Forever A Yankee
It was an early June day in 1987 and University of South Florida pitcher Dave Eiland, preparing for his senior year, was apartment hunting in Tampa. He swung by his parents' house in Zephyrhills, just in time for a life-changing telephone call. The New York Yankees had drafted him in the seventh round. "Never did get that apartment," Eiland said with a laugh. But he found a home, one that still exists all these years later.Eiland made it to the big leagues with the Yankees - and later with the San Diego Padres and Tampa Bay Devil Rays - and lasted 10 seasons until his retirement in 2002. He was a grinder, a studious guy always searching for an edge. When his career was short-circuited by two Tommy John surgeries, Eiland knew he wanted to stay in the game. He knew, most of all, he was a Yankee. "So I guess I've got my dream job in the place I always wanted to be," said Eiland, a 1984 graduate of Zephyrhills High, a baseball and football player who is still considered one of the area's top prep athletes. "I've always considered myself a Yankee. I know how it's done here, what the expectations are like. It's a special place." Eiland, 43, is in his second season as the Yankees' pitching coach. After spending five years in the Yankees' minor-league organization, working his way up the chain as pitching coach from Single-A to Triple-A, he was hired by New York manager Joe Girardi. And now, with the Yankees leading the American League East, things have never been better for Eiland. "I love Dave's work ethic," Girardi said. "He's tireless. He's always trying to make all of our guys better and spends a lot of hours at the ballpark. I think he can relate to a lot of these guys. As a player, he had to work his tail off and it never came easy. He had injuries, he went through rehab and he knows the emotions of having ups and downs in this game. He can see things through their eyes." No one relates better than Joba Chamberlain, the Yankees' prodigy who has worked under Eiland at every step of his career. Chamberlain, who started Wednesday night against the Rays in the series finale at Tropicana Field, said Eiland can get across his message with a gesture - no words needed - because they know each other so well. "Pitchers tend to make things harder than they really are and he Eiland breaks it down and makes it easy to understand," Chamberlain said. "He knows what to say, when to say it. I have 1,000 percent trust in him and he has trust in me. That's the kind of relationship every pitcher in this game wants with his coach." Eiland's techniques were a lifetime in the making. He said he plucked something - what to do and even what not to do - from nearly every manager or pitching coach who worked with him as a player. Early on, he realized he wasn't going to become a major-league superstar (his career record was 12-27 with a 5.74 ERA), so the preparation for a coaching career was ongoing. "I'm not one of those 'what-if' kind of guys," said Eiland, who maintains an offseason home in Wesley Chapel with his wife, Sandra, and their daughters, Nicole and Natalie. "There's not much I would change from my playing career. I worked as hard as I could and, unfortunately, some injuries happened. I took good care of myself, but was unlucky in that respect. I sleep well at night knowing I gave everything I had. "I was never going to overpower anybody, so it was very important for me to study hitters and their swings, to prepare and take in every detail. Obviously, that has served me well in becoming a pitching coach. For me, it's all about how you prepare." But it starts with the proper delivery and mechanics. Without those qualities, Eiland said, scouting reports aren't that helpful. "If you aren't able to command the ball, you can't attack somebody's weaknesses," he said. "It sounds like simple stuff, but throwing strikes, getting ahead of the hitter, attacking the zone, that's what it's all about. "Nobody has all the answers. Obviously, because of my background, I have an affinity for the grinder, the hard-working guy who's always studying and preparing. But believe me, I love working with the guys who just have that off-the-charts talent. And they still want the information and whether or not you see something that may not be right." Whether it's front-line starters such as CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett or a youngster just breaking into the big leagues, Eiland tries to find the best way to help. Getting to know the pitchers as individuals, usually in the quiet moments of spring training, helps to establish a relationship. "We're lucky to have a great group of guys and we're all on the same page," Eiland said. "It's going well, but we're not there yet. This AL East race is far from over. Every day, we've got to concentrate on working and grinding. "But that's all I've ever known anyway."
Reporter Joey Johnston can be reached at (813) 259-7353.