Gary LaVelle, In A Teaching Role

Gary LaVelle, the Trenton Thunder veteran pitching coach and owner of a sub 3.00 ERA during his major league career, has a new challenge. The mission of the 55-year old LaVelle has shifted from one of dominating major league hitters to showing others how to do the same.

The teaching role that LaVelle currently occupies is not one that is unfamiliar to him. Prior to joining the Yankees organization in 2000, he spent 11 seasons coaching a high school team near his home in Chesapeake, Virginia. In his fifth year with the Yankees and second with the Thunder, LaVelle is trying to teach a group of young pitchers how to pitch for success not just in Double A, but in the majors.

LaVelle, who still teaches and coaches pitchers of all ages in the off season, says that a minor league pitching coach needs to understand two things, "As a pitching coach, you need to understand what it takes to get a guy to the Major Leagues and understand what a [particular] guy has to do to get there." He went on to say that guys also have to be willing to make adjustments and believe what their pitching coach tells them.

The Thunder pitching coach believes that the fact that he was a major league pitcher gives him two distinct advantages when coaching his pitchers and offering them advice that could help them be successful. "Pitching as long as I did, you learn a lot about being successful. I think there are two sides to that mainly, the first is mechanics. The mental aspect is another." The other major advantage, aside from a knowledge of what guys need to do, is credibility. LaVelle believes that the fact that he does have Major League service time helps him by giving a little extra credibility to the advice he offers his young pitchers. "They want to know, did you do what you're telling us to do?" He went on to say that when he or any pitching coach knows what a pitcher is doing wrong and he needs to translate it into terms the pitcher can understand, "that takes trust and credibility is important."

LaVelle said that when he was playing in the 1970's and 80s, he looked up to some of the great pitchers in the game. Some of the role models the left-hander looked up to included Juan Marichal, Sandy Koufax, and Warren Spahn. Obviously someone who studied and watched the best would be a store chest of information for these young pitchers to draw off.

LaVelle has a very calm, laid back, almost relaxed attitude that gives him the approachability of a father figure to the young Thunder pitching staff. The pitching coach believes that his demeanor helps guys feel like they can approach him with questions about how to improve. The fact that LaVelle is approachable and casual with his players doesn't mean that he isn't competitive and proactive with his staff.

In fact, quite the opposite. By his own admission, he is "proactive" with his pitching staff. "I make a lot of suggestions to guys about what they could do or try to improve and succeed." These suggestions and that fact the he encourages his pitchers to "after each turn, be totally honest in your evaluation of how you pitched." He stresses that this is not just having pitchers think that they made a good pitch and the hitter had a good piece of hitting to make contact with it. LaVelle said that that attitude is only an excuse and leads to a "woe is me" type of attitude in a pitcher and they will probably never improve because they never thought they were that bad in the first place.

The Thunder pitching coach believes that his approachability and a policy of waiting until the day after a start to discuss it with the pitcher has led to his pitchers making an honest evaluation of their outings and progress toward their goal of implementing what it takes to move guys to the next level. Proof of this is that LaVelle has had six pitchers promoted to Columbus this year, four of which have stayed with the Clippers.

While he admits that, "discernment of what went wrong [in a pitcher's outing] is primarily judgment" there are some guiding principles. The first thing that La Velle says he needs to remember is that "each guy has a different issue." Beyond that, he needs to have an amiable coach-player relationship and he says that he tries not to be adversarial with any of his pitchers and that he has enjoyed working with this year's staff quite a bit.

Ultimately it is LaVelle's experience and demeanor coupled with his track record that make him a successful pitching coach and a valued resource on the Trenton Thunder coaching staff.

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