Spring training | Bradenton's Mike LaValliere returns to Pittsburgh Pirates, helps out with catchers

At manager's request, Bradenton's LaValliere trains Pirates catchers again

jlembo@bradenton.comFebruary 21, 2013 

BRADENTON -- He had spent all day Wednesday on the sun-splashed baseball fields spread out among Pirate City's expansive complex, working with the catchers and standing in right field while a portion of the Pittsburgh Pirates took batting practice.

Then Mike LaValliere was off to a meeting.

First, however, he took a little time to stand in the shade and smile.

"I'm 18 years old again," LaValliere said.

Nicknamed Spanky during a 12-year baseball career that included seven seasons in Pittsburgh, LaValliere is spending this spring working as a special instructor with the Pirates.

He served a similar capacity when former teammate Lloyd McClendon managed the team from 2001-05, so when current skipper Clint Hurdle reached out to LaValliere during the winter meetings, the 52-year-old jumped at the chance to do it again.

"The timing's very good for me personally right now," he said. "It's kind of like throwing a duck back in the pond. I'm very comfortable, and I'm having a blast. I'm helping kids. The experience is personally so fulfilling, but also being a part of something that can be very special, and ultimately, that's why we're all here."

LaValliere, a Bradenton resident, is a fixture on the local sports scene, having coached boys golf and baseball at Saint Stephen's and opening the Big League Experience, a baseball facility that closed its doors at the end of 2012.

Prior to that, however, he was a big-league catcher who won a Gold Glove with the Pirates in 1987 and had a hand in Pittsburgh clinching three consecutive National League East titles from 1990-92.

And though the two were never teammates, LaValliere made an impression on Hurdle.

"The thing I love about him is he's not a cookie-cutter person," Hurdle said. "He had to overcome a lot of challenges as far as being not a guy you look at and go, 'Wow,' but a guy that just played hard every day and gave it everything he got. He showed up for his teammates, was well-respected by the pitching staff and ended up having a very, very successful major-league career."

LaValliere will be in camp all spring, working with all six Pirates catchers, a mixed bag that includes the established Russell Martin and former No. 1 draft pick Tony Sanchez.

"What I see is enthusiasm. I see work," LaValliere said. "I see six guys that we have in camp that are pushing each other. They are very proud of what they do defensively. They take it personally. ... These guys, they've been outstanding from an effort standpoint."

It's not all physical stuff. On Wednesday, for example, LaValliere and the catchers were meeting about the pitchers slated to toe the rubber during the Pirates' intrasquad game Friday. And Hurdle said part of LaValliere's tutelage will include building a good relationship with not only the pitching staff, but that night's home-plate umpire.

The role is pure LaValliere. While he wasn't an automatic out -- he hit .268 in 2,871 big-league bats -- LaValliere was known for his defense. He threw out 37 percent of attempted base stealers during his career and was ranked in the top five in fielding percentage five times.

"As a catcher, over the course of a game, you get four offensive at-bats," he said. "As a defender, you're going to have 37, 40 at-bats you're going to be an integral part of. I want my guy to make sure that he's there for all of their at-bats. Offensively, what we do is gravy. Catchers are run savers."

LaValliere is a link to the Pirates' last golden age before the franchise fell into its historic funk of 20-straight losing seasons.

It's a string he wants to see the team snap. This spring, LaValliere will have a hand in helping the players do so.

"We want them to win. ... We want to be on the other side saying, 'What happened? They're the team at the end of the year that's jumping up and down,'" he said. "'How good is that?' And now we erase how many years. ... The only way of making you guys stop asking questions (about the streak of losing seasons) is to go out there and win."

Bradenton Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service