By Kevin Kelly
The Cincinnati Enquirer
Sometimes the hardest part of realizing a long-held dream is letting that dream go.
Reds manager Dave Miley and bench coach Mark Berry watch their team take the field.
(Jeff Swinger photo)
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Dave Miley had more than 13 years to craft a farewell speech.
But when the day to deliver it materialized July 28, the 41-year-old manager stood before his Triple-A Louisville team and struggled to find the ideal words.
"His dream was coming true," said Reds utility player Ryan Freel, who was in the Louisville clubhouse that day. "But he didn't know what to say."
Called to manage the Reds on an interim basis through the end of the 2003 season after Bob Boone was fired, Miley didn't gloat or wonder aloud why it took so long.
He graciously thanked the players around him that day, those whose desire to reach the big leagues always matched his.
"The guy has had nothing but success all the way through the minor-league system," Freel said. "That's not just the players. That's him.
"He's had such a big impact over all those years."
Miley has been one of the Reds' most loyal and successful employees since Cincinnati drafted the Tampa, Fla., native in 1980.
In 14 seasons managing teams from Single-A to Triple-A, Miley compiled an impressive .570 winning percentage in 1,956 games.
"I'm not going to sit here and tell you there haven't been times in the past when I wondered, 'What more can I do?' " Miley said. "But this organization has always been very fair to me."
On the club's revamped coaching staff, however, Miley's loyalty is not unmatched.
Mark Berry, a former Reds minor-league catcher and successful manager himself, was promoted from bullpen catcher to bench coach as part of the July 28 shakeup.
"For years now, I think his expertise has been wasted as a bullpen catcher," relief pitcher Danny Graves said. "It was great for me being in the bullpen to learn more about the game, but I think that knowledge was wasted down there."
Drafted by the Reds in 1984, Berry played seven seasons in the minors before compiling a .522 winning percentage as a minor-league manager from 1992-98.
"I look back now and I'm so glad that I was drafted by the Reds," Berry said. "They taught you the right way to do things."
Together, Berry and Miley have spent 44 years in the same organization and traveled virtually the same path.
"We're more blue-collar type of guys who've had to put in the time," Berry said. "We've seen a lot. It just makes you respect the game even more and appreciate the opportunity we're in now because of what we've gone through."
Though they're grateful for the chance, the situation they stepped into has been less than ideal, more minor-league than major-league.
Trades and injuries left Miley and his staff with a roster of unproven and unknown players.
Eight players from Cincinnati's Opening Day roster remain with the club. Eleven are on the disabled list. Fifteen on the active roster began the season in the minors.
"The way things are going now, it would be easy for people to start quitting and giving up and not putting out the effort," Berry said. "Us on the staff, we're not going to let that happen.
"That's not only a reflection on them, it's a reflection on us as a staff and the Cincinnati Reds as an organization."
The Reds were 11-17 through Miley's first 28 games as manager.
Cincinnati will make a decision whether to keep Miley, reassign him or let him go entirely after the season.
Much of that discretion will go to whoever is hired as the team's new general manager.
"I would like for somebody in the hierarchy to ask some of the players what we think, just see what kind of guy he is," Graves said. "They may only see what he does on the field. But there's not one guy in this locker room that doesn't love Dave Miley as a manager.
"If I could, I'd lobby as much as I could to get him back here."
Chief operating officer John Allen has indicated that any judgment regarding Miley's fate will not be based solely on wins and losses.
"Mr. Allen was very honest," Miley said. "I'm not going to go into every detail that he said, but I don't think the evaluation process will necessarily be wins and losses. I think a lot of good things have happened."
Miley and his coaches are trying to change attitudes.
Players have two rules: Be on time and play hard.
"You can judge (our performance) by, 'Are the players playing hard? Do they respect the staff? Are they improving? Are they learning how to play the game?' " Berry said. "No matter what your talent level is, you can still play the game hard. You can play fundamentally sound baseball.
"It will show. I think, right now, that's what you look at."
One noticeable difference with Miley as manager is his openness to suggestion and ideas.
He welcomes input from his coaches - pitching coach Don Gullett is now calling the pitches - but ultimately knows the final decision is his.
"I'm not a guy that's going to sit here and say I know everything, because I don't," Miley said. "These (coaches) were told that if they had a suggestion, bounce it off on me. I'm still going to make the final decision, but it doesn't hurt to throw out suggestions."
After more than 13 seasons as a manager, it's a proven approach now being tested under unusual circumstances.
"He comes up here and we're not a team that's ready to win," Graves said. "We have a lot of good players, young players. We're just really young.
"But he's a winner. He's always been a winner."
The Dave Miley file