High School Sports

LaValliere starts new under-11 baseball team

While sitting in a dugout lining one of G.T. Bray's baseball fields Tuesday night, Mike LaValliere had to be honest.

He created the area's new under-11 baseball team to take care of his own. Or in this case, his own son, Matty.

Matty, like his dad, is a baseball player. And the younger LaValliere has come to a point in his life where the baseball gets a little quicker, and the games are played under some big-league rules.

Runners are permitted to take leads. Pitchers can throw from the stretch.

It's not like Little League anymore.

So LaValliere, a former major leaguer who coaches Saint Stephen's varsity baseball team, created the Bradenton Hammerheads with Pete Mackey, an area youth baseball coach.

While LaValliere wants his son to learn how to play the game the right way, he wants others to learn how to play, as well. There are 12 players on LaValliere's roster, 11 of whom hail from the western part of Manatee County.

"I've seen a bunch of the kids around. I'm familiar with all the kids and the families," LaValliere said. "I just felt that my version of daddy ball comes out.

"The concept is boys who are out there, wanting to get better, to the point where they were going to be willing to learn."

LaValliere and Mackey cobbled the team together after scouring the Manatee West and Manatee Central Little League organizations. Aside from wanting to make the younger players better, LaValliere also wants to make the Hammerheads fun, too.

"We wanted to make the endowment very positive, because I've witnessed a lot of negative things with youth sports," he said. "That's not my philosophy. . . . I don't believe in teaching and reinforcing with negative."

Consequently, LaValliere has rules the players - as well as their parents - must follow. He wants the Hammerheads to play the game the right way, so there will be no razzing of the other team, and there will be no insults lobbed toward the umpires.

The Hammerheads sure look like a real baseball team. Their uniforms are complete with red pants and tinted shirts with the team name scrawled across the front. A red, white and blue hammerhead logo is featured on the upper left corner of the jersey and is also on the team's red hats.

LaValliere was wearing a red Hammerhead windbreaker while the team warmed up for a scrimmage Tuesday, and underneath the windbreaker was a red Hammerhead T-shirt that all the players' parents also had on.

As for between the lines, LaValliere said coaching a youth league team will require a bit of a transition, since the game is a lot different than it is at the high school level. So LaValliere plans to learn a little this fall, as well.

"I'm going to pay a lot of attention and watch, because there's a lot of good coaches out there that can coach at this level and really work at this level," he said. "It's going to be an adaptation for me."

The Hammerheads will play seven doubleheaders this season, beginning this Sunday, and five will be played at G.T. Bray. One will be in Fort Myers, and another will be in Venice, and LaValliere said the team will cap the season with a tournament.

By that time, he hopes his team has learned plenty - and most importantly, learned everything the right way.

"We're going to be playing baseball the way it was supposed to be played, the way I was taught to play it," he said. "That's what I plan on passing on to these kids."