From Camp Moosilauke to Camden Yards

By ALAN SCHWARZ
Published: The New York Times, August 26, 2007

The Orioles’ 30-3 trampling by the Rangers on Wednesday marked the most inauspicious debut for a man in charge since William Henry Harrison. Dave Trembley, who hours before had been made Baltimore’s manager — he had been the interim skipper — lost this first game by a margin that made you check the box score for Charlie Brown, L 0-16.

I happen to know why Trembley is, quite evidently, a horrible baseball manager. I possess indisputable evidence about why this man, whose main selling point has been his deftness in nurturing young players, is a cunning impostor. He has no one to blame but himself — because if Dave Trembley were any good at teaching baseball, by golly, I might not be writing about him.

In the mid-1990s, Trembley and I came to know each other when he was a minor league manager in the Cubs’ system, and I, a young baseball writer, profiled some of his top prospects. Our four or five conversations over the years were strikingly friendly, a fact I chalked up to my irrefutable charm until I learned that Trembley was a delight to everyone.

Fast-forward to a telephone call I placed several weeks ago to my old summer camp, an idyllic little enclave in New Hampshire with the perennially unfortunate name of Camp Moosilauke. I spent five preteen summers there, from 1979 through 1983, smacking away mosquitoes and being deathly afraid of the girls’ camp, but more than anything else being terrible at the team sports around which the camp revolved — particularly baseball.

I couldn’t catch. I couldn’t throw. God help me if I ever got to the plate and tried to focus my Coke-bottle peepers on a hardball invariably whizzing past me. I tried and tried. They say baseball is a game of failure, but this was embarrassing to all.

Anyway, I called the camp office because a colleague had asked if I knew any camp that still staged color war — the end-of-summer foofaraw in which all the campers split into two sides (ours were red and gray) and staged four days of competition that ultimately left one side jumping around like lunatics and the other bawling its eyes out. I did not know if Camp Moosilauke existed anymore — but in fact it did, it did still have color war, and its director took some pride in hearing what I was up to.

You know, they said, there is another Moosilauke alumnus from my era making a name in the sports biz: the new manager of the Orioles, Dave Trembley.

I almost dropped the phone.

Trembley, a mentor of million-dollar athletes, apparently cut his manager’s teeth with several summers as my baseball counselor at Camp Moosilauke. I have to say, he clearly was not very good. I arrived so inept and remained so persistently incompetent that I barely ever played in games.

I eventually gave up and became the kid — doesn’t every camp have one? — who kept the scorebook, tallied the statistics and wrote paragraphs on each game for the bulletin board. The counselors, Trembley among them, undoubtedly sighed in collective relief that Schwarz’s little hands had traded a bat for a pen.

Those first seedlings of journalism have grown into a career that allows me to waltz into any baseball stadium, plop down on the manager’s couch and chat. I did exactly that with furtive glee this month, when the Orioles played at Yankee Stadium.

Me: “O.K., Dave, I have one very important question for you.”

Trembley: “Shoot.”

“What were you, red or gray?”

“What?”

Me, grinning: “What were you, red or gray?”

“Huh?” he said, more intrigued.

I enunciated for effect: “In color war.”

Trembley widened his eyes, dropped his jaw and exploded into a smile not seen on an Orioles manager since Jim Palmer’s heyday.

“No way!” he yelped. Trembley jumped up from behind his desk and gave me a bearhug that nearly squeezed up my lunch. “Camp Moosilauke! You got to be kidding me!”

Sure enough, we did spend our summers there together. For a good half-hour, we batted memories of cabins, canoes and, yes, color wars back and forth like shuttlecocks. The best parts were talking about baseball — the game he tried to teach me but whiffed as feebly as I did.

At one point, the Orioles executive Jim Duquette came in and wondered what all the levity was for. Trembley described how ghastly little Alan Schwarz was as a baseball player. I informed Duquette, “If Dave couldn’t do anything for me, what hope does he have with you guys?”

Eventually, Trembley had a lineup to fill out, fungoes to hit, a game to manage. We said goodbye noting one final thing we shared: When you get down to it, neither of us was good enough — me to play at all, him to play professionally after college. But we had reached the major leagues and met again for one wonderful reunion. Twenty-five years later, being awful felt awfully good.

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