Bishop McLaughlin Catholic High School has tapped a decorated big leaguer to lead its pedigreed baseball program.
Rob Ducey spent parts of 13 seasons in Major League Baseball (MLB) between 1987 to 2001 — playing for the Toronto Blue Jays, California Angels, Texas Rangers, Seattle Mariners, Philadelphia Phillies and Montreal Expos. (He also played two professional seasons in Japan, for the Nippon Ham Fighters and another handful of seasons in the minor leagues.)
A left-handed hitting outfielder, Ducey played over 700 games in the majors, posting a .242 batting average, .331 on-base percentage, .396 slugging percentage, with 309 hits, 190 runs, 146 RBIs, 31 home runs and 22 stolen bases.
Ducey achieved another unique designation by the time he retired — the longest career of any Ontario position player since Jeff Heath played 14 seasons from 1935 to 1949.
Ducey’s involvement in baseball doesn’t end there.
Following his professional playing days, Ducey competed for Canada at the 2004 Olympics, and served as a coach at the 2006 World Baseball Classic and 2008 Olympics.
He was a hitting coach in the minor leagues for the New York Yankees, Expos and Phillies. And was a talent scout for the Blue Jays and Tampa Bay Rays.
Ducey’s baseball lifer status — and one of the very few Canadian big leaguers — has him enshrined into both the Cambridge Sports Hall of Fame (2006) and the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum (2013).
All told, Ducey has been involved with professional baseball in some shape or form for over 37 years.
“Baseball has been a unique staple of my life, almost my entire life,” Ducey told The Laker/Lutz News in an exclusive interview.
Big plans for Bishop
The 56-year-old Tarpon Springs resident is now tasked with leading the Bishop McLaughlin Hurricanes, which has won five district championships and two regional championships, and has made a pair of state final four appearances.
The program has produced several pro ballplayers of late, including Blue Jays big league pitcher Nate Pearson, Red Sox Double-A pitcher Frank German and San Francisco Giants Low-A pitcher Carson Ragsdale, to name a few.
“We are trying to build this program into the best program that it can be,” said Ducey, adding he has always had a desire to coach high school baseball.
“Every year there’s going to be an influx of different types of ability, and hopefully we can build and build and build. …And regardless of how good physically players are, they play the game the right way and bring respect to not only the game, but to the school.”
Ducey takes over for Marc Eskew, who coached the team the last two seasons. Eskew’s tenure included a 20-8 mark and Class 2A playoff appearance in 2021.
Ducey officially was announced as the new head coach in a news release sent last month from Bishop McLaughlin athletics director Jay Bowen.
The release also mentioned Kenneth Burroughs as the team’s assistant coach. Burroughs played in the minor leagues for the Los Angeles Dodgers and Chicago White Sox and is a certified pitching coach with the National Pitching Association.
Bowen explained why Ducey was the top fit to steer the Hurricanes baseball program, in an email to The Laker.
“When we began the baseball search, we were looking for family men, professional, moral, ethical and knowledgeable,” Bowen wrote.
“We want great teammates in our family. We also wanted a good fit into our athletic philosophy of family first and promoting multiple sports athletes.
“A quote by coach Ducey that stuck with me in our very first meeting was the goal to, ‘be a part of a championship-quality family, and shape the youth of today in personal growth and development.’”
Over the past few weeks, Ducey has been coordinating fall ball practices with a 32-member roster split across junior varsity and varsity.
It has given him a chance to learn the makeup of the Hurricanes program.
“It’s a huge time for me getting to know the kids, getting to understand their abilities,” Ducey said. “We don’t have a lot of upperclassmen, so the JV program is very, very important, and we’re trying to figure out exactly what we have and put processes in place for them to improve.”
Ducey has clear expectations.
“Obviously, I want the pitchers to throw strikes, I want the defenders to handle the baseball, and the hitters to be able to situational hit,” he said.
He added, “We may not have the most ability on the field, but you’re going to know that you’ve got to fight, and if we do that every single day we come out and work improves in those areas, then it’ll be a successful year.”
The former major leaguer emphasized that strikeouts will not be tolerated on offense.
This comes in the face of a shifting philosophy across the game — particularly in the pro ranks — which suggests all types of outs are the same, and strikeouts can be stomached if a particular team is hitting for power and drawing walks.
Take the hometown Rays, who have the best record in the American League, for example.
They rank sixth in MLB in home runs and seventh in walks, but also have accumulated second-most strikeouts among all 30 ballclubs.
The high school game is a little different, of course.
“Strikeouts, not OK,” Ducey said pointedly. “I’ve made that abundantly clear that strikeouts are not OK. We need to have a solid two-strike approach, and treat every at-bat like it’s gold, grind out every at-bat.”
Aside from instilling traditional fundamentals, Ducey and his staff will incorporate high-tech analytics and advanced video equipment.
This includes Blast Motion bat sensors to analyze hitters’ swings with raw data, like bat speed and attack angle, as well as plane, connection and rotation metrics.
The team also will have access to computerized baseballs to measure velocity and spin rates, among other details.
“I think that it’s important that if we do have new technology then we should utilize it,” Ducey said. “I think that goes a long way with the kids. I think that goes a long way with the school that has provided the technology for us. And, for recruiting purposes going forward for the kids, that’s what colleges want to have, those types of numbers, that’s how they see players now.”
Ducey has been in a slew of historical moments, during the course of his lengthy career.
He was in the last-ever game pitched by Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan, in 1993.
He was playing left field when Hall of Famer and Kansas City Royals great George Brett recorded his 3,000 career hit, in 1992.
In other baseball career footnotes, Ducey:
- Played the first-ever game at Toronto’s SkyDome (now called Rogers Center) in 1989
- Set an all-time record for pinch batting with the Phillies in 2000 (73 appearances)
- Tied an all-time record in Japan in 1996 when he hit eight leadoff home runs
- Was the final Rangers player to hit a home run in the old Arlington Stadium (1993) before the team moved to Globe Life Park in Arlington
In addition to a rare athletic skill set, Ducey credits a dependable work ethic and focused attitude for his staying power at the game’s top levels.
“I tried to be the best I could be every single day,” the retired pro said. “I felt that I was consistent as far as when I showed up to the ballpark, the manager knew when I walked in the door what effort was going to be made that day. …There wasn’t a question that I came to play, came to win every single day, regardless of who I was competing against, or, the amount of playing time I actually got.”
Published September 22, 2021