Former SLO cop Dean Treanor now grooms future baseball stars

Dean Treanor, a Cal Poly graduate, was drafted by the Reds before an injury ended his playing career. Then he spent 13 years working as a detective in San Luis Obispo before returning to a career in baseball.
Dean Treanor, a Cal Poly graduate, was drafted by the Reds before an injury ended his playing career. Then he spent 13 years working as a detective in San Luis Obispo before returning to a career in baseball.

Still new to the San Luis Obispo Police Department in the winter of 1988, Ian Parkinson was assigned to guard the front door of a Broad Street home while fellow cops searched inside for a felon.

A few minutes later, Parkinson heard a crash from the attic, then watched in disbelief as a man fell through the ceiling and landed face-first on the floor. Before the dust settled, Dean Treanor sprang up, brushed drywall powder from his police uniform, and turned to Parkinson.

“That was fun,” he said, sarcastically.

“That was my first real impression of Dean,” said Parkinson, now sheriff of San Luis Obispo County.

A few months later, Treanor would trade in his police uniform for a different one, when he became manager of the Fresno Suns minor league baseball team.

“You have to fight getting cynical,” Treanor said of his 13 years as a cop. “Because it’s true that when you see people, you see people at their worst. You get jaded and there’s an edge to you. So when I got the call, it was the right time. I needed a change.”

Once an undercover narcotics detective, today he’s a World Series veteran who grooms players for the big leagues as manager of the Indianapolis Indians, a triple-A farm club for the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Burned out

Born and raised in San Luis Obispo, Treanor pitched at San Luis Obispo High School and then Cal Poly. Treanor made up for his somewhat short stature with athleticism and deceptive pitches, recalled Mike Krukow, a former Mustangs pitcher who went on to pitch for the San Francisco Giants and the Chicago Cubs in the majors.

“He was fearless on the mound,” Krukow said. “He had one of the few no-hitters thrown at Cal Poly.”

Treanor, a math major, was drafted by the Reds and made it to double-A ball in the minors. But a rotator cuff injury in 1975 ended his playing career.

Disappointed, he decided to pursue something completely different. So he responded to an ad seeking police officers. While the work could be dark, Treanor was known for his optimism and laid-back style.

“He was one of those guys that if you met him out of uniform, you might not peg him for a cop,” Parkinson said. “If I had an image of Dean, it was him looking over and grinning ear to ear.”

Police work wasn’t easy, though. Lee Cunningham, another former San Luis Obispo police officer, remembers Treanor trying to arrest a man, who decided to fight.

“The guy was trying to get his gun,” Cunningham recalled.

His lip bloodied, Treanor held the suspect off until help arrived, and the suspect wound up on the losing end of the struggle. “The decision to fight Dean was a poor decision,” said Cunningham, now assistant district attorney.

While working as a detective, Treanor investigated the case of Amy Hamett, a 2-year-old girl who was beaten to death by her mother and her mother’s boyfriend. Treanor, who still keeps a photo of the victim in his home, vividly remembers his interview with David Foster, the boyfriend.

“The interview with him got to the point where you wanted to take justice into your own hands,” he said.

Foster and the mother, Linda Lee Smith, were convicted of second-degree murder.

“That was probably the toughest thing I had to deal with in my time there,” said Treanor, who has two children of his own. “The kids were small at the time. And you’d go back home, and I remember just standing in the room, looking at them.”

While working as a cop, Treanor did manage to stay connected to baseball, owning, coaching and playing for the San Luis Obispo Blues and briefly managing the Cuesta College baseball team. Treanor said it helped to balance out the negative aspects of the work.

“It was obvious that that was his first love,” Cunningham said.

Called up

After 13 years, Treanor was getting burned out as a police officer. Then he got a call from Krukow, who learned that the Fresno Suns, a single-A farm team, needed a manager. While Krukow began playing at Cal Poly a year after Treanor graduated, Treanor often returned to help the team. So Krukow, who was then pitching for the Giants, knew he would be a good mentor.

“What better guy to get a kid out of the dirt, dust him off and get him going than Dean?” said Krukow, a longtime TV color commenter for the Giants.

Treanor felt rescued — and elated to be back in professional baseball.

“It lit that fire again,” he said.

Colleagues at the Police Department thought it was a mistake to give up a pension for a gig in the low-level minors. Traveling to small towns on a crowded bus was far from the glamor of major league ball, and the pay at that level would be miniscule.

“You don’t make a lot of money in the minor leagues,” said Krukow, who remained friends with Treanor. “He walked away from that (police work) because of his passion for baseball.”

As a manager, Treanor moved up the ranks, eventually to triple-A ball, becoming the all-time wins leader in Albuquerque. In Indianapolis, where he has managed the past five seasons, his team plays downtown at Victory Field, near stadiums for the NFL’s Colts and the NBA’s Pacers. Under Treanor, the Indians have continued their winning tradition, finishing 83-61 this summer, when the team set an attendance record, attracting more than 660,000 fans

But minor league managers aren’t judged for winning games or ticket sales. They are hired to groom players for the big leagues.

“It’s a make-or-break level for some of these guys,” Treanor said. “You have guys that have gone there and come back, then you’ve got the young guys on the way up.”

Several of the players Treanor mentored on the Indians have become Pirates regulars, including Starling Marte, Jordy Mercer, Josh Harrison and Gregory Polanco.

“He’s a motivator,” said Casey Sadler, an Indians pitcher who has been called up to the Pirates twice. “He’s a guy that other guys want to play for, which is great.”

Sadler went from being a low-round draft choice from a small community college to a top starter for the Indians, earning him a call-up in 2014. But with the Pirates, he had difficulty accepting a lesser role and eventually wound up back with the Indians. In Indianapolis, Treanor sat him down and gave him a reality check, telling him he needed to do whatever the Pirates wanted and reminding him there were still expectations in Indy.

“He’s very good at helping people transition both going up and coming back down,” Sadler said. “Because once you’re up there, you don’t ever want to come back down.”

While Treanor can be serious, he keeps the clubhouse pleasant, Sadler said. And, as detailed in John Feinstein’s best-selling book about the minors, “Where Nobody Knows Your Name,” he’s known for creative ways of letting players know they’ve been called up to the big leagues.

In April 2014, Treanor called Sadler into his office, where two front office workers and a pitching coach awaited.

“I thought I was in trouble,” Sadler said.

“I hear you have a horse here,” Treanor said, serious.

Sadler’s wife, a competitive barrel racer, had a horse, which they sometimes brought to the games in a trailer.

“And I’m, like, great, I’m gonna frickin’ get in trouble because I brought a horse, and I have another obligation, and I’m supposed to be playing baseball,’” Sadler said.

Treanor grilled him about the horse. “And then I said, ‘Hook that thing up to your truck and drive that shit up to Pittsburgh tomorrow and get it out of here.’”

The SLO life

At 67, Treanor is not likely to manage in the big leagues, though he has had a taste of the bigs. When the minor league season ends in September, the big league teams often call up their triple-A managers. In 2003, many of Treanor’s old colleagues in law enforcement were surprised to see Treanor, then manager of the Albuquerque Isotopes, in the Florida Marlins dugout during the World Series. “They were super happy for Dean,” said Parkinson, who has remained a friend. “For a guy who took a chance with his life and lost a secure job with a pension to end up on the bench on a World Series team is pretty darn fortunate.”

In the past three years, he has been with the Pirates during their post-season runs as well, often offering scouting information on players he’d seen come through the minors.

While he still calls San Luis Obispo his home, the divorced Treanor is rarely here, typically managing winter ball in the Dominican Republic and living in Indianapolis during the summers.

But when he’s here he spends time with his mother and son, Bryan, who followed his father’s footsteps as a former minor league player who currently works as a cop with the San Luis Obispo Police Department. Meanwhile, Treanor’s daughter, Kelly, works with the Secret Service in Los Angeles, occasionally providing protection for the president and vice president.

Looking back, Treanor says, he has no regrets about his career path.

That injury that stalled his baseball playing days, after all, caused him to fail a physical, keeping him from getting sent to Vietnam. And by staying in San Luis Obispo, he became a father and a grandfather. While he would jump at a chance to coach in the big leagues, buying drugs from suspected dealers and performing surveillance in unmarked cars now seems like a different lifetime.

“I’m good with where I’m at,” he said. “It’s brought me to a good place.”