LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – On Saturday at Champion Stadium, Fredi Gonzalez was back on the same field with the Braves for the first time since the team fired him in May after its majors-worst 9-28 start, and it didn’t seem as odd or uncomfortable as he thought it might.
This time he wore the rather unappealing black and orange jersey of the Florida Marlins, who now employ him as third-base coach. And within seconds of emerging from the visitor’s dugout, Gonzalez was exchanging hugs and handshakes, first with fans who called him over and then with uniformed Braves — players, coaches and manager Brian Snitker, who chatted with Gonzalez behind the cage during batting practice.
“It’s a little awkward, but you know what, we left it on such great terms with everybody,” said Gonzalez, 53, who was fired in the second month of his sixth season as Braves manager. “I’m so happy for Snit and wish him a lot of success. He’s a guy that’s been a long-time minor league manager and coach, coach in the big leagues, what, 40 years in the organization? So I’m really happy for him. We talk all the time.”
After living in Atlanta for 15 years and raising his children there, Gonzalez is now remarried — the wedding was Jan. 28 — and bought a house in Phoenixville, Pa., about 30 minutes from Philadelphia. He’s helping his new wife, Tricia, raise her 17-year-old daughter. During baseball season, he’s back in his hometown of Miami and will get to spend plenty of time with his parents, who’ve lived there since defecting from Cuba when Gonzalez was a child.
He’s back coaching for the Marlins team and owner (Jeffrey Loria) who hired him in first major league managerial position, then fired him 3 1/2 seasons later in June 2010.
“I’m enjoying being near mom and dad, and my brother and sister are down there,” Gonzalez said. “Get a chance to spend a little time with (his parents), they’re getting a little up there in age. So it’s fun, it really is.”
Gonzalez has a 710-692 record in 10 seasons as a major league manager — 434-413 with the Braves and 276-279 with the Marlins.
For the first time in more than a decade, he’s enjoying a spring training without the pressures and time demands of being the manager. Don Mattingly is Miami’s manager.
“The only guy (with the Marlins) that was there when I was there was (slugger Giancarlo) Stanton, and I only had him for three or four days before I got let go (by the Marlins in 2010),” Gonzalez said. “(Martin) Prado is there. But you know what, Donnie has made me feel really comfortable.”
Gonzalez said he’s relished the opportunity to coach again, to instruct players on a daily basis.
“I’ve got some responsibilities,” he said. “The most fun I’ve had, I’ve had fun coaching (again). It sounds kind of funny when you say that, but as manager you don’t coach. So I’ve had fun coaching, helping out with the catchers a little, do a little bit of the base running, a little bit of the pitchers bunting, that kind of stuff. That’s been really fun to do that, to get back into that swing of things.”
Snitker, 61, was promoted from Triple-A manager to serve as interim manager after Gonzalez was fired. The Braves responded so well and finished the season so impressively under Snitker — they were 50-47 in their last 97 games and won 20 of the final 30 — that he was hired on a full-time basis, getting the job over veteran managerial candidates Bud Black and Ron Washington.
“I’m glad that they did that, they did the right thing,” Snitker said. “I wish they had given him a five-year contract instead of (one year plus an option). But it really is good to see him be a big-league manager and be successful.”