When the phone call came nearly three years ago, Dave Brundage felt he was about to get the ultimate present a career minor leaguer could receive.
"I thought it was going to be my best birthday ever," the Gwinnett Braves manager said.
But instead of offering the major league coaching job he had interviewed for the day before, Brundage was told by then Seattle general manage Bill Bavasi that he was being let go as the Mariners' Class AAA manager at Tacoma.
"He didn't say why, except that the organization was going in a different direction," Brundage said of the call on Oct. 6, 2006. "Instead of my best birthday, it was the worst."
At age 42 and after nearly two decades as a player, coach and manager mostly with the same organization, Brundage was out of work. It didn't stay that way long, however.
With the benefit of hindsight, the Oregon native has a different view of that surprise firing.
"I believe that things happen for a reason," Brundage said. "It was hard to leave the Seattle organization. I'm from the Northwest. But the Braves are a great organization and I think this is where I was meant to be. Maybe that call I got back then was my best birthday present ever."
Brundage won the International League Governors' Cup Championship in his first year at Richmond in 2007 and has Gwinnett fighting for a playoff spot this season despite a constantly revolving roster.
The International League's yearly awards will be announced today and Brundage is one of the top candidates for manager of the year. With all the player movement and injuries that the G-Braves have had, it is easy to see why.
"I can't imagine having to deal with all the comings and goings," said second baseman Brooks Conrad, one of the many players to spend time in both Atlanta and Gwinnett this season. "I don't know how he is able to stay on such an even keel all season. But he does and that rubs off on everyone else."
A recent skid has knocked the G-Braves out of first place in the IL South, but they still have the wild-card lead with a week to go in the regular season. It was as a wild-card team that Richmond won the IL playoffs in 2007 under Brundage, losing to Pacific Coast League champion Sacramento in the Class AAA championship game.
Taking teams to the postseason has been a regular occurrence for Brundage, who came into this year having done it seven times in 11 seasons. Three times his San Antonio team won the Class AA Texas League championship.
"He's an aggressive manager," said Conrad, who played against Brundage's teams several times. "You have to be on your toes. He puts a lot of pressure on a defense."
The Braves like the way Brundage operates in the dugout as well as in the clubhouse.
"He manages games very well," Atlanta director of player development Kurt Kemp said. "You notice that right away. He's a very good on-field manager.
"But his other strength is the way he handles a team. Class AAA is unique. There is so much player movement. He has the ability to take a very diverse group of guys and turn them into a cohesive unit. That isn't easy."
Brundage can identify with the ups and downs of minor league players. He reached AAA as both an outfielder and a pitcher, meaning that he can relate fully to all his players.
"He'll address situations when they come up, but he likes to keep things laid back," Conrad said. "He likes to have a good time and keep things loose. He keeps things positive and the team follows his lead."
Brundage, who bought a house in Gwinnett County this summer, feels that he was a good manager before coming to the Atlanta organization and his record shows it. But he thinks that he is a better one now.
"It makes you hungry," Brundage said of what happened to him with Seattle. "It made me think a little deeper and made me come to grips with some things. It was very hard at the time. But I think it helped me grow as a manager and I'm thankful to be in the Atlanta organization. The Braves are loyal, believe in what I do and believe in their players. They let me manage without looking over my shoulder. That is all you can ask."
SideBar: The Brundage File
· Who: Dave Brundage
· Position: Gwinnett Braves manager
· Age: 44
· Birthplace: Portland, Ore.
· Residence: Buford
· College: Oregon State
· Family: Wife Dameron, son Beau, twins Baylor and Barrett
· Managerial career: Won two Texas League titles with San Antonio in the Seattle organization and led Richmond to the 2007 International League title in his first year with Atlanta. He had a 793-747 career record going into this season.
· Top honor: Baseball America's minor league manager of the year in 2003
· Playing career: Drafted by Philadelphia in the fourth round of the 1986 draft as an outfielder and traded to Seattle in 1988. He spent six seasons in AAA, finishing his career as a pitcher.
· Did you know? As well as being an All-American outfielder, he was a quarterback and punter for Oregon State.