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Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Interview Part 3: Mike Lumley, That Avenue

London Badgers coach applauds a Badger hit at the Ontario Summer Games in Windsor, Ont., in August 2014. (G21D Photo)
Part 1: Little Details | Part 2: Familiar Surroundings
Part 3: That Avenue

By the time Mike Lumley's playing career was over, he had six seasons in.

But Lumley didn't want to leave the game. Soon, he found himself coaching youth in his hometown of London. He also found himself coaching in college.

"A lot of it was because I enjoyed pro ball so much, and the life that I got through college and pro," Lumley told The Greatest 21 Days in August, "that I wanted to make sure anybody who had that feeling, wanted it or looked at it, that I could give them that avenue to get to that point."

He's been with the London Badgers youth team and coach with the University of Western Ontario since 1997. With the Badgers, he's chairperson and director of player/coach development.

As a player, Lumley spent those six seasons in the Tigers system. He made the club's 40-man roster. He also made AAA. He never made Detroit.
London Badgers coach talks with his runner during an August 2014 game at Windsor. (G21D Photo)
Lumley spoke to The Greatest 21 Days in August as his London Badgers 15U team competed in the Ontario Summer Games in Windsor.

Lumley's playing career began after he first went to a tryout in Windsor, Ont. Then, through that tryout, found Eastern Michigan University and the Detroit Tigers.

His playing career finally came to an end due to an arm injury he suffered in winter ball.

Lumley career began in 1988. He first made AA in 1990. In 1992, playing at home at AA London, Lumley turned in a 2.52 ERA over 55 outings.

He also made the Tigers' winter 40-man roster.

"That's a huge thing. How many guys go through pro ball and never ever make it to a 40-man roster?" Lumley said. "They're out their first or second year. That's a huge accomplishment."

That same winter, Lumley got to play winter ball in Mexico. He then hurt his shoulder.

Lumley recalled asking to go home due to shoulder problems. For some reason, he wasn't allowed to go.
A London Badgers 15U pitcher delivers to the plate in an August 2014 game at Windsor. (G21D Photo)
"By the time spring training came around, I couldn't throw," Lumley said.

"Mexico was good for me, I loved it. It was awesome," Lumley said. "It probably put me over the edge on the 40-man at that point because I was pitching extremely well down there. But I just think it broke me down."

He ended up having shoulder surgery. When he came back, he returned to AAA London. He also got six outings, two starts, at AAA Toledo.

But he was different. His 2.52 ERA from the year before turned into a 5.03 ERA in 1993.

"I came back and I just didn't have the same feel for the zone, I didn't have the strength," Lumley said.

He was still throwing 90, but his control wasn't there. There was also nothing really invested in him.

With that, he had to move on.
Mike Lumley's 15U London Badgers team in August 2014 at Windsor. (G21D Photo)
"It was hard," Lumley said, "because I had a young family at that point. In my mind at that point  I said 'you know what? I don't feel I'm going to move on and move up. It's better to get with my family and start working or whatever I had to do at that point and I just started getting involved in baseball in the city."

In the city, London, Lumley settled in with Western and with the Badgers. 

The philosophy of both, Lumley said, is they hope that's the best baseball the players play, unless they go on to the next levels.

And he's had several go on to higher levels. Major leaguers Adam Stern, Chris Robinson and Jamie Romak played for the London Badgers. Brock Kjeldgaard, a veteran of nine minor league seasons, also played for the Badgers.

As for his own playing history, Lumley said he really doesn't talk about unless his players ask him.

"Quite honestly, my feeling is really I want to make everything about them," Lumley said, "and what they're doing now. Not about what I did when I played.

"I'm 47 now and it doesn't really matter much," Lumley added. "It more matters to me what do I do now in coaching, my integrity my coaching philosophy is more important than what I used to do. Those are the kinds of things that I want to instill in our guys."
London Badgers coach Mike Lumley applauds his team's effort in August 2014 at Windsor. (G21D Photo)
There's also the other side of the game, the youth game, Lumley said. That's the experiences.

It's giving his players the opportunity to play in summer games, championships and travel. He's taken teams to Cuba to play, but also to learn about the culture.

Learning and experiences often trump the games themselves, he said.

"Because who cares about the game, right?" Lumley said. "It's all the stuff around the game that makes everything more important."

The facilities his players play at, the people they meet, those will be more memorable than the batters they struck out or the big plays they made.

His 15U Ontario Summer Games players, he said, likely would talk more about playing laser tag against the fencing team than what they did on the field.

"For me, that's what kept me in the game," Lumley said, "going to ballparks, meeting people, all the atmosphere around the game. The people you can pull the love of the game toward them and say 'oh my God, what a passion, what a love,' right?"

Part 1: Little Details | Part 2: Familiar Surroundings
Part 3: That Avenue

Further Reading:
London Tiger interview: John Toale, Promise to Parents
1990 London Tigers: 21 features
Labatt Park: Photos

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