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Where are they now? Mike LaValliere

Thursday, April 03, 2003

By Rich Emert

Mike LaValliere has gotten his baseball fix the past three years by working with the Pirates' catchers in spring training.

He does not miss playing, at least not when his knees and back start hurting. Helping the Pirates in the winter is perfect for LaValliere, who was the team's catcher from 1987-92. He lives in Bradenton, Fla., where the Pirates have spring training.

Nicknamed "Spanky," LaValliere played for four major-league teams in a 12-year career. He came to the Pirates from the St. Louis Cardinals with Andy Van Slyke and pitcher Mike Dunne in exchange for catcher Tony Pena before the 1987 season. LaValliere became part of the foundation that helped the Pirates to three National League East Division championships in the early 1990s. LaValliere, 42, and his wife, Judy, have four children. He is involved in a real estate business in New Hampshire and is in his first year of coaching the Saint Stephen's High School baseball team in Bradenton.

Q: Is it true catchers make the best coaches/managers?

A: I don't know about that, but when you're a catcher, you've got to know what's going on with everybody else out on the field, so you're maybe more into the game than players at other positions.

Q: How did you end up as the high school coach there?

A: I've been coaching at Saint Stephen's for about five years. I coached the middle school girls' basketball team for a couple years, and I've been the golf coach for the past three years. I'd been talking to [the school] about the baseball job, and when they had the vacancy they hired me. It's been a lot fun. We're 7-3 right now.

Q: Do your players know you were a pretty good major-leaguer?

A: They know I played. I'm not sure about the good part. I've had [former Pirates pitcher] Donnie Robinson come work with the pitchers and [former Pirate] Tom Prince come work with the catchers, so they've had some good people give them pointers.

Q: Do you call the pitches for your players?

A: Absolutely not. At this level, the guys need to learn how to play the game, and my calling pitches doesn't help that. Now, I'll call pitchouts and things like that, but I let them go. If I were calling the pitches, the games would just take too long.

Q: Is it true that you didn't start catching until you signed with the Phillies?

A: That's right. Oh, I caught some in Little League, but then didn't everybody? I was mostly a shortstop and pitcher when I was in high school, and I played third in college. The Phillies switched me to catcher my first year, and I was fortunate to have a couple instructors who taught me to do things the right way.

Q: Were you always a good defensive catcher?

A: That's something I took a lot of pride in. When I came up, you didn't have many catchers who were home run hitters. Gary Carter was about it. I never worried about what my batting average was. I figured if I did my job and kept runners off the bases and from scoring, that was more important.

Q: You were a good clutch hitter, right?

A: I don't know what my average was with two outs and nobody on base. It probably wasn't very good. But I did OK at driving in runs.

Q: Did you ever go out to the mound and do something crazy to get a pitcher going or to loosen up a guy?

A: I'd go out to try and slow a guy down or maybe to give him a kick in the butt. I'd tell the umpire 'I need a 20 second timeout here,' and I'd go out to slow a pitcher down. The craziest thing I did was with the Cardinals. Todd Worrell is pitching and I go out to the mound, and he's like 6-foot-5 and here I am [at 5-9], so we look kind of comical, and I put my middle spike right on his big toe. He said, 'What are you doing?' and I said, 'Now that you know where I am, try getting the ball to me.' It's an attitude thing."

Q: What's the most important thing a catcher has to do?

A: I'd say it's being able to handle a pitching staff. You've got to know what each guy's strengths are and know what they like to do in certain situations. Plus, everybody has a little different attitude. I always thought I did a good job in that area.

Q: Best memory of when you were with the Pirates?

A: It is probably when we clinched the [NL East] title in St. Louis in 1990, simply because I had never been a part of anything like that. I remember the last out was a grounder to [Jose Lind] and I just had such a great feeling running down to back up first on the play.

Q: Was coming to the Pirates a big break for you?

A: I had caught 110 games with the Cardinals the year before, and I was going from an organization that had been successful and had done well to a team that lost almost 100 games the year before, and at first that was difficult. But it was great to be a part of a team that came together and then became very good.

Q: Did you always want to get into coaching?

A: Yes and no. More yes, but at this [high school] level. Our children are pretty spread out in ages. The oldest is a junior in high school and the youngest is in kindergarten. Because of that, it would be tough for me to coach at the big-league level with all the travel. I don't know that I'd want to do that. But coaching high school is just about right.

Q: As a high school coach, have you learned to do field maintenance?

A: That's where I just came from ... the field. I was over getting it ready for a game today. I've gotten a lot of tips from Manny Lopez, who is the grounds supervisor over at McKechnie Field and Pirates City. I didn't know a lot about it before, but I am learning.

Have and idea for a Where are they Now? E-mail it toemert195@attbi.com.

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