Ask Dave Wallace about his favorite memories while playing in Akron as a catcher for the then-Double-A Aeros, and the best times have to do with the relationships formed in the clubhouse before and after games as well as during long bus rides on road trips.
“As good as the on-field memories are, the things I remember the most have to do with the relationships I developed with my teammates and coaches who were here when I played here,” Wallace said. “So, it’s very cool to come back. There’s a lot of familiarity, but at the same time a lot of changes.”
On the field at Canal Park, Wallace, the new manager of the RubberDucks, remembers details from some of his teammates’ big games more so than his own.
“I remember Asdrubal [Cabrera] hitting a walk-off home run to the right-field bleachers,” he said. “I mean, it was a shot. I remember catching a game that Nick Pesco came up and started and threw like a one- or two-hitter and really pitched well.”
Pressed to come up with something a little more personal, Wallace smiled wide.
“Pizza,” he said. “My wife, Lauren, used to go get us Luigi’s pizza, walk over to the bullpen and just drop it down to us. Then we’d go sneak behind the wall to eat it during the game.”
Wallace, 34, got a chuckle out of the memory that had been tucked away for many years.
A non-drafted free agent out of Vanderbilt, Wallace played for the Indians’ organization for six of his seven pro seasons. He hit .223 with 45 home runs and 180 RBI in 486 minor-league games, reaching as high as the Triple-A level.
“My worst memory here is easy to remember,” Wallace volunteered without being prompted. “It was 2006 and we were playing at Portland. It was Game 5 of the Eastern League championship series and we were supposed to start our ace, pitcher Adam Miller. But John Farrell [the former Indians farm director and current Boston Red Sox manager], pulled him at the last minute because of his innings [total].
“When you talk to those guys on that Portland team, they still say that once they found out [Miller wasn’t starting], they knew they won. And honestly, when we found it out we knew we’d lost. That was not fun. I always tell [Farrell] I’ll never forgive him for that, and I give him grief for it every time I see him.”
Wallace had plenty of opportunity over the years to tease Farrell about costing him an Aeros championship ring. Upon retiring from playing, his promotion to the big leagues came when he spent two seasons (2009-10) as the Indians’ bullpen catcher.
“I was fortunate enough to spend two seasons in the big leagues with two different type of managers,” Wallace said. “In 2009 I was the bullpen catcher and an assistant to Eric Wedge. Then in 2010, I did it under Manny Acta. Two contrasting styles, but both seasons were great experiences. I was able to see the coaching side of the game, how decisions were made, why they were made, all the preparation it took for practices and games and how certain players were handled.”
After two years of living the big-league life, Wallace was ready to head back to the minors for more long bus rides, beginning his coaching career four years ago at short-season Mahoning Valley in 2011.
The following season Wallace (who is 169-185 as a manager) moved up to low Class-A Lake County and led the Captains to a second-half division title that landed the team in the Midwest League playoffs.
Wallace continued to move up the ladder last season as manager of the high Class-A Carolina Mudcats, where he mentored a handful of players, including shortstop Francisco Lindor, the Indians’ top prospect who will start the season with him again this year in Akron.
Wallace has taken something away from every manager he’s ever had or worked with, but the one who had the most impact on him continues to be Torey Lovullo, who now serves as Farrell’s bench coach with the Red Sox.
“He not only invested time in me as a player, but also a person and I always appreciated that,” said Wallace, who still has a close relationship with Lovullo. “In these last three, four years as a manager, he’s definitely someone I try to emulate in the way I handle the clubhouse, handle each individual and how I manage the games.”
Back at Canal Park where Lovullo was his manager for part of the 2005 season and led the Aeros to the Eastern League Championship, Wallace is reminded even more of the impact his time in Akron shaped his career. So much so, he made it part of his first speech to his Double-A players Monday.
“I brought the whole front office down to the clubhouse [Monday] so everyone had a chance to meet the team and coaches,” RubberDucks General Manager Jim Pfander said. “During that time, Dave addressed the team and told them, ‘I played here in 2006 … this is part of paying your dues at the minor-league level. It’s about being a part of the community, about being here for kids to sign autographs.’ So, he was able to draw upon his experience as a former player here to be able to tell the guys what to expect. I thought that was really neat. He’s been here and done it.”
Stephanie Storm can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Indians blog at www.ohio.com/indians. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/SStormABJ and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/sports.abj.