After climbing the minor league ladder as a catcher, Dave Wallace wasted no time jumping back in as manager to climb it again.
In his third season as manager in the Cleveland organization, Wallace is guiding the Carolina Mudcats in 2013. The Mudcats, stocked with some of Cleveland’s top talent this season, provide their skipper a chance to improve upon not only his player’s prospects but also his own.
The jump straight from a playing career to managing is not surprising. Wallace has an extensive sports background.
Born in Nashville, Tenn., Wallace grew up playing football and baseball and received a scholarship offer to play at home with the Vanderbilt. The native son played both sports at the private school, including receiving time at quarterback for the Commodores during the 1998 and 1999 seasons under head coach Woody Widenhofer.
Some of Wallace’s greatest athletic experiences came guiding Vanderbilt on the football field.
“We (Vanderbilt) played at Neyland Stadium in 1998 against Tennessee the year they won the national championship,” Wallace said.
“I’d say the biggest game (of his athletic career) was my second game in my freshman year when I started at Alabama. I ended up starting most of the rest of that year.”
Wallace’s first love, however, was always on the diamond.
“For whatever reason, I was always drawn to baseball,” Wallace recalls. “It is always what I wanted to do. I don’t know what is.”
Wallace was signed as an undrafted free agent by Cleveland in 2001, and he spent eight seasons in the Indians minor league system, with his best statistical year being in 2003 when he batted .265 with eight home runs and 50 RBIs between Low-A Lake County and High-A Kinston.
A lifer within the Cleveland organization as a player, Wallace was forced to reboot and start from the bottom again once he hung up his spikes and began his managerial career. It was an easy choice for the former-catcher and, when the chance to stay with the Tribe came, Wallace would not have it any other way.
“This is the only organization I’ve ever known,” Wallace said at the Mudcats media day. “It is the only organization I ever want to be with.”
“Cleveland is first class all the way.”
For the third-year manager, the bus rides and down time that often become drudgery for many players and coaches is what brings him the most joy on the job.
“I love it,” Wallace said. “That is my favorite. I love being on the road. That is when it is just us and it kind of feels like family.”
While his baseball family is important, it is the support of his actual family that is helping Wallace fulfill his dream.
And that family will be growing soon as Wallace and his wife Lauren are expecting their second child, a son, in June to go along with their two-and-half year old daughter Lakely.
“It is not easy, Wallace said. “It is a lot of time away from home. It takes a special woman. For half of the year she is basically a single mom.”
“It takes a special person and I was lucky enough to find one to put up with how much I am gone.”
“It helps me being as normal a dad as I can be.”
After years behind the plate, Wallace has grown in his new role. Going into this season, he has posted a 112-102 record as manager at Mahoning Valley and Lake County.
“It is a very satisfiying feeling to see the look in their eyes when they do it right and get it,” Wallace said. “We as a staff do not try to clone everybody into the same player.”
“For me to be a small part of the reason (players moving to potential big league careers) is satisfying for me, absolutely.”
Like his players, Wallace is making the journey up the ladder with a major league career being the dream. His experience as a minor league player has given him perspective on how to get there.
“My long-term goals are definitely to manage in the big leagues one day,” Wallace added. “The way I am going to get there and accomplish that is by focusing on these players every day.”
“I don’t wake up thinking about what I need to do to get closer to the big leagues. We, as a staff, have to think about what we need to do to get these guys closer to the big leagues.”
Photo by Nikolaus © 2013 Carolina Mudcats