Former Tider Still Enjoying Baseball
Alan Dunn, an Alabama pitcher in 1981-83, now watches major league pitchers in his job as bullpen coach of the Baltimore Orioles.
The personal association established between the pitching coach and his conduit in the bullpen is crucial to success. "One, you have to have a good relationship with the pitching coach," Dunn said. "You have to know what he's looking for and you have to be on the same plan that he wants to be implemented" replied Dunn about being an effective bullpen coach. "Fortunately with the pitching coach we have here, he and I were with the Cubs organization for 15 years so we had that rapport going in when he came over last year. I know how he works and I know what he expects. I feel very fortunate being here."
Graduating from the intensive developmental stage of the minors, major league pitchers require occasional tweaking akin to putting the final touches on a master piece. "As far as the game, these guys are professionals and they know what they need to do to get themselves prepared to pitch in a ballgame," stated Dunn. Game plans devised after meticulous video review of the opponents' at bats reveal the tendencies of each hitter, thus allowing the pitcher tactics to approach each situation.
Most bullpen coaches like quarterback coaches have played the position according to Dunn. "I'm not the pitching coach so you have to take a step back as far as how the program is run. I'm kind of the assistant but your mindset is still the same as if you are a pitching coach by being in the bullpen and watching the game go on. You're trying to think who might we use in this situation as the game progresses and situations come up," said Dunn clarifying the distinction between the bullpen coach and the pitching coach.
"So you're still thinking with the mindset of the pitching coach but you're not the guy that's in charge or making the moves. I just implement the policy and I'm a complement to what the pitching coach is doing," he said about his advisory status. "Ultimately our goal is to help these guys be better and to come in and do their job," he stated about his mandated duty.
Astute independent analysis is within the scope of his role on the coaching staff. "You try to give insight to the pitching coach and things that you might see. Sometimes I might see something that maybe he doesn't see or give him a different perspective," Dunn replied. "That's why I think it's so important that you have that relationship with that pitching coach so that you are on the same page. The pitching coach will understand that you are there trying to give as much information to help him."
Dunn's incubation period had many monitors over the years but learning the mechanics of pitching began close to home. "When I actually started playing baseball my dad (Ralph) was a big influence as far as teaching me how to pitch. He gave me the foundation because he was a pitcher (Phillies organization) so from a very early age I learned about pitching. As the years progressed at The University of Alabama obviously working with Coach (Barry) Shollenberger was very instrumental in me learning some of the next stages of pitching," he recalled. He was ingrained with the traditions of Alabama athletics as his uncle, Bill Dunn (1951-52) preceded him as a pitcher for the Crimson Tide and later professionally with the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Dunn witnessed an evolutionary stage of the coaching profession during his brief two-year stint (1983-84) in the Detroit Tigers farm system. "As I went into pro ball as a player during my era you had a roving pitching coach who was not with us the whole time. You kind of learned watching other guys and figured out how things worked on your own," said the Emma Samson High School graduate.
A member of Alabama's 1983 College World Series team, a runner-up to Texas, Dunn (1981-83) embarked on a career keeping him close to the diamond. He served as a Vanderbilt University assistant for three years prior to beginning his professional journey as a scout with the Chicago Cubs in 1993. Subsequently he progressed through all levels of the farm system from Class A to AAA as a pitching coach.
In his 15th year with the National League club and first as the minor league pitching coordinator, the Baltimore Orioles hired him to be their bullpen coach in August of 2007. "As I became a pitching coach in the Cubs organization, Lester Strode was one of our minor league pitching coordinators and Rick Kranitz who is a pitching coach here (Orioles) was my first pitching coordinator when I was with the Cubs. I bounced things off of them for 15 years. I had a chance to work with Larry Rothschild when I was with the Cubs organization, too. Those are the guys that I've been able to spend a lot of time with and talk pitching," said the Gadsden native about some of his professional mentors.
Yet his experience as a former player and soliciting the knowledge of others are only two sources of the catalogued information collected through the years. Seasons of bench jockey observations, baseball's version of osmosis, created a third volume. "Just being in the dugout for the past twenty years and seeing the game and just tying to figure things out by trial and error - I think that's what you have to do as a pitching coach," he stated. You have to look at things and tailor it for certain individuals because everything is not going to work for every pitcher. You can't have a cookie cutter approach because every pitcher is an individual."
Besides some of the individuals previously mentioned, Baltimore Orioles manager Dave Trembley has been a consequential figure in formulating his management style. Although mastering the bland mechanics of pitching is integral to success, interpersonal skills are essential. "That's a big thing in this business – how you deal with different personalities. Many times it's dealing with people how you would like to be treated," he categorically stated. The cornerstone of developing relationships in the baseball business is honest communication he professed.
"I think showing the individuals you'll do what it takes to try and help them get better is important because this is a grinding game. There are a lot of ups and downs," emphasized Dunn addressing the inherent dynamics of the sport. When they are gasping for answers, he is the support system entrusted to resuscitate their effectiveness. "They have to realize you're in it with them when they succeed or if they fail that you're going to be right there. You're going to go back to work if there is failure. You're not going to settle for mediocrity. You're going to find a way to elevate their game which was primarily my role in the minor leagues. At the major league level you're still developing because there are a lot of young guys but it's a little different situation. There is an expectation level to win at the major league level."
Shoulder surgery in October delayed his favorite pre-game activity as the designated batting practice pitcher until June. The frequency of games and constant cross country treks has not diminished his enthusiasm. "Even though baseball is my occupation, I'm also a fan of it. When you get a chance to watch a big league game and see the best players in the world, it is very rewarding," said Dunn who resides in Huntsville during the off-season. "Even when the season's over and you play 162 games and it's been a grind but the first thing you do in the off-season is turn on the TV and start watching the playoffs if you're not fortunate enough to be in them. People say you just watched 162 games but it's the passion you have for it."
Whether he is rekindling friendships or introducing himself, his Crimson Tide etiquette is manifested with every encounter of former Alabama baseball players competing for the opposition. One former teammate, David Magadan, the pitching coach of the divisional rival Boston Red Sox is on the schedule 18 times. On the eve of celebrating his 25th wedding anniversary in September with his wife, a Crossville native, Dunn relishes his good fortune. He's hit a triple in life even a former pitcher can appreciate - baseball, family, and traveling America.
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