Amherst Athlete Destined for the Dugout
Issue   |   Fri, 10/18/2013 - 00:22
Photo courtesy of Dave Jauss
Jauss and his wife, Billie, met at Atlantic Christian College in Wilson, N.C.

On the baseball field, Dave Jauss ’80 has seen it all. He’s coached the best players in the history of the game, and he’s been a part of magical playoff runs that have captivated the heart and soul of major American cities. Jauss’s journey to becoming the right-hand man of the sport’s best minds wasn’t easy, but his tenacity — along with the friends he made and the lessons he learned at Amherst College — helped to make it all possible.

Play Ball!
Jauss says he had a “heavy dose of sports growing up” in Chicago, much of which can be attributed to the presence of his father, Bill Jauss, who passed away in 2012. The elder Jauss was a longtime sports writer for the Chicago Tribune as well as a pioneer in television sports talk. His show, Sportswriters on TV, first aired on Chicago’s SportsChannel America Network in 1985.

“He and three other guys sat around a table smoking cigars for one hour, yelling and screaming at each other,” Jauss recalled. “It was probably the birth of sports talk shows. If you ever watch SNL where they do those skits of the Bears and Ditka, those are spin-offs of my dad’s show.”

At New Trier East High School in Winnetka, Ill., Jauss played baseball and basketball. He caught the eye of legendary Amherst baseball coach Bill Thurston, who recruited him to join what would become a star-studded baseball program in the late 1970s. Jauss was a teammate — and roommate — of Dan Duquette ’80, now a decorated Major League Baseball executive. Tom Bourque ’80, a longtime scout in the Majors, was also one of Jauss’s teammates, as was the late John Cerutti ’81, a major league pitcher who later became a radio and TV commentator for the Toronto Blue Jays. In all, Jauss said, eight of his Amherst teammates ultimately played professional baseball.

“I didn’t get drafted,” Jauss explained. “And I had all the good coaching and the other things that those guys had — so lack of talent is my only excuse! But all the athletes at that time, especially the baseball and football guys, were really close. We always hung out together, and many of us were in the same fraternity.”

Finding Guidance
Despite his self-proclaimed lack of athletic talent, Jauss identifies Coach Thurston as a key role model and remains grateful for his tutelage.

“Thurston is indeed a legend,” Jauss said. “He’s hard-nosed, disciplined, incredibly intelligent and so into the game of baseball. I couldn’t have asked for a better coach. Maybe, when I was playing for him, I sometimes got frustrated with his discipline and straight-laced style, but looking back, he really made me learn the game and appreciate the opportunities I’ve had within it.”

At Amherst, Jauss also found role models off the field, one being the now-retired Mathematics Professor Norton Starr.

“I wasn’t a very good writer [when I came to college], but I was pretty good with numbers, so I wanted to be a math major for about three and a half weeks,” Jauss said. “That was until Professor Starr looked at me and said, ‘David, you’re in way over your head. You spend too much time in the gym and on the field to do this. We get about two math majors a year — and there are 25 kids in your class smarter than you are!’ I just said, ‘OK, thanks.’ He became a really good friend of mine, and he directed me towards psychology [Jauss’s ultimate major]. At the time, it was a much easier major for me to handle. The more I stayed in coaching and teaching — and, of course, being a dad — psychology became very helpful.”

As a psychology major, Jauss says he quickly became aware of his desire to teach and coach after college.

“[After] Amherst, a lot of guys were going to [New England] prep schools first [to teach and coach], so I was talking to a lot of coaches and professors about going to one of those. I probably didn’t take as much time as I should have thinking about what I was going to do after I graduated,” Jauss said.

Nevertheless, he sought the College’s Hitchcock Fellowship, which was available following his senior year.

“A bunch of the coaches told me I should do it,” Jauss said, “and I got really good recommendations from Bill [Thurston] and [current men’s basketball coach] Dave Hixon ’75. Other than spelling ‘athlete’ wrong on the entire application essay, it went over pretty well!”

Climbing the Ladder
After his four years at Amherst, Jauss obtained a Masters’ Degree in Sports Management from UMass Amherst. That, combined with his service as the Hitchcock Fellow, provided Jauss with the springboard he needed to begin working his way up through the coaching ranks. From 1982 to 1984, Jauss was the head baseball coach at Westfield State College in Westfield, Mass. At age 25, he was the youngest head college baseball coach in the nation. He served for two years as the head coach at Atlantic Christian College in Wilson, N.C. as well, where he was the Assistant Athletic Director and also started the Sports Management graduate program. It was there that Jauss met his wife, Billie, who was a student at the time.

“It took me a while to get to pro ball,” Jauss said. “I coached six-plus years in college, in Canada, in the Cape Cod League, working camps … just trying to get my name out there. Everyone kept trying to push me into the front office or into scouting because of my limited playing background. But I liked being on the field.”

Jauss’s “big break” came with the help of his friend and former teammate Duquette, who took over as the Montreal Expos’ Director of Player Development in 1988. Under Duquette, Jauss was hired as a manager in the Expos’ farm system. He bounced around, but his baseball acumen was constantly on display: in 1994, at the helm of the Double-A Harrisburg Senators, Jauss was named the Eastern League Manager of the Year. After a one-year tenure as the field coordinator of player development for the Baltimore Orioles — another step up — Jauss again found himself in Duquette’s organization, this time the Boston Red Sox. Initially, Jauss was in a scouting role for the Red Sox, but, before long, he was promoted to first base coach for the big club in 1997.

“In itself, being in the dugout [with the Red Sox] for the first time was not a big deal — I had coached before — but, at the same time, I had always wanted to coach at the highest level. To get that opportunity was great,” Jauss said.

Dirty Water
Under manager Jimy Williams, Jauss and the Red Sox reached the playoffs in 1998 and 1999. A mere two years later, however, in August of 2001, Williams found himself fired in mid-season. At the end of that season Duquette, too, was dismissed.

“In Jimy’s case, Boston’s a very tough place to be if you’re at all characterized as simple or not intelligent — you take a hit,” Jauss said. “But Jimy, what a good man. He treated me really well, and I learned a lot from him.”

In 2004, of course, the Red Sox won their first World Series title in 86 years. Many gave credit to the new wave of Red Sox executives, including Theo Epstein, Larry Lucchino and John Henry, for this breakthrough. Jauss, however — who was still with the Red Sox as an advance scout in 2004 — never lost sight of the role that Williams and Duquette played in setting the foundation for that success.

“Jimy was on the ground floor of a lot of the things that the Henry/Epstein/Lucchino regime did,” Jauss said. “So was [Duquette] in the front office. People didn’t realize it because Dan never promoted himself, but he was a much more innovative thinker and baseball man than people were aware of.”

During his stay in Boston, Jauss also became friends with another manager whose name, perhaps unfairly, would become etched in the annals of Boston sports infamy: Grady Little.

“I talk to him every couple of months,” Jauss said. “In fact, I talked to him just the other day. He’s doing great!”

Best of the Best
When Little became the manager of the Dodgers in 2006, Jauss came with him, serving as the bench coach in Los Angeles for two years. He went on to become the bench coach for the Baltimore Orioles from 2008 to 2009 under Dave Trembley, and he filled the same role with the New York Mets in 2010 under Jerry Manuel. Since then, Jauss has been coaching for the Pittsburgh Pirates in various capacities.

So, what is Jauss’s all-time favorite Major League Baseball memory? Given that he was a part of the historic 2004 season in Boston, the answer might not be what one would expect. Specifically, Jauss points to this year’s National League Wild Card Playoff, in which the Pirates defeated the Cincinnati Reds on their home field. That game marked the Pirates’ first playoff appearance since 1992 after a string of losing seasons.

“As much as I enjoyed getting on the field three seconds after Foulke flipped the ball to Mientkiewicz [following Game Four of the 2004 World Series], the game this year against the Reds was as exciting an atmosphere of baseball as I’ve ever been in,” Jauss said. “And that’s hard to say after being in Boston and New York. The futility that the Red Sox had had [before 2004] was only because they had never reached that final goal — but they put together so many good teams, and the fans had always been there.”

In Pittsburgh, however, “I got the sense of just how bad the teams had been and how depressed the city was,” Jauss said. “The Pirates people thought the team was sunk, just like the city. That all changed on that Tuesday against the Reds — I really believe that — and that was pretty special.”

In addition to being a part of some excellent teams, Jauss has had the chance to witness some elite individual talents take the field.

“Pedro Martinez was far and away the most fun pitcher to watch. My boys who play wear number 45 [Martinez’s uniform number with the Red Sox],” Jauss said. “Manny Ramirez was the best hitter I got to be with, and Jason Varitek was the smartest overall player I’ve seen behind the plate. Omar Vizquel…I marvel at the things he did on defense and on the bases. But it would take 20 issues of The Student to rattle off all the names of my favorite players!”

Off the Field
These days, Jauss resides in Naples, Fla. during the off-season, where his main focus is his family, with whom he admits he wishes he were able to spend more time. With Billie, Jauss has raised three sons. His oldest, 23-year-old D.J., completed his undergraduate studies at East Carolina Univ., and, by enrolling in the Sports Management graduate program at UMass, has followed in his father’s footsteps. He is also a professional baseball prospect as a pitcher whose fastball reaches the low 90s. His middle son, Charley, is a pre-medical undergraduate at East Carolina, and his youngest, Will, is a junior in high school who also intends to play college baseball.

Jauss, who says he has stayed in touch with his New England-area Amherst friends “really well,” acknowledges he has only been back to the Pioneer Valley a handful of times since his graduation. Still, even after a three-decade career at the highest level of professional sports — and though he may have been an athlete first during his time at Amherst — he has no doubts about the importance of the College in preparing him for the world beyond.

“I now see Amherst through much more mature eyes,” Jauss said, “Rather than with the negativity we all have when we’re 18 to 22 years old and think everything needs to change. It was a really special time for me, and I don’t say that too often. Really influential, mainly because of the people I met. I was an 18-year-old punk, and although I had lived in the city, I still wasn’t very cultured. I wouldn’t have been able to live in society without going to Amherst College … I really believe that! Even for someone like you now … your time here is what will develop you into the person you want to be.”