New Headland head baseball coach Les Lancaster has never coached in high school, but feels he has some experience that will help him out.
“It is a new journey for me, but I feel I will relate to the kids very well,” Lancaster said in a Dothan Eagle interview following his hire last week. “I feel I will have a good relationship with them. I think it will be a win-win for both of us.”
Lancaster is most known for his pitching experience with the Chicago Cubs (1987-91), Detroit Tigers (1992) and St. Louis Cardinals (1993).
Lancaster said the pro experience creates instant credibility with high school players.
“It gets their attention quicker,” Lancaster said.
He has coached players close to the age of high school kids, experiences he feels will help him in his new job.
“I was the pitching coach (for five years) with the Phillies’ minor league short season Class A Gulf Coast League, which features a lot of high school kids coming into the minors, and last year I coached at Enterprise State Community College, so those are two instances of coaching kids near high school age,” Lancaster said.
A native of Irving, Texas, just outside of Dallas, Lancaster moved to the Dothan area several years ago to be near relatives of his wife, Candice (Fowler) Lancaster.
“I wanted to get close to home and to enjoy a summer,” Lancaster said. “I have not had a summer off in 34 years. Now I will have the best of both worlds.”
Currently, he is serving as pitching coach for an independent minor league team, the Rockland (N.Y) Boulders of the Can-Am League. He had made the commitment to coach there before his hire at Headland.
Entering Tuesday’s play, the Boulders were 9-7 and in third place in the league. The Boulders’ season ends September 2 with any potential playoffs a few days later.
Most of Lancaster’s summers have been busy playing the sport.
He played college ball at the University of Arkansas and at Dallas Baptist University. He was drafted twice, once by the New York Yankees in the 24th round of the 1981 MLB Draft out of Nimitz (Texas) High School and again by the Texas Rangers in 1983 while at Arkansas.
He landed, though, in the Cubs organization, signing as a free agent after his senior year in college. He began his career in Rookie League ball with the Wytheville (Va.) Cubs in 1985.
After three years in the minors, he made his major league debut in Chicago against rival St. Louis on April 7, 1987, at Wrigley Field. He pitched 2 1/3 innings of relief in that debut, not allowing an earned run and only two hits and two walks, while striking out three.
Three of his teammates in that debut were Ryne Sandberg, Andre Dawson and Greg Maddux, all eventual Pro Baseball Hall of Famers.
He played five seasons with Chicago before moving on to Detroit and St. Louis.
He finished his seven-year career with a 41-28 record (.594 winning percentage) with 22 saves and a 4.05 ERA. He had 408 strikeouts and 261 walks in 703 2/3 innings.
He was also a good fielding pitcher, committing only one error in 139 total chances for a .993 fielding percentage.
Lancaster had one postseason experience, going 1-1 in three appearances in the Cubs’ 1989 National League Championship Series against the San Francisco Giants.
Following his playing days, he has managed or been a pitching coach with several professional teams in Mexico and Taiwan, as wells as a handful of independent league teams.
All that pro experience, said Lancaster, is valuable for his next job with the Rams.
“I think it works in my favor as I made it to the top and was blessed to be there for seven years, so I can easily explain things to a player when talking about mechanics because I have done it and seen it a lot,” Lancaster said.
Joining Lancaster on the Headland coaching staff will be former Abbeville Christian Academy head coach Bubba Birdsong, who has spent the last 14 years as head baseball coach at Baconton (Ga.) Charter School.
“We have a lot of knowledge that we can bring to the new team,” Lancaster said. “There will definitely be some differences in the program for the young kids, but what we will do will get the most out of them.”
Lancaster will be an ACCESS teacher (digital classroom/on-line classes) at Headland.