GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- It was an Indians reunion at Goodyear Ballpark on Friday.
The Seattle Mariners were in town for an exhibition game against Cleveland, which meant former Tribe manager Eric Wedge, now Seattle’s skipper, was in the opposing dugout. Alongside Wedge were former Indians coaches Jeff Datz and Carl Willis, as well as former Cleveland special assistant to the general manager Robby Thompson, now Wedge’s bench coach in Seattle, and former Indians pitcher Jamie Navarro, who is a Mariners bullpen coach.
In the visiting clubhouse were former Cleveland players Milton Bradley, Franklin Gutierrez, Josh Bard and Chris Gimenez -- all of whom Wedge managed during his seven-year stint with the Indians.
“It’s great,” said Wedge, whose Mariners played to a 5-5 10-inning tie against his former team. “We needed some people around that knew what I was about and what I’m looking for and how we need to go about our business.”
Wedge, 43, got a close-up look at the business side of baseball when he was fired during the 2009 season after leading the Indians to a Central Division title in 2007 -- the same year he was named American League Manager of the Year after Cleveland beat the Yankees in the Division Series and came a win away from the World Series against Boston in the ALCS.
He took a year off from baseball before deciding it was time to get back in the game.
“I stayed away from everything,” Wedge said of his season-long hiatus. “I enjoyed my family and gave myself a break. Then I talked with a lot of teams, and ultimately, I thought (the Seattle job) was the right decision for me physically, mentally and emotionally.”
A player that could have taxed Wedge on all three fronts was awaiting his Seattle arrival in Bradley, who was already on the Mariners roster after an injury-plagued 2010 season. Wedge had a public falling out with Bradley in Cleveland, ending in the outfielder’s trade to the Dodgers in 2004.
Wedge said there have been no problems between the two this spring.
“It’s all been real good,” he said. “We’ve had some good conversations. It’s 10 years later. He’s been fantastic.
“He’s had a great swing. His energy has been great. We’re just tying to keep him healthy.”
The familiar faces surrounding him are one of the few similarities between the environments in Seattle and Cleveland, according to Wedge.
“It’s a very different situation,” he said. “In Cleveland, it was a total rebuild in ’03. Here, we’re building. When you start with Ichiro (Suzuki) and Felix (Hernandez), it’s a little different situation.”
Wedge cut his managerial teeth with the Indians after being hired out of the minor leagues for his first job on the big stage. His lengthy tenure in Cleveland taught him plenty about managing on the major league level.
“I’ll be better this time around, just from everything I’ve been around and the experiences I’ve had,” Wedge said. “I will do most things the same but there’s some things I’ve learned that I think will make me better this time.”
Not that Wedge was a slouch in Cleveland. Despite working with one of the smallest payrolls in baseball, he kept the Indians competitive for the majority of his time there. He compiled a 561-573 win-loss record with the one trip to the postseason in ’07 and has fond memories of his first managerial job.
“I’m proud of the way we went about our business and what we meant to the game,” Wedge said. “We did it the right way. Ultimately, the players that we developed and taught how to be championship-caliber players, you have to feel good about that.”
Contact Chris Assenheimer at 329-7136 or firstname.lastname@example.org.