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New life of Brian

Ex-Red Sox slugger Daubach is enjoying himself - as a manager

Ex-Red Sox Brian Daubach, now manager of the American Defenders of New Hampshire, is more Desert Storm trooper than Dirt Dog in camouflage pants. Ex-Red Sox Brian Daubach, now manager of the American Defenders of New Hampshire, is more Desert Storm trooper than Dirt Dog in camouflage pants. (Stan Grossfeld/Globe Staff)
By Stan Grossfeld
Globe Staff / August 18, 2009

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NASHUA, N.H. - Sitting in his office in the bowels of Holman Stadium, former Red Sox Brian Daubach, wearing camouflage uniform pants, looks more like a Desert Storm trooper than a Dirt Dog.

Now the manager of the American Defenders of New Hampshire in the Can-Am League, Daubach apologizes for the wet carpet. The air conditioner in his office leaks, he says, but at least it works on this warm early August day.

His team, however, also has some leaks. New Hampshire is last in the standings and in attendance in the league. More fans saw Daubach in one game at Fenway Park than in a season of games in Nashua.

There are a whopping 13 rookies on his roster, more than on any other team in the league.

“I do a lot of teaching,’’ said one of the original Dirt Dogs with a shrug. “I tell our guys the only thing you can control is your effort level and your ability to compete. The rest is out of your hands.’’

Today is a 15-hour day at the ballpark. After teaching at a Dirt Dog baseball camp in the morning, he skips lunch and pitches extra batting practice to two of his own players. Later he picks up a bucket of balls and pitches more BP to some kids of sponsors in the afternoon. He also catches the ceremonial first pitch before a night game against Rich Gedman’s Worcester Tornadoes.

“He looks like he’s having a lot of fun,’’ says Gedman.

During the game, the 37-year-old Daubach stands on cinder blocks to see. He even grabs a glove between innings to warm up his pitcher. The word “delegate’’ is not in his vocabulary.

“I love it,’’ he says of managing. “It’s as close as you can get to playing. I don’t mind the bus, I’ve done that for eight years in the minors. Sometimes I prefer it to flying.’’

Big choices
Daubach, a native of Belleville, Ill., who was dubbed the “Belleville Basher,’’ was once in rarefied air.

He is one of only five rookies who hit at least 20 home runs in their first four seasons with the Red Sox. Ted Williams, Tony Conigliaro, Jim Rice, and Nomar Garciaparra are the others.

“That’s a pretty good trivia question,’’ he says. “I’m the part everyone gets wrong.’’

In the 2002 season, Daubach hit 20 home runs and had 78 RBIs, despite being platooned. He made more than $2 million that year. David Ortiz had similar numbers with Minnesota (20 HRs, 75 RBIs) and earned $950,000. When the season ended, both Daubach and Ortiz were not tendered contracts. The Sox signed Ortiz, nearly five years younger and more affordable. They also added Jeremy Giambi, who later admitted to a grand jury that he injected human growth hormone and testosterone before the 2003 season.

Giambi was paid $2 million that year and hit .197. Ortiz morphed into Big Papi, and Daubach went to the Chicago White Sox and languished on the bench, never to make big money again.

He says he never considered using performance-enhancing drugs. “I’ve never done steroids,’’ he says. “You’ll never see my name on any list. I know that. Never.’’

He retired in 2006, after an eight-year career that included stints with the Marlins, Red Sox, White Sox, and Mets. His top salary since 2002 was $450,000 a year.

But Daubach, who was a replacement player in the spring of 1995, loved the game. He played softball in a beer league with his brothers and high school buddies back in Illinois before becoming hitting coach for the Nashua Pride last year, and then manager of its successor team.

So it’s a little awkward when reporters come around asking about steroid use in the Red Sox clubhouse from the Daubach years of 1999-2002 and in 2004.

“People think that it was this rampant and they were doing this stuff in the clubhouse,’’ says Daubach, who wants baseball to move on. “They’re crazy. It wasn’t like that at all. Nobody knew. You might of thought, but you didn’t know.’’

The interview takes place two days before the Ortiz news conference at Yankee Stadium, in which he denied using steroids but admitted he was “careless’’ in his use of supplements and vitamins. Ortiz, who 10 days earlier had acknowledged his name appears on a list of players who tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs in 2003, says he has passed 18 drug tests.

But former Sox general manager Dan Duquette, now the New Hampshire team’s director of player development and part owner, thinks the steroid era hurt players such as Daubach, who never got a big long-term contract.

“Who are the players who ended their careers without the benefits of PEDs?’’ Duquette asks. “I’d be willing to bet Brian Daubach was one of those players.

Duquette calls Daubach “a byproduct of the system. Are you victimized if you are playing by the rules? Sometimes you are if the rules aren’t enforceable.’’

He adds that the current system rewards cheaters.

“The penalties don’t match up to the economic gain that the players get,’’ Duquette says. “You can make a lot more money if you utilize the PEDs to delay the aging process and extend their careers. There’s a significant cost there. That’s the reason players in the association wanted this [testing] to level the playing field.’’

Tripp Keister, the New Hampshire third base coach, lived with Daubach for five years in the minor leagues. He says Daubach’s promise to his mother never to do steroids “probably did cost him a lot of money. Who knows? If he had 10 more fly balls that would’ve been homers - that’s 30 - and that’s big money. It really hurt the ones that didn’t cheat.’’

‘You can’t be bitter’
Daubach says the Sox didn’t sign him because he was already 30 years old and there were a slew of first basemen and DHs available, plus he was probably headed back to arbitration again.

“When your first four years are pretty consistent, yeah, it hurt, but you stumble on. I think my ’03 season [with the White Sox] was affected. I really believed I should have been in Boston, but I wasn’t, and I didn’t handle that very well. I could have had obviously more money but, at the end of the day, I know I didn’t do steroids.’’

Daubach dips into his chew and continues.

“You can’t be bitter in life, life’s too short.’’

He calls Ortiz a friend and great guy who had more potential than he did.

“I’m not going to throw him under the bus,’’ he said. “My whole career I’ve never thrown anyone under the bus, even when I thought I had a gripe. That’s not my nature and that’s not the way you stay in the game of baseball. I’ve never burned a bridge in my life. I don’t plan on doing that today. It’s too long ago now. What’s done is done.’’

Daubach says he’s learned from some great managers. “Ron Washington was super positive. He made everybody believe they were going to get three hits tonight.’’

Jim Leyland, his first major league manager with the Marlins, was the opposite.

“He’d really get in your face, a real fiery guy,’’ Daubach remembers. “I’m a nice guy. I wish I could get in guys’ faces more because some guys need that.’’

“In 2004, I played a half season for Tito [Francona]. You could just tell what a great communicator he is. I really try to be honest with the guys. To be honest, my [second] time in Boston in ’04 was tough. I wasn’t hitting that good. I probably wanted my old job back real bad, and it was there for the taking.’’

Ineligible for the postseason, he watched the Red Sox win their first championship in 86 years from the Boston clubhouse in St. Louis. The Sox gave him a World Series ring. When the kids at the Dirt Dog camp found out he had one, the ever-obliging Daubach drove home to retrieve it.

Media guy, too
His career ended in the minors with the Memphis Redbirds in 2006. Then Daubach answered a last-second call to appear on the local Fox coverage of the 2006 World Series between the Cardinals and Tigers. That led to appearances on NESN and on WEEI. Daubach says he enjoys media work almost as much as managing.

“I’m at the crossroads,’’ he says. “I like both a lot. My goal is I still want to get to the big leagues.’’

The game is the most fun part of his day. Especially tonight. New Hampshire beats Worcester, 2-1, on a come-from-behind two-out, two-strike, walkoff home run by Chris Kelly.

After the game, a jubilant Daubach cracks a Coors Light, takes a sip, and smiles.

“Are you kidding me?’’ he says. “It’s the most exciting thing in baseball. A walkoff homer. It doesn’t matter if it’s Fenway Park or Holman Stadium, we still celebrate the same way.’’

A few days later, after a long bus ride to New Jersey and a couple of wins, Daubach is reached on his cellphone and asked if he has seen the Ortiz news conference.

“I don’t want to lie, we were traveling that day. I just saw the highlights,’’ he says.

Asked if he believes Big Papi’s story, Daubach only says, “Yeah.’’

What he really wants to talk about is his team, which has won four of the last five games.

“We’ve had a couple of barn-burners,’’ he says happily. “We’re out of last place.’’

Stan Grossfeld can be reached at grossfeld@globe.com.

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