FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Sleeping on a sportswriter's floor in Florida does not qualify as a ballplayer's preferred accommodations. Can you imagine any Red Sox player today grabbing some rug space at Shaughnessy's?
Then again, if you wanted to make it to the big leagues as badly as Dave Wallace did, you do whatever it takes. As pitching coach of the Red Sox, he's living on a golf course this spring, but back when he was a kid from Connecticut trying to make it with the Phillies, Wallace settled for much humbler surroundings.
Greg "Goose" Gregson, who was Wallace's teammate then and is the Sox' roving minor league pitching instructor today, tells the story.
"Dave was from cold country," Gregson said of his longtime friend, "and he and I wanted to get down to spring training a week, week and a half early, to adjust to the heat. The Phillies had a unique running program then, and you had to be ready for it. So we used to stay with Frank Dolson, the baseball writer for the Philadelphia Inquirer, and sleep on his floor. We'd get up early and run every morning."
Dolson, typical of the members of his noble profession, may not have had a pullout sofa for the aspiring pitchers, but Gregson says he treated them to meals at some of Clearwater's finest establishments. It's debatable how much Wallace's sacrifice helped him in his goal of making the big leagues -- in a time before six-year minor league free agency gave fringe pitchers the chance to shop their services elsewhere, Wallace appeared in a total of 13 big league games and finished with an 0-1 record and 7.84 ERA. But that didn't hurt him in spending the next 30 years in baseball.
Dick Teed deserves some credit, too. Folks in Connecticut know Teed as a longtime scout, and it was Teed, then scouting for the Phillies, who signed the former University of New Haven star to a contract after watching him pitch in a semipro game, when Wallace thought he was headed to a career as a schoolteacher. And Teed was scouting for the Dodgers and former Phillies manager Danny Ozark was a Dodgers coach when both men recommended Wallace as a minor league pitching instructor in 1981.
Wallace spent the next 17 years working for the Dodgers, and it was time well-spent. He was mentored by and became friends with people like Ron Perranoski, Johnny Podres and Sandy Koufax, the Hall of Famer who probably would be making an appearance here this spring if he hadn't torn a muscle playing basketball a few weeks ago. Wallace helped in the development of pitchers like Orel Hershiser, Alejandro Pena and Ramon Martinez, and when he became the Dodgers' big league pitching coach for three seasons (1995 to '97), the Dodgers led the majors in ERA once and finished second twice.
Wallace left the Dodgers to join the Mets front office as an assistant to general manager Steve Phillips, then put the uniform back on and was pitching coach when the Mets went to the World Series in 2000. He returned to the Dodgers as an assistant to GM Kevin Malone and became interim GM when Malone was fired. During his time back with LA, he was the one who suggested that a French-Canadian kid named Eric Gagne might make the club as a closer. Gagne saved 55 games for the Dodgers last season.
Wallace came to the Red Sox in midseason last year after pitching coach Tony Cloninger was diagnosed with bladder cancer. When Grady Little wasn't brought back as manager, Wallace became pitching coach, with Cloninger -- who says he is in good health but is still undergoing chemotherapy -- retained as a senior adviser. At 57, the kid from Waterbury, Conn., who had a 24-6 record at the University of New Haven and helped pitch the school into the NAIA playoffs, has made it back home.
It was through Ramon Martinez that Wallace first met Pedro Martinez, who was by Wallace's recollection only 15 or 16 at the time.
"To this day, he's like a son, though he's got kids of his own," Wallace says of Ramon Martinez, whom he first met around the time Martinez pitched for the Dominican Republic in the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.
"I know there were a number of Dominican players before Ramon -- people talk about Rico Carty and other guys -- but to me, Ramon Martinez served as a model for class and dignity for so many Dominican players, clubhouse guys, people in general."
Ramon Martinez was the quiet one of the brothers. "Much more sensitive, much more cordial," Wallace said.
Pedro? "He respects Ramon," Wallace said, "but their personalities are different. He's cocky, but you've got to be cocky to be good."
The care and maintenance of Pedro Martinez will be a big part of Wallace's job. "There's a lot of pressure on him this season," said Wallace, mindful of how Martinez is in his walk year contractually. The Sox may not face a tougher decision than whether to retain Martinez, whose brilliance is unquestioned but at age 32 and after 2,000 major league innings usually must call it a night after 100-105 pitches. The expectation is they will try to re-sign him, but whether they will make an offer that will satisfy Martinez in terms of dollars and length of contract remains to be seen.
Wallace also is becoming acquainted with Curt Schilling, whose outspokenness, he believes, may be a welcome asset in the Sox clubhouse.
"The bottom line is he genuinely likes the game," Wallace said. "He's a historian, and isn't there a need for a guy like that who can take all the flak in Boston?"
Wallace never has worked with new manager Terry Francona, but neither man anticipates it will be an issue.
"We're here early every morning," Francona said. "We talk as much as we need to, and we'll probably talk a lot more as we get in these games. I'll know every day who's pitching, how many pitches they're throwing, what we're expecting from every pitcher, and so will our catchers."
Wallace said both men did their homework. "I'm sure he made 100 calls to people about me, and I talked to 100 people about him," he said.
Ramon Martinez, who spent some time last winter in the Dominican working as a pitching coach and is someone Wallace would like to see land a job with the Sox (Wallace is still bitter that the Dodgers released Martinez for financial reasons three years ago in camp), once said this about Wallace:
"He's the guy who's always fighting for us. He's the guy who never gives up on us. He's always pumping us up, motivating us. He's everything."
Gregson, who was reunited with his friend when Wallace hired him to a Dodger job in '88 and is reunited here again, said this is what Sox pitchers can expect:
"Hands down, Wally always has been a guy who takes a lot of pride in developing rapport with these guys," he said. "They trust him. He keeps it as simple as possible. It only takes 5 or 10 minutes to feel comfortable with him."
And no one will be asked to sleep on a sportswriter's floor.