David Lough spent the past six winters in a variety of ways and places.
As a minor-leaguer, he honed his baseball skills in the Arizona desert, putting in extra time in the gym conditioning and in batting cages in an effort to reach his goal of playing in the majors.
Other winters were spent in Erie, Pa., at Mercyhurst College, where Lough worked to complete the requirements for his sports business degree.
“My parents [Denny and Denise Lough] always wanted me to get my degree,” he said. “The way sports are, you’ve always got to kind of have a backup plan in place. Especially in baseball, where job security is tough.”
And he’ll never forget the winter when he spent the holidays out of the country, playing in the Dominican Republic.
“Now that,” said Lough, “was one heck of an experience.”
But this offseason, the former four-sport Green High School standout is enjoying the spoils of being a full-time major-leaguer for the first time. After seven seasons in the minors and a brief call-up to the Kansas City Royals in 2012, Lough spent a majority of last season with the Royals.
With the 2014 season approaching, Lough finds himself with a rare opportunity to spend quality time home in the Akron area with family and friends. Although Lough, an outfielder, has relaxed “a little,” he’s maintained a staunch workout routine and didn’t dare veer from the strict diet that keeps him in top baseball shape.
“I didn’t even eat a single Christmas cookie,” Lough said, with pride and perhaps a hint of awe.
Odds are a little indulgence wouldn’t have hurt. Even while away from the game, Lough puts in two hours at a North Canton gym six days a week in preparation for another season that will bring a new kind of adventure.
In a little over a month, Lough, who turns 28 on Jan. 20, will head to spring training in Sarasota, Fla., where he’ll continue his career with the Baltimore Orioles.
The Royals, who drafted Lough in the 11th round of the 2007 draft, traded him to the Orioles in exchange for infielder/designated hitter Danny Valencia on Dec. 18.
In his first extended stay in the major leagues last season, Lough hit .286 with 17 doubles, four triples, five home runs, 33 RBI and 35 runs scored in 96 games. He also showcased his defensive versatility by playing all over the outfield, mostly in right.
“We’ve been working on this [trade] for a while,” Orioles Executive Vice President Dan Duquette told reporters during baseball’s annual Winter Meetings. “Lough had a good year this year. He got some votes for Rookie of the Year. He can play all three outfield positions. He’s a good hitter, he’s got good speed and he’s a good defender.”
Lough was originally caught off guard by the interest he garnered this offseason, but came to understand why the trade made sense for both teams.
“Once the winter started, my agent contacted me to let me know there were some teams interested in me,” he said. “What it seemed like Kansas City was trying to do was pick up a right fielder who could lead off for them and move [third baseman/outfielder] Alex Gordon back into the infield. The type of game I have, I’m not a prototypical right fielder.”
A gap-to-gap, line-drive hitter, Lough believes he’s best suited as a left fielder who gets on base and can go from second to home on most hits. He’s dedicated this offseason to work on his base-stealing skills.
“I don’t provide a lot of power, which is what [the Royals] wanted by moving Gordon back [to the infield],” Lough said. “So, KC was able to address its need. Baltimore, which had strong interest in me, was as well.”
After losing Gold Glove free-agent left fielder Nate McLouth to the Washington Nationals, the Orioles addressed the void of a left-handed hitting outfielder by acquiring Lough, whom Duquette believes can be an everyday player.
Lough joins a mix in left field that includes Nolan Reimold, Steven Pearce and newcomer Francisco Peguero.
“I didn’t necessarily want to be traded, but for my career, I think it’s a good move for me,” Lough said. “In Baltimore, left field is open for grabs for the most part. So I’m excited to go there and compete. The way I look at it, it’s an opportunity to keep playing baseball.”
As accomplished as Lough has become, few recognize him while he’s out and about in the Akron area.
“Other than my family, friends and their families — and maybe the people at the gym where I work out — nobody really recognizes me,” Lough said. “But that’s fine by me. I’m not one of those guys who needs to be in the spotlight all the time. I like to get away from that kind of stuff.”
Even when he does, Lough does so appropriately — in the spirit of sport.
“I’m an outdoors kind of guy, so I go sit in a tree stand and hunt deer,” said Lough, who grew up an Indians, Browns and Cavs fan. “My aunt owns a couple acres out by the Akron-Canton Airport. It’s a good way to disengage a bit and just relax.
“This time home has really been nice. Even though we played in Cleveland last year, I still couldn’t make it back home to see a lot of the people I wanted to see in family and friends. Even when you play near your hometown, it’s such a juggling act figuring out who to hang out with the little you have away from the field.”
Stephanie Storm can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Kent State blog at http://www.ohio.com/flashes. Follow her on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/SStormABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.