Thirty-five years ago this month, Torey Lovullo was selected in the fifth round of the 1987 MLB Draft. He has, since then, become a baseball lifer. 1,598 games played, 2,098 games coached. In that span, he’s spent time with 10 organizations.
Among that group, the Detroit Tigers hold “a very special place in my heart,” Lovullo says now, all these years later. After all, they were the organization that drafted him, developed him and, in 1988, gave him his major league debut. Lovullo calls Sparky Anderson, the legendary Tigers manager at the time, his “baseball father.”
This weekend’s three-game set against Detroit, then, is a special occasion for Lovullo.
“It's hard for me to play against them and not reflect and go back and rewind a little bit,” Lovullo said. “I still have some incredible friends over there. They were great people.”
Most of those friends have moved on in the 33 years since Lovullo last played in Detroit. Anderson passed away in 2010. Time heals wounds, but it steals relationships.
Before Saturday night’s game, though, there was Lovullo, standing in foul territory while the Tigers took batting practice. Next to him was Jim Schmakel, now in his 44th year as a clubhouse manager with Detroit.
These days, Schmakel doesn’t make many road trips. That he ended up in Arizona at all was just a scheduling coincidence. But it was a trip Schmakel was more than happy to make because he knew it offered a chance to catch up with Lovullo, with whom he speaks four to five times a year, though rarely in person.
“I’m gonna give him a big hug,” Schmakel said, moments before meeting with Lovullo. “It's been a big week for me. Cecil Fielder was back in Detroit and it was great seeing him. It's always nice seeing the guys that were there when I was growing up.”
Schmakel remembers Lovullo as a quiet rookie — although he adds, “How can you not like Torey Lovullo? Come on.” In Lovullo’s two years in Detroit, Schmakel helped him grow comfortable in a major league clubhouse.
“He would always tell me, hey, you're in the big leagues now, you've earned this,” Lovullo said. “You deserve it. Be yourself. And have fun.”
Inevitably, Saturday’s conversation between the two turned to fond memories of Anderson — including one Lovullo still uses to guide his own managerial style. After his major league debut at Yankee Stadium, Anderson pulled Lovullo aside and told him to go thank his parents.
“When you walk out of the clubhouse today, they're gonna be waiting for you with big smiles and a lot of hugs,” Lovullo remembers Anderson saying. “Thank them, tell them that you love them and you appreciate all the love and support that you've given you over the course of your lifetime because you don't know how many times they got up early to get you up and made sure your uniform was washed and sacrificed their day to make sure that you were okay so you could go play a baseball game.”
To this day, Lovullo offers the same refrain to Diamondbacks’ rookies after their debuts.
“He took me to the side and said, hey, ‘Enjoy this with your family,’” centerfielder Alek Thomas said. “That was pretty cool for him to do that.”
Audrey Zielinski, who ran baseball operations for the Tigers when Lovullo was coming up, was another member of the organization who impacted the way Lovullo welcomes rookies. During his time in Detroit, Zielinski would give Lovullo items to file away in a scrapbook, including the lineup card from his first game.
“I promise you that you'll appreciate this one day,” Zielinski told him. Three decades later, he still keeps the memorabilia and newspaper articles that Zielinski gave him.
So now, when a Diamondbacks player makes his major league debut, Lovullo commissions clubhouse manager Roger Riley to frame the lineup card from their debut. He also encourages them to keep items like their first bat, first uniform and the ball from their first hit.
Thomas, heeding his manager’s advice, has passed that memorabilia on to his family for safekeeping. Second baseman Buddy Kennedy, who debuted last week, has the ball on his wall at home. When he gets the framed lineup card from Riley, he’ll put it there, too.
“It's something I can have forever, for the rest of my life,” Kennedy said. “I can pass it down to my kids and my family.”
Theo Mackie covers Arizona high school sports, the Arizona Diamondbacks and Phoenix Rising FC. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @theo_mackie.
This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: For D-Backs' Lovullo, facing Tigers brings back special memories