By Penny Fletcher
RIVERVIEW — When 5-year-old Dave LaPoint got pulled out of bed to play baseball, he never dreamed it would be the start of a lifelong career.
“When I was 5, my 8-year-old brother would pull me awake by the hair because they were one person short to play ball,” Dave told me recently during an interview in his new Riverview home. “Because the other boys were so much older and bigger than me I had to get better fast — or else. So I was always throwing something, whether it was a baseball, a snowball or a rock. My dad had been a good baseball player — he’d made it to the semi-pro level — and always brought us kids to the games and we’d listen to them on radio too.”
The first time Dave ever watched a game though was on a tiny black-and-white television at his grandparents’ house.
“I’ll never forget it. It was the World Series between the Dodgers and the Twins in 1965 or 66,” he said. He really felt the weight of how much his life had changed since that day, when he finally stood in the stadium he had seen on that small television so long ago.
“I was 6 when I watched Jim Kaat pitch for the Minnesota Twins, and then in 1982, we were teammates when we won the World Series. It was my rookie year in the majors and it was a real blessing because I felt this was how the game was played,” he said.
Having been drafted right out of high school in 1977 into the Milwaukee Brewers he went through the various classifications in the minors starting at Newark, N.Y. at 17.
His first disappointment was that he had signed the contract at 17 and got yanked out of the bullpen (without getting to play) because he hadn’t actually graduated yet even though he had finished his exams.
Rules were rules, he said. And he found out quickly that they were strictly enforced.
“I’d traveled 240 miles on a Friday night, went home and graduated the next day, then went back – another 240 miles – and finally got to play,” he said, now able to laugh about it.
Dave said it took him three years in the minor leagues before making it into the majors at 21.
After a brief time with the Brewers he was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals and became the youngest person of all time to have a win in both leagues.
“I was always a pitcher,” he told me. “When I was traded to the Cardinals, we played the Brewers in the Series and I pitched against my old teammates. Having Moose Haas (the opposing team’s pitcher) pitch against me was a real experience. We were still friends, in the bullpens there was wire between us but we talked through it. And we were warming up side-by-side. He’d taken me under his wing years before and at the series, I realized that even though he was a real veteran, he was still nervous, just like me.”
Dave played pro ball until 1993 when he became an agent, and then in 1994 had the opportunity to start a new team – the Adirondack Lumberjacks in the Northeast League. “I became their GM (general manager) and managing and pitching coach. I quickly learned that all the things you take for granted – who sings the Star Spangled Banner; who puts the bases out; who cleans and mows the field – these things don’t just happen – I had to make them happen.”
He had to put everything and everyone together, including a grounds crew, clubhouse personnel, banquet teams, advertising sponsorships and then get players on the field.
He was with this team from 1995 to 1996 and they won the first year they were in the league. “We were the inaugural champions,” he said proudly. And I’d really been on a tight budget because I was promised $300,000 to do everything and actually got about $40,000 up front, so I really had to do some fundraising.”
He said he wore so many hats it was hard to remember “who and where” he was. From suit and tie in the morning to the practice pitching cage in the afternoon, sometimes well into the night coaching players, he worked to get – and keep – his winning team in shape.
“I sure had to learn about PR (public relations),” he said. “And I had to learn it fast.”
Now he manages the Long Island Ducks during season in New York. Until then, he will live in Riverview and will return again when season is over. “I’ll spend about 5 months in the North and 7 here,” he said. He plans to leave in April to begin training.
The Ducks is a team made up of former pro players who have been out of the game awhile, perhaps from injury or other emergency, and want to get back into the majors, he said.
“These are highly skilled guys who have had contracts for $20 and $40 million that have been out for awhile,” he said.
While in Riverview however, he’ll be teaching boys and girls the art of pitching on an individual or group basis, although he prefers one-on-one lessons.
“When you want to walk on the moon, you need to learn from a guy who has walked on the moon, not simply one who has read about it,” he said.
Anyone interested in learning (about baseball or strictly pitching skills) from a man of Dave’s vast experience is asked to call (813) 442-6163 to schedule an appointment or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.