Following a 13-year career spent mostly in the minors, though he did play 17 games in the majors, and a 20-year career as a coach and manager in the Mexican League, where he left as the fourth-winningest manager in league history, a call from Dusty Baker last winter changed Dan Firova’s life.
Baker and bench coach Chris Speier spotted Firova at a mini-camp for prospects of the team Firova worked for as a coach in 2015, and offered him a job on Washington’s staff, as the bullpen coach.
“Having this opportunity, No. 1 was a big surprise for me,” Foriva told reporters earlier this month, looking back on his first season as a major league coach.
“When the opportunity opened up and they told me I was coming on board as the bullpen coach, I felt I won the lottery,” he said.
“That was great news and then the experience, to work with the guys and experience my first year getting in the playoffs and everything I was so excited and so happy to be a part of it.”
Firova won three Mexican League championships with Mexico City (in 1997, 2000, 2001) over the course of his eight seasons (1995-2002) as manager with the Tigres, and then led the the Piratas de Campeche to postseason berths in 2014 and 2015 before joining the Nationals.
His first experience of the MLB postseason? “Very exciting,” Firova said.
“Even before we started playing, once we knew we were already going to be in, just the excitement starts building because you have that feeling that you can go all the way and have an opportunity to win the World Series.
“To be able to win a World Series and get a ring, for me, man, that would have been icing on the cake. But hopefully this year, we’ll be able to do that.”
The disappointment of falling short of their goal, with the Nationals’ loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NLDS, was tough to take, Firova admitted.
“It hurt, of course,” he said. “Because we expected, I expected, we were going to do better and do more, but with all the experience that I have, I’ve been in that position when I was managing in Mexico and we didn’t advance to or get to where we wanted to get to, you look back and you feel some pain because you want the team to do better, for the guys to do better and you want to make the fans happy and make the front office happy, but when you don’t accomplish your goal, you think about what you’ve got to do to make it better for next year.”
Firova and the Nats’ relievers got along well. Well enough that they held up a three-finger salute when Baker called to the bullpen in honor of Firova, who lost his right pinkie finger in high school and printed up t-shirts with their coach on the front.
He said they built a good rapport over the course of the season.
“It was great,” Firova said. “I enjoyed it. I learned early to take the punches. They gave me a lot, but in a friendly way. So I started shooting back a little bit too.
“We got along well, I really enjoyed it. A lot of fun working with those guys, but when it came down to getting ready to loosen up or get prepared to go in the game, the guys were real professional about that. We can clown around and when to get serious.”
Learning what he could about the relievers, Firova said, will be a big help for the 2017 campaign.
“Any time you get to know people, their demeanor, who you can talk to, who you can get on, who you have to yell at, who not to yell at and stuff like that, it helps,” he said.
“This year they’re going to know how I work and I’m going to know what they expect and what they expect from me.”