Dave Trembley grabs a cloth napkin from the table of an Inner Harbor restaurant and wipes away a tear streaming down his cheek.
It's a busy lunch crowd, with waitresses buzzing about and patrons shouting small talk as the 55-year-old Trembley, unrecognized and undeterred, chokes back his emotions and tells his story.
It would be much too simple to say that Trembley, a career minor league nomad, received his big break in June when he was named the Orioles interim manager. Or that his dream came true yesterday when club president Andy MacPhail announced that Trembley's contract had been extended through 2008, with a club option for 2009 - meaning he finally has a baseball home from one season to the next, this one in the majors.
"I get real emotional because I am doing what I have always wanted to do. And people don't quite understand," Trembley said. "I know where I am from. I am so grateful for the opportunity. People have no idea."
Trembley's story digs much deeper, his climb much steeper. It's a tribute to anyone who's had to eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for dinner, sleep on a buddy's couch for weeks at a time and drive a jalopy with more than 200,000 miles on it. It's why one day he can talk about, and appreciate, the path taken by a journeyman to reach the majors, and the next day forcefully remind his veterans that they have to report on time for team stretching exercises. It's why he can lose his composure at a Legal Sea Foods in the middle of the afternoon and not have to apologize for the tears.
The baseball odyssey of Dave Trembley (pronounced Trem-blee) begins in a modest, two-story home built by his carpenter father in Carthage, N.Y., a paper mill town of about 3,000 people located 30 miles from the Canadian border.
It's an unlikely hometown for a perpetual boy of summer.
"When it snows here, it doesn't snow in inches it snows in feet," said Trembley's mother, Jean. "And when it gets to be 40 below, you better stay in."
Harsh winters aside, it was an idyllic upbringing, three Italian Catholic kids raised by a quiet, hard-working, sports-loving dad and an energetic, compassionate mom. The kids avoided trouble by playing sports.
"We were raised on old-fashioned values," said Mary Ann Keefer, the only girl and the youngest, by a decade, of the three Trembley children. "We were a very close family, kind of like a Norman Rockwell family."
Trembley's late father, who worked in the local paper mill for more than 35 years, was a volunteer basketball referee and passed on his love of sports to his two sons, Bill Jr., the oldest by 11 months, and Dave.
Once a year, they would make the 300-mile trek to Yankee Stadium to see the Bronx Bombers and Trembley's favorite player, Mickey Mantle. At night, Trembley would scan the transistor radio for any game he could get.
The "Leave it To Beaver" existence includes worn patches of grass in the front lawn where the two Trembley boys played catch continually, and a picture window that once fell victim to an errant throw.
"We were scared to death," said Trembley, who admits to breaking the window as a kid.
His father walked to the front door, and said, "Boys, come get your ball."
That was it. No explosions, no punishment.
The boys eventually took their fun and games to the local Catholic high school, where Bill pitched and Dave caught during baseball season and where Dave was the quarterback and Bill was his wide receiver in football.
The duo separated in the spring of Dave's junior year. Dave transferred to the public school partially because he could play baseball at a higher level, partially because, as his brother jokes, "Dave didn't quite see eye-to-eye with the Catholic nuns."
After high school, Trembley stayed in upstate New York, getting his bachelor's degree in physical education and his master's in education from the State University of New York, Brockport, the closest school he could afford.
Because his dream of playing professionally never materialized - a stint catching in a Canadian summer league was as far as he got after college - he turned his attention to teaching and coaching. He taught high school for a year, followed by a year of sports psychology graduate work at Penn State.
Then came the biggest risk of his life, the key trip in his baseball journey.
Look West, young man
It was the late 1970s, Trembley was 26 and still had the baseball bug. He knew his choices were limited near his hometown.
"So I flooded the market with resumes, Arizona and California," he said. "If I wanted to get into baseball, I had to get to warm weather."
A Catholic school in downtown Los Angeles called him for an interview.
Trembley had to borrow $350 from his father for the trip, but he didn't need a return flight. He landed the job as physical education teacher, baseball coach and behavior modification specialist, receiving extra pay for staying consecutive semesters.