Batavia Muckdog Alan Ahmady takes a swing from the on-deck circle as Muckdog Joey Bergman waits for a pitch The hitting coach for Ahmady, Bergman and the rest of the Muckdogs is former major leaguer Roger LaFrancois.
BATAVIA, NY - Boston Red Sox manager Ralph Houk was an old-school manager, Roger LaFrancois recalled recently. He was a manager who started nine, and played nine, hardly using his bench.
It was a managing style that led to LaFrancois getting the distinction of being on Houk's major league roster the entire 1982 season, but only getting 10 at-bats and a single start, that start coming on the final day of the year.
"I didn't say anything," LaFrancois said recently of his time on the bench. "I was just happy to be there. But it led to a lot of good opportunities.
"In a lot of ways, 1982 opened a lot of doors for me," LaFrancois added, "not only playing in the big leagues, but making a career out of coaching."
It was in Boston that LaFrancois got to know Walt Hriniak, Red Sox hitting coach. When Hriniak left for the White Sox in 1989, LaFrancois followed, becoming hitting coach for the White Sox' AAA team in Vancouver, and getting himself in the 1990 CMC set.
LaFrancois is now the hitting coach at short-season Batatia, NY, with the NY-Penn League's Muckdogs. He spoke to The Greatest 21 Days in his Batavia office June 26, before the Muckdogs took on the State College Spikes. A play-by-play of that night's game can be found on the site of The Daily News of Batavia.
The Muckdogs manager, Dann Bilardello, was also a member of the 1990 CMC set, a player on the Buffalo Bisons. Bilardello also spoke with The Greatest 21 Days. His interview was posted earlier.
LaFrancois returned this year to the league he first managed in 22 years earlier in 1988 with the Jamestown Expos, before joining the White Sox system.
In between, he's managed and coached at almost every level of the minors and into the independent leagues.
"It's a little different working with the younger guys as to the older guys," LaFrancois said, "but I enjoy where I'm at."
Older players, LaFrancois said, can be more set in their ways.
"Here, I think you can have a good impact with a first-year player, a first- or second-year player, which will carry on for the rest of his playing career," LaFrancois said.
"In a lot of ways, coaches at lower levels are as valuable, if not more valuable."
Muckdog Victor Sanchez readies on deck as State College Spike Kevin Decker delivers to the plate
LaFrancois comes to Batavia having spent time as hitting coach for the independent Can-Am League's Worcester Tornados. The independent league team allowed the Norwich, Conn., native to spend more time with his high schooler son, and watch him play.
His son is now off to college, leaving LaFrancois free to join the Cardinals at Batavia, a team in the same league as Norwich's new team the Connecticut Tigers. Of course, Connecticut comes to Batavia this year. Batavia doesn't go to Connecticut. "I wish we were going there," LaFrancois said. "But maybe next year."
Being from New England, LaFrancois grew up a Red Sox fan. He recalled the thrill of being drafted by his favorite team in the eighth round of the 1977 draft. He made AAA Pawtucket by 1979 where he would largely stay through 1981.
It was in 1981 that LaFrancois took part in the longest game in professional baseball history, the 33-inning affair that began in April 1981 and didn't end until June. LaFrancois recalled catching in 25 innings of the game.
"My legs still haven't recovered from that game," LaFrancois said.
At the plate, LaFrancois went 2 for 8, almost equaling in one game the number of at bats he would get the entire next year in Boston.
His only start of the year came on the last day of the 1982 season. The Red Sox were playing the Yankees at Yankee Stadium. In the top of the 11th, off lefty Rudy May, LaFrancois singled. He went on to score what would turn out to be the winning run.
"There's nothing like playing at Yankee Stadium, especially that last game of the year, so that was a big thrill for me," LaFrancois said, noting his parents were there to see it.
"I never played in the big leagues after that year, but, again that was a year that I just cherish," LaFrancois added. "One year in the big leagues and I got 10 at-bats. It’s something I’ll take with me for the rest of my life."
LaFrancois and Bilardello in their Dwyer Stadium office