed attractive because they would allow him to spend time with his family.
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.”
He has worked in the Diamondbacks, White Sox, Rangers, Angels and Dodgers systems, eventually progressing to full-season managing jobs at the higher levels.
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.
The path he picked allowed Brumley to watch his son graduate from high school and begin his college career and be with his daughter as she graduated and searched for colleges where she could continue her swimming career.
Last October, when manager Don Wakamatsu called Brumley and offered the Mariners’ third-base coaching job, he was ready.
“It was perfect timing for me. 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,” he added.