FORT MYERS, Fla. — “Red Sox pitching coach” seems an inadequate title for Dana LeVangie. An alternate suggestion?
“The heart and soul of our staff,” offered starter Rick Porcello.
Porcello isn’t alone in such accolades. Query any Red Sox pitcher about LeVangie and you’ll encounter either endless praise for the 49-year-old or muted vexation by someone who believes that no words can accurately capture what he means to the club. Such reactions are a testimony to a person who is incredibly invested in the Red Sox organization.
The Whitman-Hanson alum is entering his 29th year in the Red Sox organization, a tenure in which he’s been a minor league catcher, bullpen catcher, pro scout, advance scout, bullpen coach, interim bench coach, and now pitching coach. He’s entering his seventh season on the big league coaching staff — according to colleague Peter Abraham, the longest such run by any Red Sox coach this century — and his second as pitching coach.
That LeVangie is the pitching coach at all speaks to how strongly the Red Sox staff feels about him. When manager Alex Cora assembled his staff in late 2017, he offered LeVangie the job of bench coach; LeVangie declined the promotion, believing that he could make a greater impact by working with pitchers in his role as bullpen coach. But as the Sox started to consider who they might select as pitching coach, the team’s hurlers weren’t shy about sharing their feelings.
“All the pitchers vouched for him and wanted him as pitching coach,” said David Price.
“Everybody was like, ‘We need this guy as a pitching coach,’ ” agreed Heath Hembree. “We knew him being a bullpen coach was limiting what he could possibly have his hands on and who would benefit from it if he could have his hands on more.”
“[Before he was hired as pitching coach] a lot of us were upset he was in the bullpen because he’s such an asset and resource to the entire pitching staff and coaching staff. We wanted him in the dugout,” concurred Porcello. “And now he is. It’s awesome. He’s a pretty special guy. He doesn’t get enough credit for the amount of work he’s done last offseason, and this offseason coming into this year.”
LeVangie is atypical, the only pitching coach in the big leagues whose playing background was not as a pitcher. Yet the perspective he gained behind the plate in the minors and then game-planning for opponents as a major league advance scout allows him to see the game in remarkable ways.
“His understanding of the game, how to attack hitters, is second to none,” said Matt Barnes. “He knows everybody from every team that’s ever played. It’s unbelievable.”
Pitchers rave in equal measure about LeVangie’s ability to dissect the weaknesses of opponents and to identify potential subtle tweaks on the mound to help transform struggles into successes. Price noted that LeVangie, when considering changes, doesn’t just offer one suggestion but several — and it’s worth noting that Price and Nathan Eovaldi achieved midyear breakthroughs when implementing a handful of changes to their pitch mixes and mechanics.
Yet even those skills fail to capture the impact of the pitching coach as a leader and tone-setter for his group. LeVangie, described by one pitcher as a “bad [expletive] in the best way possible,” is a competitive furnace who doesn’t back down from a challenge.
Example: Before the ALDS against the Yankees, when Red Sox pitchers assembled for their typical pre-series session, LeVangie chucked the script. Instead of detailing the hot and cold zones of New York’s lineup — well known by that point to Sox pitchers — LeVangie had video scouting assistant J.T. Watkins prepare a video, initially with a succession of headlines about how the Red Sox bullpen represented the team’s weak link. And then . . .
“It was probably a 10-minute clip of everybody on our staff punching [Yankees hitters] out. And he basically was like, ‘You guys just saw it. You’re more than [expletive] good enough to dominate these guys. So let’s go out there and do it. Enjoy every moment of it, trust your stuff, you just saw you have good enough stuff to do it, and that’s it.’ That was the meeting,” said Porcello, who credited his own roaring entry into the eighth inning of Game 1 to the emotional pitch set by his coach. “Off of that one meeting, the momentum of the staff continued to build and carried us through the entire postseason . . . That doesn’t work unless we absolutely trust him, unless we feel the way we do about him.”
It wasn’t the first time that LeVangie had channeled the emotion of the moment. In the ninth inning of Game 5 of the 2004 ALCS against the Yankees, LeVangie — then a bullpen catcher — called down to Terry Francona in the dugout and told the manager to send starters Curt Schilling, Derek Lowe, and Tim Wakefield to walk from the dugout to the bullpen. The crowd erupted, and remained full-throated into the Red Sox’ second straight landmark, extra-inning victory.
On one hand, it’s remarkable that a bullpen catcher could steer the emotions of more than 35,000 fans at Fenway. Yet to the members of the Red Sox who work most closely with him, the idea of LeVangie making an impact that far exceeds the norm for his role is not shocking.
“He’s an emotional leader. He’s an intellectual leader. He’ll do anything for you,” said Porcello. “As far as coaches go, you think back to your days in school, a teacher you loved, he checks every box that makes a person memorable and special to you.”
How does LeVangie feel about such praise? It’s hard to say. On Saturday, he was unavailable to talk, immersed in the work that he believes will help produce wins come March 28.