Tiffany's Respect for Lasorda Knows No Bounds

VERO BEACH, Florida- Tommy Lasorda approached Chuck Tiffany as he came off the field after a finished drill. "How ya' doin', Chuckie?"

"I'm tired, Tommy,"

Not at all what you say to the Great Motivator. "You're never tired wearing that Dodger uniform," Tommy roared.

If you think that Tiffany resented the exchange, you don't know him. "He's the perfect coach," he said later, shaking his head in admiration. "Nobody's better."

For wearing Dodger Blue is every bit as meaningful to him as it is to Lasorda. This kid from Southern California grew up with a bedroom adorned with memorabilia from the team. His desire to play for them has always been fervent as he first displayed to Tommy when, spotting him in the airport he went up to him to declare, "Mr. Lasorda, I'm Chuck Tiffany. I'm going to pitch for the Dodgers some day."

Chuck was 12 at the time.

Their paths crossed again when he was a senior in high school. "There must have been 30 scouts watching me pitch at this game and there, sitting right in the middle was Tommy. Afterwards, all my buddies ran up and asked if I knew he was there. Did I know? Every time I looked in at my catcher, I could see him sitting there right behind home plate."

If Tiffany desired the Dodgers, so did they want him. When the 2003 draft was held, the scouting hierarchy debated whether to take him first or the also-sought-after Chad Billingsley. Scouting Director Logan White, a master at what is termed "slotting" felt they could get both by choosing Billingsley first and Tiffany second. Which is exactly how it went so that Chuck heard the Lasorda voice on the phone, saying, "Chuckie, you're a Dodger now."

Well, not quite. He didn't quickly grab a pen and ask where to sign. In truth, he held out almost all summer before they came up with a million dollars for his signature. Baseball, after all, is a business and that's what agents are hired for.

Thus, Chuck pitched in only three games at the end of the season meaning 2004 was essentially his rookie season. It turned out to be one that all had anticipated.

That 5-2 mark at Columbus is deceptive for the 6-1, 195-pound lefty had 15 no-decisions, most of those when he left with the lead, only to have the relief core fail to hold it. His 3.70 ERA indicates that there were moments when his pitches flatten out but 141 strikeouts in 100 innings show what his stuff can do. Why, he was part of a combined no-hitter, then went out and threw a seven-inning perfect game in his next start. With Lasorda in attendance, as a good story line would have it.

"My best game," he agrees. "I had all my stuff working that night."

When it comes to "stuff", don't bother asking him what his fast ball readings are on the speed gun. "I don't know and I don't care," will be the answer.

What he does pay attention to is the tendencies of the opposing batters for he is seeking to be a master at getting them to hit his pitch. To do that he pays strict attention to charting. That's when the next day starter records every pitch and the results of them the night before he's scheduled to go. Chuck not only does that, he makes notes on the side of each batter's tendencies and how best to exploit them.

And, for the record, his fast ball hangs around the 88-92 range. He also has a hammer curve and an advanced changeup.

For 2005, he'll be glad to begin the season in the Vero Beach rotation but, "I hope to make it to AA before the season's over."

Do that and he'll only be a couple of short strides away from making the prediction that he uttered to Lasorda come true. And when (if) that happens he'll be wearing the uniform with every bit the pride that Tommy proclaims.