The anatomy of a Dana LeVangie mound visit

Rob Bradford
May 14, 2019 - 11:33 am

You might remember the scene from the movie "Bull Durham" when Robert Wuhl's character -- the Durham Bulls' pitching coach -- goes out to visit the mound where Crash Davis (Kevin Costner) and others are trying to make sense of a myriad of items.

Crash Davis: We're dealing with a lot of shit.

Larry Hockett: Okay, well, uh... candlesticks always make a nice gift, and uh, maybe you could find out where she's registered and maybe a place-setting or maybe a silverware pattern. Okay, let's get two! Go get 'em.

So, there you have a mound visit, or at least that's what Hollywood wanted us wanted to believe.

The reality is, well, different.

"I want to get in and get out," explained Red Sox pitching coach Dana LeVangie.

"You better be specific. They’re fighting the fight out there. They’re competing their butts off. If you’re trying to get a point across about delivery you better be specific. Or be specific about an approach with the hitter coming up. There are times you might go out there and say, ‘Let’s get on the same page. Let’s get the defense off the field and make them swing the bat.’ But that’s rare.

"The more you have to do it is a bad thing but the more you go out there you tend to have a little better feel to it. You’re going out there usually to get a message across because something isn’t going right, so you have to go about it the right way. The biggest thing I respect is that this game is hard and they’re doing their best to make it happen and more often than not they are. I respect that. You’re just trying to get a clear message across."

The execution of a mound visit by the pitching coach might seem like an innocuous exercise, but there is also an art to it.

There is the temperament of each specific pitcher. And, of course, the 30 seconds in which Major League Baseball mandates coaches make their trip to the mound in. (LeVangie can only remember one time he might have run over the allotted time, occurring this past spring training when telling Matt Barnes he was tipping his pitches.)

But what is most noticeable when it comes to the modern day mound visit is the secrecy.

You will never see LeVangie's mouth move. Why? From the minute he steps on the mound his hand is hiding whatever movements his lips are making.

"You don’t do anything naked in this game. Everything is on camera now," he said. "You have people reading lips. Maybe I’m telling myself I’m an idiot while I’m going out there, but I’m just trying to cover what I’m saying, what I’m trying to get across.

"The thing is if I go out there and say without covering my mouth, ‘Hey, we’re going to pound fastballs in.’ Somebody is watching it and they can gain an edge. Pitchers cover their mouth. Catchers, same thing. I would like to think we as an organization try and stay on top of everything. Try and maintain and gain the edge as much as possible. It’s just the way I’ve gone about it."

For LeVangie, this strategy wasn't any sort of well-thought-out plan. As a catcher he had oftentimes used his glove to shield what his message might be to his pitcher, so when those first few trips to the mound as a pitching coach came along the execution was second nature.

"I’m going to say I did and I didn’t think about it before," he noted. "I didn’t have a plan to do it. I just felt like whatever I’m going to say America doesn’t need to know. I get (expletive) all the time about it."

Now it's not only LeVangie who is hiding his words during Red Sox get-together. Usually, it's everybody involved. The pitcher. The catcher. The infielders. 

Welcome to the new generation of mound visits.

"There’s nothing wrong with not doing it," LeVangie said. "Again, I didn’t pre-think this out about how I was going to go about it. It just happened."

Related: J.D. Martinez explains why no at-bat is meaningless

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