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Father's Day comes late for Lovullo

Torey Lovullo said it was one of those "golden moments" in a father-son relationship. Late Thursday night, Lovullo was watching "Baseball Tonight" with his 13-year-old son, Nick, when Peter Gammons came on to discuss possible candidates for the Baltimore Orioles managing job.

Gammons recited the litany of former managers: Dusty Baker, Don Baylor, Davey Johnson, Tom Kelly. Then, having exhausted the big names, Gammons began gushing about a minor-league dark horse -- Buffalo's Torey Lovullo. Nick, who was close to dozing off, bolted up in astonishment. "Oh my God, Dad! No way."

Nick knew his father had played in the majors and was a good minor-league manager. But this was different. This was Peter Gammons, on a national telecast, on ESPN! Like any teenager, his main concern was that his parents not embarrass him in front of his friends. Turns out his dad was cooler than he thought.

"Obviously, I was very happy to be mentioned," Lovullo said Sunday before the Bisons' game against Norfolk. "But it meant so much more to my son. I was really, really proud at that moment because I made him proud. In his eyes, it validated that I was pretty good."

Gammons doesn't float a minor-league manager for a big job unless he's highly regarded in baseball circles. Lovullo has validated himself at every level of the Indians organization. He was Carolina League manager of the year at Kinston in 2004. He was the Eastern League manager of the year a year later.

Still, Lovullo feels he has unfinished business in Buffalo. Though he led the Bisons to a winning record last season, they missed the playoffs. Lovullo won titles as a player here. He understands the winning culture. So in his mind, last season was a failure.

"There was some embarrassment for me," Lovullo said. "I know we had a winning record and sent some players to the big leagues. But in Buffalo, the Bisons are expected to go to the playoffs every single year. After missing last year, there's added pressure this year."

As of Sunday, the Bisons had been in first place in the IL North for 51 straight days. Lovullo, 41, says he's improved as a manager in two vital areas: handling the pitching staff and dealing with veterans. Lovullo was self-motivated as a minor-league veteran, and he made the mistake of keeping his distance from those players a year ago.

"Last year, I neglected the veteran six-year free agent, the former big leaguer hoping to get back up," Lovullo said. "So I became known as a prospect manager who only dealt with the younger players. I quickly discovered that every player, no matter who they are or what their status is, wants to be wanted and appreciated."

Lovullo also made an effort to understand the game from the pitchers' point of view. As a former position player, he saw things from a hitter's standpoint. He said Scott Radinsky, his new pitching coach, has given him a fresh perspective into the pitcher's psyche. Radinsky said Lovullo has the humility to ask questions and learn. He's also a great communicator who can relate to his players.

"He gets it," Radinsky said. "He relates to their generation. There's no doubt he's a players' guy. The door is open. Guys can come in here and talk about anything with him. They know he's got their back."
"Any time your name is mentioned in those circles, it's very flattering," Lovullo said. "It validates what you're trying to do as a manager. But in this game, you can't be distracted by what-ifs."

For now, it's enough to have one of the best minor-league jobs in the sport. That, and having a teenaged son who thinks his dad is actually a pretty cool guy.

e-mail: jsullivan@buffnews.com

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