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Catching tips: C’s manager Lavallee tells Whalley Chiefs players how to go pro

Recalls catching for James ‘Big Maple’ Paxton while playing in North Delta
Vancouver Canadians manager Brent Lavallee at Whalley Athletic Park on Monday, April 22, 2024. (Screenshot from video)

Vancouver Canadians manager Brent Lavallee was in Surrey with some wise words for the teen players of Whalley Chiefs.

Two decades ago Lavallee was a catcher on a North Delta Blue Jays team coached by Ari Mellios, now with Whalley’s junior team in the B.C. Premier Baseball League.

Post-practice at Whalley Athletic Park on Monday night (April 22), Lavallee talked to the Chiefs about what it takes to be a pro baseball player, and also about some of the pros he’s encountered on his own path up the ranks.

“I played against a lot of the players on the walls here,” Lavallee said of the ballpark banners that salute former Chiefs including Adam Loewen, Kevin Johnston, Andy Myette and others.

In North Delta, Lavallee was teammates with James “Big Maple” Paxton, now pitching for Los Angeles Dodgers, and saw how hard Paxton worked to get to the MLB.

“He threw 78 miles an hour as a 10th-grader,” Lavallee recalled. “I caught his first bullpen, he didn’t even know the pitch signals. He’d scream at me in his high-pitched voice, ‘curveball!’ — and he throws this terrible curveball. I’m yelling at our pitching coach, ‘Does this kid not know?’ And now that kid is pitching for the Dodgers making 12 mill and went from 78 to 92 (miles-an-hour pitches) in 24 months, not by accident. So if you want it and want to work for it, you’ll get it.”

• RELATED: Returning C’s skipper Lavallee, proud Delta guy, wants another champagne celebration.

Whalley Chiefs players listen to Vancouver Canadians manager Brent Lavallee at Whalley Athletic Park on Monday, April 22, 2024. (Screenshot from video)
Whalley Chiefs baseball coach Ari Mellios at Whalley Athletic Park on Monday, April 22, 2024. (Screenshot from video)

A North Delta native, Lavallee returned to Vancouver this spring to manage the reigning Northwest League champions for a third season. He’s now a fixture on the top step of the dugout at Rogers Field at Nat Bailey Stadium, and has coached in the Toronto Blue Jays system for five years.

Back in the day, he was a catcher who struggled with aspects of the game.

“I was telling my son the other day that when I played for Ari, I couldn’t throw the ball — my pop time was three seconds, 3.05,” Lavallee told the Chiefs players. “I remember my first practice, I turned around and asked him, ‘Was that good?’ He’s like, ‘Good is about two.’ I was like, ‘Alright, I’m about one second away.’

“But as you guys know,” he added, “tenths of seconds are hard to eliminate as a catcher, or as anything. I got that thing down below two by the time I got out of there. But to do it, I got a bucket of baseballs and I’d go two hours before practice, tape a strike zone up on the chainlink, step it off and just throw into the fence.”

Mellios remembered.

“Yeah, he’d show up to Mackie (ballpark in North Delta) and be there by himself throwing the ball, and then we’d start catching practice soon after that.”

Hard work paid off for Lavallee, named Delta’s Male Amateur Athlete of the Year in 2010 while at LSU Shreveport, a Division 1 NAIA School, where he played and coached for many years.

“I still throw pretty well but none of it’s without effort and detailed work,” he said at the diamond in Whalley. “That’s kind of me, that’s the path here, and who knows, who cares where the path goes from here forward, but just try to be the best you can at this moment and you’re going to end up being successful in whatever way.”

Vancouver Canadians manager Brent Lavallee, left, with Whalley Chiefs owner Paul Hargreaves at Whalley Athletic Park on Monday, April 22, 2024. (Screenshot from video)

Lavallee answered questions choosing the right path to college, trying out for teams, how to approach baseball program managers (“spelling and grammar in emails is important,” he underlined), reading good books (“You Win in the Locker Room First,” by Mike Smith and Jon Gordon) and recovery methods.

“Catching in college, I did what’s called contrast therapy,” Lavallee recalled. “I’d basically ice the heck out of my shoulders and knees and the second my ice time was up, 20 minutes, I’d have a hot bath and then ask my roommate to get more ice bags ready, then put the ice back on right after I got out of the hot tub or hot bath. I felt great to catch nine or 14 innings the next day. I’m not saying don’t ice but there is science out there that says no (that it’s a ‘masking agent’). We drink a lot of tart cherry juice, with extreme anti-inflammatories and a lot of really good attributes.”

The Chiefs players then heard more advice from Lavallee.

“Get in the weight room and don’t leave, and when you leave, go to the (batting) cage, and after you leave that, go to your kitchen and then go to sleep,” he added. “It’s a full-scale thing. You can work in the cage all you want but if you can’t impact the baseball hard enough, you’re not going to do enough damage to make a college want you. If the swing’s not there, it doesn’t matter how much you squat or bench-press.”

• RELATED: Still chief among Whalley Chiefs, owner Hargreaves takes step back from baseball duties.

Tom Zillich

About the Author: Tom Zillich

I cover entertainment, sports and news for Surrey Now-Leader and Black Press Media
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