Pawtucket Red Sox catcher Ryan Lavarnway made a name for himself in 2011, putting up big numbers between Portland and Pawtucket, earning him a big league call-up where he hit 2 home runs and had 8 RBIs in 17 games. With Boston’s catching situation settled for the time being, Lavarnway is biding his time with the PawSox as their number one option behind the dish. We recently had a chance to sit down and spend ten minutes with Ryan and here is what came of it.
You were a philosophy major at Yale. Is there anything that you learned in the classroom that you take with you into games and use to your advantage?
“I don’t know how much philosophy I bring to the field per se. People always ask “what exactly is studying philosophy” and I didn’t really know myself when I first decided to declare that as my major. The way it was explained to me is that it is “the critical analysis of arguments”. It’s really logic based and rational, that’s what I like about it.”
Do you use any of that analysis in your arguments with umpires?
“I don’t know how rational those arguments are, more than heated. I’ve always kind of been a logical guy.
Earlier in the season you caught for Ross Ohlendorf (who recently opted out of his minor league contract with the Red Sox and signed a one year deal with the San Diego Padres) who is a Princeton guy. Do you feel that the two of you formed the smartest battery of all time?
(laughs) “I don’t want to toot my horn, or his. He was a real cerebral guy, the most cerebral pitcher I’ve ever caught and we had a good time together. We had some good natured ribbing going back and forth. He was great.”
ON THE DRAFT
With the Major League Baseball entry draft having just been conducted, what are your draft day memories?
“We were looking at maybe getting taken in the third round. They did the first six rounds on TV that year and I knew I wasn’t going to be in the first round, so I went and rented a movie once the draft started. I don’t remember what it was and I didn’t actually watch it, I just kind of stared at the screen.
"Then the third round came around and I started watching it on the internet and listening on XM Radio. Third round came and went. Fourth round came and went. Fifth round came and went. And then I was the last pick of the first day because the Red Sox won the World Series the year before (Ryan was taken with the 202nd pick in the 6th round of the 2008 entry draft). Then on MLB.com it said “From Tim Beckham to Ryan Lavarnway: All the picks.” So that was pretty cool. I don’t know if I would have slept much if I had to wait until the next day.
"I went in the back yard; I turned my phone off and kind of let it sink in for a while before I started answering phone calls.”
ON HIS GAME
You’ve had the opportunity to catch many pitchers with extensive big league experience (Daisuke Matsuzaka, Aaron Cook, Rich Hill, etc.), how has that helped in your development?
“It’s been good to learn different ways of attacking different hitters from different guys. It really opened my eyes to the fact that there really is no clear cut way to pitching a guy. Depending on who is on the mound, if that guy has different stuff or it’s working differently that day, you have to adjust and work on the fly. As much as you have a game plan going in, you have to be able to adapt to what the situation is on a given night.”
This season you are throwing out would-be base stealers 36% of the time. What do you do to work on this aspect of the game and how to you get better at it?
“It’s something that happens very quickly, but just as with everything else, you break it down into smaller parts and slow it down in practice. You do it a hundred-million times until it’s second nature. The pitchers here have done a great job at giving me a chance, so I appreciate what they’ve done. The biggest thing is making a strong, accurate throw. If you don’t make a good throw, no one is going to be out.”
The power numbers are not where they were a year ago, but all else seems to be working for you at the plate. Is this something that concerns you or that you try to improve upon?
“It’ll come. It’s still pretty early in the year and the weather hasn’t really warmed up around here. I had a slow start last year and when the weather warmed up, the power numbers warmed up too. I’m not worried about it. I’m swinging the bat well and probably hitting the ball harder than those numbers might necessarily indicate.”
MAKING THE BIGS
You got your first taste of the big leagues last season, so how hungry are you to get back?
“Playing for the Boston Red Sox was one of the few things in my life that I can say I had extremely high expectations for and it still exceeded my expectations. It was one of the best experiences that I can ever imagine, short of personal experience. I want to be back and I’m doing what I can to put myself in a position to be there.”
You went to college in Connecticut, played in the NECBL in Manchester, New Hampshire, have played for the Red Sox in Lowell, Portland and Pawtucket, as well as Boston itself. Do you now consider the New England region your home?
“My family is [in California] and the property that I own is there, but that’s about it. I finally, officially changed my permanent address out of California this year. I’ve kind of considered for a while that where my home is, is where my heart is and I just recently got engaged and she is here with me and we’ve built a little life for ourselves. So wherever we go, that’s kind of where we call home.”
Baseball idol – “I always loved watching Ken Griffey, Jr. hit. It was a thing of beauty.”
Nicknames – “In college they called me Elway, here I am referred to as Varney. One time a fan thought they were calling me Barney and I got looked at kind of funny.”
Reason for wearing No. 36 – “Not at all actually.”
Superstitions – “If a black cat walks in front of me I will go out of my way to avoid him and I will not walk under a ladder, ever.”
Pre-game rituals – “There’s a lot of routine involved, but I don’t know if you want to call it a ritual.”
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