Mariners' Perlozzo the fungo man - again

PEORIA, Ariz. &

Sam Perlozzo puts on the sunglasses that had been hanging from his neck by a string. He grabs a fungo bat and begins hitting ground balls to Adrian Beltre.

Perlozzo sends shots at Seattle's Gold Glove first baseman with increasing zip, more than 100 of them from just outside the batting cage. The harder the shots get, the more dismissive Beltre is while fielding them. Finally, one gets past the slick fielder. Beltre is so angry he grabs his glove and appears ready to chuck it into the outfield.

Perlozzo just laughs.

This time last year, and the year before that, the 56-year-old baseball lifer was also all smiles. He was in his dream job &

and it wasn't hitting fungoes. He was manager of his hometown team, the Baltimore Orioles.

"I'm a Maryland boy, you know. Even just coaching there was a thrill," said the native of Cumberland, Md., who was Baltimore's third-base coach and then bench coach from 1996 until the Orioles named him manager on Aug. 4, 2005.

The thrill died last June 18. Baltimore fired him before he could even finish a second full season in charge, making him the fall guy for a team that couldn't hit and had two injured starters, plus an imploding bullpen. Earl Weaver likely wouldn't have done much better than Perlozzo, who had a 122-164 record with the Orioles, including 29-40 in 2007.

He thought he would enjoy his first idle months in 37 baseball seasons relaxing with his wife at home in Tampa, Fla. Instead, he shuttled back to Baltimore in vain attempts to sell his condominium there.

"I probably didn't enjoy it as much as I could have," he said of his rare break.

He could have been back in the game immediately. He said friend John McLaren called offering work soon after McLaren took over the Mariners last July, following the abrupt resignation of Mike Hargrove. Perlozzo was still unsettled from the Orioles firing him only weeks earlier so he declined.

McLaren, who has known Perlozzo since both coached under Lou Piniella in Cincinnati in 1992, called back in the offseason to make Perlozzo the third-base coach of the Mariners &

even as Orioles owner Peter Angelos pays him this year to complete his contract as manager in Baltimore.

And he is having no problems being a fungo man again, instead of the guy wielding the biggest stick.

"I coached third base for 14 years. The ego thing's not a problem for me, not a bit," Perlozzo said.

Yet he acknowledges he would like to manage again in a sport that usually recycles head guys like newspapers.

"It's not something that's in the forefront of my mind. John's put together a great staff and a great team. I'm here to help him," Perlozzo said. "The last thing I want is his job.

"But, yeah, I wouldn't mind doing it one more time."

Perlozzo isn't the only former major league manager McLaren has on his staff for his first managing job after 211/2 years as a coach.

Jim Riggleman, the 55-year-old former manager in San Diego (1992-94) and with the Chicago Cubs (1995-99), is the bench coach. Lee Elia, who managed the Cubs (1982-83) and Philadelphia ('87-88), is in a uniform during camp as a special assistant to McLaren.

McLaren knows Perlozzo and Riggleman have sights on being managers again.

"Yeah, sure," McLaren said. "When you do this job, you want to do it again. I want them to get that job &


Perlozzo's chance in Baltimore didn't last long. Yet he said he has no regrets or hard feelings.

"This is game is all about ups and downs. Everybody has them," Perlozzo said. "We've all been through tough times.

"My son (Eric, 23) is in the minor leagues there, so I am still an Orioles fan. I spent 12 years in that organization. Hopefully I will always have doors open for me there."

Yet he closed one, turning down Angelos' offer to remain with the Orioles in some capacity this year. Instead, he is back where he was third-base coach from 1993-95. The Northwest still remembers Perlozzo for waving Ken Griffey Jr. home with the winning run on Edgar Martinez's double in Game 5 of the AL division series against the Yankees &

the Mariners' first postseason series win.

Seattle has been to the playoffs just two other times, and not since 2001. Perlozzo is here to help change that. He's already being praised for improving the defense of second baseman Jose Lopez.

Perhaps it will lead him to that second chance at managing.

"It wouldn't kill me," he said, smiling under his sunglasses.

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