Sunday, December 29, 2013

Interview Part 2: Dave McAuliffe, His Stuff

1990 Midwest League All-Stars. From left: Victor Garcia, Eddie Taubensee, Mo Sanford, Dave "Killer" McAuliffe, Reggie Sanders and Mike Mulvaney. (Photo Provided)
Part 1: Good Shot | Part 2: His Stuff | Part 3: Other Shoe

Going into that mid-August game at Salt Lake City, Dave McAuliffe had had an up and down month and the former Division II player started having doubts about his pitching.

So, McAuliffe turned to his pitching coach, Gerry Groninger: What did McAuliffe have to do to be successful?

"He just said, 'You know what? Start trusting in yourself and start believing in your stuff,'" McAuliffe recalled to The Greatest 21 Days recently. "And it was as simple as that."

Then the reliever went out did just that, shutting down Salt Lake over six relief innings.

"I knew from that point on that I should never doubt myself ever again," McAuliffe said. "That's kind of where the switch came for me, where I didn't doubt myself anymore."

Soon, McAuliffe was a closer. Over the next two seasons, McAuliffe trusted his stuff to sub-2 ERAs while recording more than 50 saves, as well as single-A All-Star nods. He eventually made AA Chattanooga, but that's where his stuff ran out.

McAuliffe spoke with The Greatest 21 Days recently by phone from his New Jersey home. He spoke of his time growing up and playing the game in Connecticut, his relatively late dream of turning pro, and his run to the Reds organization.
The former Pete Vonachen Stadium in Peoria, Ill., in 2011. Dave McAuliffe played at Pete Vonachen in 1990 with the Cedar Rapids Reds. (G21D Photo)
McAuliffe then covered his time in the minors, from his early struggles in rookie ball, with that frank talk from Groninger snapping him out of it, to later success as a closer at single-A, and then finally his renewed struggles at AA, his eventual release and progression to life after the pros.

McAuliffe turned pro in 1988 from the Division II University of New Haven, signing with the Reds out of a tryout. His first assignment was the rookie Pioneer League's Billings Mustangs.

Flying out to Billings, McAuliffe recalled wondering what he had got himself into. It was that self doubt that Groninger would correct later.

"I'm just sitting there thinking to myself 'How am I going to compete against these guys? These D-1 players?'" McAuliffe said.

But McAuliffe wasn't alone. There were two other players there from a D-2 school, Doug Bond and Brian Landy, both from Quinnipiac College. McAuliffe played against both and they became roommates. There was also Reggie Sanders.

There was also the aspects of rookie ball in the Pioneer League, the bus rides.
FirstEnergy Park in Lakewood, NJ, in 2009. Dave McAuliffe played in the South Atlantic League with Greensboro in 1989. McAuliffe also settled in New Jersey after his playing days. (G21D Photo)
"That was a real learning experience, those bus rides," McAuliffe said. "Particularly the one from Billings to Salt Lake City. That was quite the trip."

McAuliffe soon settled in, still having those ups and downs. One of those down nights came against Billings rival Great Falls.

That night, McAuliffe recalled, he gave up a monster home run, one that hit a wire going between two telephone poles in the outfield. "If it didn't hit that wire, it'd probably still be going right now," McAuliffe said. "That's how hard this guy hit it."

In the stands to see that monster shot McAuliffe gave up was Reds roving minor league pitching instructor Larry Rothschild, McAuliffe recalled.

Sitting in front of his locker the next day, McAuliffe got a message from the clubhouse attendant: The manager wanted to see McAuliffe in his office. McAuliffe thought the worst.

"As a non-drafted free agent, you're always worried about getting a tap on the shoulder," McAuliffe said.

McAuliffe went and it wasn't that at all. There was his manager, pitching coach and Rothschild. Rothschild was inviting McAuliffe to the fall instructional league in Florida. McAuliffe's plans to go back to school to finish his degree would have to wait and McAuliffe was fine with that.
The former Thomas J. White Stadium in St. Lucie, Fla., in 2011. Dave McAuliffe played in fall instructional league for the Reds in Florida in 1988. (G21D Photo)
That fall in instructional league was also when McAuliffe made the switch to closer and McAuliffe recalled really gravitating to his new role. Without that move, McAuliffe said he wasn't sure if he would have made it as far as he did.

It was a role that McAuliffe loved and excelled at.

By then, McAuliffe also had a nickname, one that went with his new role. His catcher at Billings and at single-A Greensboro was Glenn Sutko. With McAuliffe in a Whitey Herzog flat top and his hat pulled low, Sutko dubbed McAuliffe "Killer."

At Greensboro, McAuliffe took off. He nearly went the first half of the season without giving up an earned run, he recalled. He ended the season with 50 total outings, a 1.39 ERA and 28 saves, setting the club record for saves. It was also best in the organization for the year.

With his first-half performance, McAuliffe made the South Atlantic League All-Star Team. Helping warm McAuliffe up in the bullpen as his catcher, McAuliffe recalled, was a young Pudge Rodriguez.

For 1990, McAuliffe moved to single-A Cedar Rapids. And he had another good year. This time, he saved 26 games over 41 outings, winning the league Rolaids Relief Man award. His 26 saves there was also a club record, and again an organizational best.

McAuliffe also ended with a 1.97 ERA, and another All-Star appearance, with five other Cedar Rapids players, including Sanders.

After that season, McAuliffe again played off-season ball, heading south to do it. This time, his destination was Australia. From there, he took the next step, to AA Chattanooga, what ended up being his final season as a pro.

Go to Part 3: Dave McAuliffe, Other Shoe

Part 1: Good Shot | Part 2: His Stuff | Part 3: Other Shoe

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