Professor Luis Dorante Teaching Charleston RiverDogs the Fine Art of Game
The New York Yankees have established themselves as arguably the greatest sports franchise in America, maybe even the world. With 27 World Series Championships since 1923, and 40 American League pennants to their credit, they have demonstrated that this team not only knows how to win it all, but how to stay on top for nearly a century.
There are a lot of factors that have helped to make the Yankees such a success. One of the primary keys has been the club’s ability to develop top prospects that turn into all-time greats. While the team has signed its share of exceptional free agents, it has been players such as Derek Jeter, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, and Yogi Berra that started their careers in the team’s farm system and rose to become some of the most famous players the sport has ever seen. With that kind of success there are two factors that play a key role: scouting and coaching.
The Yankees have established themselves as one of the best organizations at finding great talent and turning that into even better players. They have also made sure that they brought in coaches and managers throughout all levels of their farm system who know how to teach and inspire their players to take their games to a whole new level. A great example of this kind of coaching genius is found in Charleston RiverDogs manager Luis Dorante.
A True Student of the Game
Luis Dorante was born in Coro Estado Falcon, Venezuela where he starred as a catcher growing up. Dorante had good size and showed a great deal of athleticism, playing in the outfield, first base, third base, and catcher.
At the age of 19 he joined the Boston Red Sox organization, playing three seasons at Elmira of the New York-Penn League. His fielding was exceptional, making just 14 errors in three seasons despite playing four different positions during that span. He clearly had the skills in the field, but his development at the plate was not coming along as he had desired.
In 1990, he split time between the Red Sox rookie league club and Lynchburg, where he hit a combined .232. That included an impressive run in rookie ball where he hit .333. Two more seasons he would remain with the team, reaching AA-New Britain in 1991 where he hit a solid .265 in 58 games. The next season Dorante was back in High-A, where he struggled to gain playing time and soon found that his playing career was over.
While his time on the field as a player was done, it was clear that Luis had the perfect skills and ability to be a coach and manager. He was always the kind of player that spent time studying tendencies of his opponents, and he earned his way to affiliate baseball by using his brain as much as his body.
In 1994 the, then, Montreal Expos called upon Dorante to be one of their primary international scouts. He had a great eye for talent and was great at working with the younger players. The Expos also recognized this, realizing his talents would be best serve as the manager of their Gulf Coast League team the next year.
That began a long career in coaching and managing that has seen Dorante teaching and inspiring the young men with Major League aspirations at all levels of baseball. He spent seven seasons with the Montreal organization, managing in rookie league, A-ball, and AA-Harrisburg. That included two trips to the playoffs.
In 2002, he took his talents to South Beach, joining the Florida (now Miami) Marlins organization as the manager of the High-A Jupiter club. He spent five seasons with the Marlins organization, with four of those in Jupiter where his team reached the playoffs twice. His other season was spent managing AA-Carolina of the Southern League.
Luis had proven that he was an outstanding manager, but he also showed that he had great skill in teaching the intricacies of the game. He knew not only how to get that little something extra out of his players, but also knew how to inspire and build relationships with them that made them want to be motivated to play for him. That talent led the Pittsburgh Pirates organization to reach out and bring him in as their bullpen coach from 2008-2010.
In 2011, he joined the Yankees organization, and was assigned as a coach at AA-Trenton. While enjoying the opportunity the Yankees had given him, Luis felt that he really wanted to use his talents as a manager again, and reached out to the club to see if they would offer him such a position. The team jumped at the chance.
“In the second year I told my boss that I really wanted to get back to being manager. I knew that I could do it, that I could do more than what I was doing. Being in charge of the catchers I thought I had more in myself because I could feel it. An opportunity opened up in Charleston the following year, so they put me there and I have been there since.”
A Perfect Match for His Skill Set
There are many jobs in the world of baseball where the manager is called upon to be more of a general in the dugout than a guy developing and teaching his players. In those cases, it is roving instructors or the coaching staff that takes on the bulk of the responsibility to teach. That is not the case in Charleston. At the New York Yankees’ High-A team, they have a great expectation that Luis Dorante will not only play an integral part in the development of their players, but they trust that he will be a difference maker. They couldn’t have asked for a better man for the job.
Luis not only enjoys his job, he loves the opportunity that it provides him. This is a chance to help some young man on his pathway to being the next all-time Yankee great, and he truly cherishes that opportunity.
“All the good things that happen when you put a hand on a guy and all of a sudden you see that kid develop into a big leaguer, and you do that over and over and over. There is truly no greater satisfaction.”
While he enjoyed his time coaching at the higher levels, and even in Majors, he also admits that lower level baseball gives the RiverDogs manager a greater chance to be a difference maker.
“When you put your hands on the guy earlier in their career and you teach him all the things you know about, it makes it a lot more important, a lot more interesting. In AA or AAA you don’t have a whole lot to develop, you are just trying to get him ready for the Big Leagues.”
Generating Success from the Start
Long gone are the days of a manager like Billy Martin who yelled at players and they responded. This is an age where players expect to be treated with respect from the start, where their input is valued by the manager. Communication is the key, and Luis understands and is a master at this aspect of his job.
“You have to build the relationship starting in Spring Training. They have to know that you respect them and you want them to succeed. That has to be for real though. You can’t be phony and expect them to follow you.”
There is a true, authentic desire in Luis Dorante to see his players succeed. He understands that his job is to reach players where they are at, and not make them adapt to his way of doing things. It is that keen sense of how to reach each individual player that separates him from many others.
“You have to know how to present the information, and how are they going to receive that information, and how are they going to apply it to their own skills, because everyone is different, and so you are not going to treat everyone the same because you may not get the same result from each person. There are players that need a pat on the back, and others that need a kick in the butt.”
While this is his job to develop players, he is not looking for headlines or fame. The RiverDogs manager simply wants to know that he is doing his job well.
“When you get a kid and he’s got some talent, and so they tell you he’s got these skills, and you follow all the instructions they give you and the kid becomes a really good prospect, then the people come and say, ‘Thanks, you did a really good job with the kid,’ that’s all I ask. Just give me the thank you for doing a good job, and that makes my job much easier to do it again and again.”
Luis loves educating his players on the finer points of the game. Reaching out to them and teaching them so that they can hopefully reach the Big Leagues one day. He is working to make a lasting impression on his players, but openly admits that they are having just as much influence on him.
“It makes you work even harder when you see that happen the first time. Hopefully you can see the same kind of results on yourself. You work at helping them to reach the Big Leagues and that makes it so that you want to accomplish that same goal for yourself.”
Challenges Do Exist
It is clear that the Charleston manager loves his job, but he acknowledges that this is not all peaches and cream. There are some real challenges, some of which have made it so that he has had to adjust his managing style a bit over the years. Players are not always apt to take the advice of their manager and coaches, because there is so much additional information on the web. This can make instructing a real challenge.
“They have more access to the internet, so they find a lot of answers on the things you are trying to do with them. Everybody puts their stuff on the website, on YouTube, and so any time you try to teach a guy something, you tell him let’s work on this because it is going to make you a better hitter, a better fielder, or whatever. So, they go to the internet and start searching for the same thing you are trying to teach and that is where you get disagreements. Sometimes they don’t get what we are trying to achieve here. We want guys to learn step-by-step instead of us just throwing the whole thing out there and hoping they get it all from the start. It doesn’t work that way on the lower level. They have to go step-by-step so they understand things a little at a time.”
While the internet makes managing a challenge at times, there is one part of his job that Luis has never really enjoyed. He is like a father to many of these young men, and wants to see them reach their ultimate goal. However, there are times where he has to be the one that has to break the bad news to them that the organization has decided to release them. He understands that is part of the job, but it is not a part that he likes one bit.
“In Spring Training you know if a kid is on the bubble. He may be let go at the end of Spring Training or you know he may be let go if someone gets healthy. You know this kid is going to have to go, either go down or be sent home. You can’t think about it though. You just have to keep the relationship going. It is still tough. You try to do all you can to help the player, but you also understand that you can’t tell anyone what you know.”
Leaving His Mark on the Game through the Success of Others
It has been over twenty years since Luis Dorante hung up the cleats as a player and turned to coaching. He has proven himself at every level of the sport, including coaching in winter ball in Venezuela. He has shown that he has nothing to prove as a coach, manager, or player development instructor.
There is still drive in him, however. Luis wants to play a part in seeing as many players reach the Big Leagues as possible. There is not talk of being a Major League manager one day, although he would be great in that role. Instead, he wants to take the opportunity he has been given and use it to help players reach the pinnacle of the sport. He wants to teach these young men and assist them in improving their talent so that they can make it one day.
“Teaching is huge for me. I am always looking for something that I know I heard in the past from other coaches that inspired me so that I can say that to a player knowing that information is going to stick on them. Teaching every day is what makes me have a good day, a more enjoyable day thinking about that.”
The Professor would probably not like this title. He is a fairly humble guy who is trying to make a difference in the lives of these young men. He is like a dad to his players, doing all he can to prepare them for the next level of the Yankees organization.
It is a guy like Luis Dorante that makes it easy to understand why the New York Yankees are America’s greatest sports organization. They know how to find men who are great motivators, teachers, and students of the game. This enables them to continually produce star prospects that make the organization the envy of baseball.
In just a little over a month the Charleston RiverDogs Skipper will begin his third season at the helm of the team. He has won 808 games in his career as a manager, and aided dozens of players in their quest to become Major League baseball players. This season the Yankees will send dozens more his way looking for him to educate them on the finer points of the game of baseball. So get ready Charleston RiverDogs. Class is about to be in session.
By Robert Pannier
Member of the IBWAA