PEORIA, Ariz. -- Sam Perlozzo has such a passion for teaching infielders the finer points of the game that taking a couple of steps backward isn't such a bad thing in the overall big picture. At this time a year ago, the Mariners' third-base/infield coach was the Orioles manager, directing a team he knew had some shortcomings but, he felt, was getting better. "I thought we were starting to go in the right direction," he said. "We made some improvements and I felt I was the right guy to get it right, to finish the job. But it didn't happen, and here I am."
And he's happy to be here. Perlozzo, who celebrated his 57th birthday on Tuesday, returns to an organization that he worked for from 1993 through '95. To refresh your memory, he's the one who waived Ken Griffey Jr. around third base with the winning run in the Mariners' extra-inning victory over the Yankees in Game 5 of the AL Division Series. Family reasons took Perlozzo back to Baltimore, where he spent the next 12 seasons as third-base coach, bench coach and manager. Dismissed as the Orioles skipper last June, after compiling a 122-164 record in 2 1/2 seasons, Perlozzo returned to his Florida home to play some golf and wait for another job. He received a phone call from Mariners manager John McLaren in mid-October, inquiring about his interest in becoming a member of the revamped Seattle coaching staff. Third-base and bench coach were among the openings. "I asked Mac what position he was talking about and he said, 'Bench. You don't want to coach third,' " Perlozzo recalled. McLaren apparently assumed that Perlozzo would not want to take two steps back and coach third base after being a manager and bench coach. The third-base coaching vacancy was more of a passing thought than an inquisition. As it turned out, the bench-coach position was filled by former big league manager Jim Riggleman and McLaren offered the third-base job to Larry Bowa, another ex-Major League skipper who spent the '07 season as the Yankees third-base coach. A week passed. And then another week went by with no decision from Bowa. "I got a call from [Riggleman] and he told me Larry was teetering and wondered if I had talked to the Mariners," Perlozzo recalled. "I told him 'No, but a couple of reporters had called me.' " Perlozzo called Mariners assistant general manager Lee Pelekoudas for an update and explained that, yes, he would be interested in coaching third base. Two phone calls later, Perlozzo had a new job. "This has been great," he said of Spring Training. "I have been gone a long time, but the faces are the same." Besides McLaren, who was Seattle's bench coach during Perlozzo's first stint with the Mariners, the familiar faces include Lee Elia, a special assistant to the manager, and bullpen coach Norm Charlton, the closer in '95.
But all of the players are new to Perlozzo -- except for starting pitcher, and former Oriole, Erik Bedard.The infield that Perlozzo inherits shapes up to be one of the strengths for a team expected to contend for the AL West title. Third baseman Adrian Beltre won a Gold Glove last season for his defensive excellence; shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt surely will be a Gold Glove winner at some point of his career; second baseman Jose Lopez has great hands, quick feet and catches everything hit at him, and if he maintains his concentration, he could be one of the best in the business; and 6-foot-7 Richie Sexson is such a big target at first base that he can reach high and wide throws other first basemen have no chance of reaching. "It has been a couple of years since I worked with the infielders, and it's fun to interact with all the guys," Perlozzo said. "I really enjoy teaching. We have a tight group here, a very talented group. "It's a challenge to make these guys better than they are and they already are a great bunch of guys. I've always told my infielders, 'No matter how good you are, before the year is over, I will make you do one thing better.' " He paused for a second. "I watch Beltre at third and he's amazing," Perlozzo said. "He might be the guy I would have a hard time making him do one thing better." A middle infielder during his playing days, Perlozzo spent most of his career at the Minor League level, finally reaching the big leagues in 1977, appearing in 10 games for the Twins. He got another proverbial cup of coffee with the Padres in '79, playing in two games. He spent one year in Japan with Yakult, returned to the U.S. and played for Tidewater in 1981 before becoming a Minor League manager in the Mets organization. "He has a passion for teaching and always has," McLaren said. "He has worked with some great defensive players and made them better." To name a few: Barry Larkin, Cal Ripken Jr., Omar Vizquel and Mike Bordick. "The best thing about coaching is being able to see something you did and watch it work," he said. "Getting back to seeing guys appreciate the hard work you do is a good feeling." While Beltre and Betancourt are solid defensively and only have to be reminded "not do too much," Lopez has received a lot of instruction so far this spring. "Lopez has done a great job," Perlozzo said. "He has worked on his double-play turn, coming across the bag much better. I was told he didn't do that in the past, but he has been working on it and turned [a double play] a good one the other day." The potential of this group gets him excited. "It's going to be a lot of fun watching these guys," he said.
Jim Street is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.