Fredi González hadn’t heard from or considered the Orioles before informing Marlins president of baseball operations Mike Hill in late September that he wanted to pursue other opportunities beyond serving as the team’s third base coach.
“It had nothing to do with the Orioles,” he said.
The phone calls that followed had everything to do with González joining the staff as major league coach, the penultimate hire after the Orioles started out with three vacancies.
Friendships, proximity to home and an affection from childhood for the organization transported González to the next phase of his professional life after stints as manager with the Marlins and Braves and the last coaching gig.
Orioles manager Brandon Hyde and major league field coordinator/catching instructor Tim Cossins, names from his Miami past, wasted little time in reaching out to him. González said it happened within five days after the news broke.
“I spoke to Mike Hill the last weekend of the season and, you know how you feel that it’s time to go? I took a leap of faith and luckily the Orioles were there,” González explained earlier this week on the “Orioles Hot Stove Show” on 105.7 The Fan.
“It was time for me to go separate ways, and I don’t want to go into details and stuff like that, but it’s good timing. I had some opportunities and I had some other interviews that came along, but I think this one ... And being selfish, I’m less than 100 miles from Baltimore. I’m just up 95 a little bit in Pennsylvania, so being close to home was also a nice thing.”
The Orioles haven’t employed anyone as their bench coach since hiring Hyde in December 2018. Cossins came the closest to handling those duties, including twice replacing Hyde after ejections, and González will have a similar role.
“Talking to Brandon about it, and this is what seems really, really interesting to me and really gets my juices flowing a little bit, is I’m going to do a little bit of everything for him,” González said. “Whether it’s in-game preparation, helping make decisions, just being a sounding board, or just going over there and hanging out with the infielders and listening to the infield coach, Flo (José Flores), talk about the infield. Or being in the batting cage with Donnie Long and watching spring training, learning our players.
“That’s the first thing I need to know is learning our players. In the middle of next week we’re going down for a little coaches retreat, and hopefully we can sit down and talk about our players and then make up my own mind what the reports say after you see them. I think I’m going to be doing a little bit of everything.
“I think there’s something in Major League Baseball here the last three or four years going away from traditional titles, and I’m OK with it. I’m a major league coach and I think I’m going to be able to dabble in a lot of different areas, which is good for me.”
It’s easy to envision Hyde leaning on the dugout railing with González and Cossins on each side of him. Or Hyde turning to the bench for a consultation.
“That’s how it works. We’re there as a sounding board,” González said.
“He’s got to come up to me and say, ‘Hey, couple innings down the road, what do you think?’ Or, ‘This is the way I’m thinking.’ And I’m going to say, ‘OK, I’m good with that. I think that’s a wise choice.’ Or, ‘Ok, that’s good, but what do you think about this?’ And give him scenarios about situations. I think Tim helped him last year with that.
“Even though our game is slow at times, in the dugout it’s pretty fast and you’ve got to be prepared and you’ve got to be on your toes. You’ve got to have the right amount of people in that dugout because, you’ve heard the expression about too many chefs in the kitchen. You need to have one or two guys that you can go to when the game’s on the line or there’s a decision to be made, and you can trust him and you know that person is giving you answers or replying to your questions in the best interest of that game.”
The Marlins hired González prior to the 2007 season while Hyde was managing in the minors and Cossins transitioned from that role to minor league catching coordinator. He knew that they’d keep climbing.
“You could tell. There’s a group of guys you can tell,” González said.
“I’m 10 years older than Brandon and I remember watching him and watching Cuz work and they reminded me of me. So you follow their careers in baseball and everyone goes separate ways real quickly and I ended up going to Atlanta. Brandon came to Miami and ended up going to Chicago and making his own path to the big leagues.
“I could tell that this guy was going to be a special person, and for him to give me an opportunity to be on his coaching staff and help him and, hopefully, guide him through some of the pitfalls and mistakes that I made along the way, I think it’s a special time for me in my career.”
What are the pitfalls and mistakes? The question brings out the best in González.
“How long is this show? Have you got a couple hours to kill?” he replied.
“Brandon and I have talked about this - not only this year, but last year when he got the job. We’ve done it the right way. Both of us have done it the right way. We’ve done it where we were minor league players and got into coaching in the minor leagues and gone every single step of the way where we’ve managed every level, been coordinators. I’ve done winter ball and instructional league. And then you get an opportunity to coach at the big league level under successful people - Joe Maddon, Bobby Cox. And then you get that opportunity to manage your first team and first game in the major leagues and you’re like ...
“I was so prepared. I thought I was. But you’re no less prepared to fly the space shuttle, that first game you get to coach or manage a team, even with all the experience we had. There are so many things that you can learn, even though we’ve been through it and been with these people. Until you get that first knock on the door from a disgruntled player or the general manager comes down or the owner wants to talk to you and spend 20 minutes with you, you’re not really prepared, even though we did it the right way, both of us.
“So if I can help him and say, hey, if you don’t want to fight right now or it’s not that big of a deal, that’s what I’m here for. And he can teach me some things that he has learned along the way being with Joe Maddon and being with Sig (Mejdal) and Mike (Elias) and learning that analytical stuff. Why not get the best of both worlds?”
The Orioles aren’t close to contention and Hyde isn’t judged by the record, which figures to again hold 100-plus losses. His job isn’t on the line and González isn’t on the clock to replace him. Hyde made the recommendation with no fear.
“He’s got great character and you could tell that right away,” González said. “Like I told him early on, I’m not here to threaten anybody. I’m here to help. I would like to have another opportunity down the road someplace, if I’m not too old, at getting another shot at managing, but I’m here to help him and to help the Orioles and to help get back on the winning ways and get back to where the Orioles were.”
González knows exactly where they’ve been.
He doesn’t need a history lesson.
“I grew up in Miami watching the Orioles at spring training,” he said. “My dad used to take me down to watch spring training and watch Earl Weaver and Jim Palmer and Mike Cuellar and those guys, (Mike) Flanagan, warm up and get ready for the games, so this is a special place in my heart.”