Learning curve

New LSU pitching coach Alan Dunn evolved into a key pitcher for the 1983 Alabama team that came within a game of winning the College World Series.

Like most guys in his profession, new LSU pitching coach Alan Dunn has his own personal experience as a player to draw from.

Dunn's experience is considerable as a former high-level college pitcher who spent time knocking around in the minor leagues before launching his coaching career in 1990.

But to understand why Dunn has been effective as a pitching coach, go all the way back to his prep days in Huntsville, Ala. – the ones that got him noticed enough to warrant a scholarship offer from Barry Shollenberger, the Alabama coach at the time.

"He was a hard-throwing right-hander, and occasionally some of his pitches found the strike zone," Shollenberger said with a chuckle. "In the process of teaching him and other guys how to pitch, we'd say ‘Put a little on it or take a little off.' To Alan, that always meant ‘Put a little more on it.' The concept of changing speeds wasn't in his lexicon because he had such good velocity."

"I'm sure going through that as a player has helped him quite a bit as a coach. He has a lot of experience to impart on his pitchers because he had to go through a learning process himself."

Eventually, Dunn harnessed some of that giddy-up, but many of his starts at Alabama were abbreviated by high pitch totals from throwing deep into counts to every batter.

Not that a habit of short stints limited his effectiveness as a regular weekend starter for the Crimson Tide.

In his final season in 1983, Dunn started against Miami in a regional final on the Hurricanes' field and "absolutely stuffed them," Shollenberger recalled. Dunn wasn't around at the end of a game the Tide won to punch a ticket to Omaha for the College World Series.

But he undoubtedly set the tone in a victory that propelled Bama to its first CWS berth since 1950 and the only in Shollenberger's 15-year tenure, which ended in 1994.

"That was one of the biggest games in my time at Alabama, so it sticks out in my memory," Shollenberger said.

Two weekends later when the Tide was in the CWS semifinals and battling out of the loser's bracket, Dunn got the ball against Arizona State and carried a no-hitter through five innings, including a strikeout of Sun Devil star outfielder Barry Bonds. A reliever came in to complete a one-hitter in the Tide's 6-0 win that propelled them into the CWS finals against Texas.

The Longhorns clipped Alabama 4-3 behind a bulldog pitcher named Roger Clemens to end the series, but had the Tide won and forced a decisive game, Dunn was on tap to start the final battle.

"Alan was our guy; he was who we were going to lean on if we'd gotten the chance," Shollenberger said.

Reminded of his junior season following his introductory press conference Friday, Dunn was quick to reminisce.

"It was the best experience I had, playing college baseball," Dunn said. "I left after that year because I signed. So having the ability to leave after participating in the College World Series, it doesn't get any better than that."

Now Dunn has come full circle, back to the college level and back in the SEC.

In between, he spent some time in minor-league ball after getting drafted by Detroit in the fourth round, five years in private business, three years as a Vanderbilt assistant and the last 22 as a pitching coach at various levels with the Chicago Cubs and Baltimore Orioles organizations.

"Those bus trips get pretty old and being away from the family gets unnerving," said Shollenberger, who also spent several years as a minor-league player. "At the college level, there are still bus trips but it's not like professional baseball because you spend a lot more time at home."

As appealing as the normalcy of coaching college ball is to Dunn, his credentials made him equally as appealing to LSU coach Paul Mainieri.

When Mainieri and former pitching coach David Grewe parted ways, the Tigers' head coach took aim at a coach with pro-level experience. He conferred with good friend Jim Hendry, the Cubs general manager, and called as many people as he could about several candidates.

The name that kept rising to the top was Dunn's.

"I think it's a great move for LSU and Coach Mainieri," said former Tigers' star Ben McDonald, who got to know Dunn in part-time duty with the Baltimore Orioles television crew the last few years. "He's bringing in a guy in with a lot of experience at developing young talent. He's coached at every level from Single-A to the big leagues, so he's done it all. I'd feel comfortable with a guy like Alan tutoring my kid."

McDonald said it should help recruiting to have a coach with Dunn's background.

"That pro experience means a lot to kids," he said. "That's very inviting to know you're going to work with a guy who's worked with pitchers at the highest level."

-- LSU rising sophomore Kevin Gausman has been selected for the USA Baseball Collegiate National Team.

The hard-throwing right-handed pitcher was picked for the national team that will compete in a series of exhibition games this summer in Japan, with the circuit culminating with a game July 8 at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, the new home of the College World Series.

Gausman finished his freshman season 5-6 with a team-high 86 strikeouts and a 3.51 ERA in 89.2 innings, which tied for the team high. He ranked second in the SEC in opponent batting average (.215) and fourth in the league in strikeouts.

-- At least two starters from the 2011 season and a potential replacement in the outfield have told Mainieri they'll be on campus in the fall.

Senior-to-be infielder Tyler Hanover told Mainieri he would return after being picked by the New York Yankees in the 40th round of the Major League Baseball Draft.

Right after the draft, junior-to-be Raph Rhymes – also grabbed in the 40th round – said he would return. And junior-college transfer Arby Fields (27th round by San Diego) reaffirmed his intention to play for LSU. Fields could step into the vacant spot in center field if Mikie Mahtook leaves for pro baseball as expected after being chosen in the first round.

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