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Dann Bilardello Thrilled To Be Back In The Game 

Rocket City coach returns to baseball after two-year absence
Dann Bilardello is enjoying his first season with the Trash Pandas. (Cristina Byrne-Sternberg/Rocket City Trash Pandas)
May 25, 2022

Dann Bilardello thought his baseball career was over. After playing professionally for 17 years and coaching for nearly two more decades, he had to face the music. With Minor League Baseball preparing to return in 2021 after a cancelled 2020 season, Bilardello was informed by the St. Louis Cardinals that

Dann Bilardello thought his baseball career was over. After playing professionally for 17 years and coaching for nearly two more decades, he had to face the music.

With Minor League Baseball preparing to return in 2021 after a cancelled 2020 season, Bilardello was informed by the St. Louis Cardinals that he wouldn’t be returning as a minor league manager for the 2021 season. His 15 years with the Cardinals were over, and he had to figure out what to do next.

“When I was first coaching, we always talked about having a nine to five job in the real world. But you don’t really think about that until it happens to you,” he recalled. “You have to be humble enough to realize what it is and do what you need to make ends meet. That was a real eye opener for me.”

From there, Bilardello thought about what he liked and quickly arrived at golf. He got a job at the PGA Superstore in Naples, Florida, working in their golf technology department and fixing golf clubs.

He wasn’t long for that job, so a connection with an old friend landed him a new gig selling cars at a Kia dealership in North Port, Florida. With a unique business card and with a smile on his face, he made the most out of his new situation.

“I used my baseball card as my business card for people to remember. They enjoyed it and it also sparked up conversation,” he said. “Most people don’t like walking into a dealership and dealing with salespeople. So, I tried to make it enjoyable for people that were coming in to buy cars. I think I was a pretty good salesman because I was nice to people, and I was honest.”

He’d been selling cars for a while when a call came last November from the Los Angeles Angels. Several Angels front office employees were previously also in the Cardinals’ system, and they thought he would be a good fit for an opening in Rocket City. That began a long interview process, and a month later he was hired to be a coach under manager Andy Schatzley for the Angels’ Double-A affiliate.

Coaching for a team with a raccoon in a trash can as a logo is a wild twist of fate for Bilardello. With the help of his girlfriend, he made new friends outside his Florida home, and on his first trip to the Rocket City.

“At my house in Naples. We actually have a raccoon that we feed outside our house. We feed it out of our hand. Sometimes sandwiches or hard-boiled eggs. The raccoons would come up and they weren’t afraid of us,” he recalled. “When I came to Huntsville to drop off my car before spring training, it was very ironic. I got to the hotel here and as soon as I took my bags out of the car, I looked and saw two raccoons coming out of a trash can. I was wondering if they’d followed me from Naples to Huntsville. I laughed about that for a while. It was meant to be.”

Now fully entrenched in his role on the Rocket City bench, Bilardello is loving every minute after being away from the game for over two years.

While coaching first base, Bilardello usually has a smile on his face. Cristina Byrne-Sternberg/Rocket City Trash Pandas

On the field, he can be seen celebrating as the first base coach whenever the Trash Pandas come through with a big hit. In the clubhouse, Bilardello serves as an important asset for Schatzley, who is in just his second season as a professional manager.

“As bench coach, if there are situations that come up during the game, Andy may want my opinion, so I’m here to help in that regard,” Bilardello said. “It’s not something he has to go with, but I appreciate his asking of me about situations. It’s all about learning. For Andy being young, it helps having someone like me with grey hair that’s been around for a while.”

That career first began as a player in 1978. Five years later, the catcher from Santa Cruz, California made his Major League debut for the Cincinnati Reds and hit his first big league home run off future Hall of Famer Tom Seaver. It was a career highlight for Bilardello, who went on to play in 382 MLB games for four teams between 1983-92.

But by the end of that career, he was mostly a backup, trying to take advantage of limited playing time. That time proved invaluable as he tries to impart lessons on the current Trash Pandas.

“What I learned over my career is that there aren’t a ton of opportunities out there when you’re a bench player or a starter,” he said. “At the end of my career, I was a backup playing maybe once a week. You have to be prepared for that chance. That’s what I’m preaching here and that’s what the Angels organization is preaching.”

Bilardello is taking that lesson to heart, with his revived baseball career now flourishing in the Rocket City as the Trash Pandas fight for a playoff spot in the crowded Southern League standings.