Mediocre pitching career leads to new life as coach
Posted: Wednesday October 4, 2006 1:06PM; Updated: Wednesday October 4, 2006 1:06PM
Dave Eiland pitched 10 seasons in the majors with the Yankees, Devil Rays and Padres.
Not long ago, listing Dave Eiland's accomplishments in baseball would have been a trivial pursuit. As a pitcher for the San Diego Padres in 1992, he became the only player in major league history to homer in his first major league at-bat (off Bobby Ojeda) and serve up a dinger to the first batter he faced (Paul Molitor, in '88). The winless Eiland would achieve a share of immortality as one of only three hurlers with more home runs in a season than victories.
Selected by the New York Yankees in the seventh round of the 1987 amateur draft, Eiland was in the big leagues for parts of 10 seasons. He bounced back and forth between the majors and the minors like a baserunner caught in a rundown. By the time he retired in 2002 -- after his second Tommy John surgery -- he had been bought, sold, optioned and traded more times than a tanker full of spot-market oil.
"Sink or swim was all I knew," says Eiland, who had his final cup of coffee with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. "I had no idea what it was like going into a season with a guaranteed contract. Would it have been nice to have one? Well, it would have been a lot easier to sleep at night. It was a battle, a fight. It was also a battle and a fight that I enjoyed."
Now 40, Eiland has spent the past four seasons in the Yankees organization, the last two as pitching coach of the Trenton Thunder in Class AA. In 2005, he guided the staff to a 3.86 ERA and a 74-68 record. This season, despite a 1-13 start, the numbers improved to 3.20 and 80-62. If, as expected, Thunder manager Bill Masse takes the reins of the Yankees' new Triple-A affiliate next year, he'll almost certainly ask Eiland to come along.
With the possible exception of Chien-Ming Wang, the Bronx Bombers farm system hasn't produced a certified star since Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera, both of whom came up in '95. Lately, George Steinbrenner's draft 'em-to-trade 'em philosophy has been replaced by a draft 'em-to-train 'em approach. Eiland has supervised the development of two of the Yanks' top prospects -- 26-year-old reliever T. J. Beam (4-0, 0.86 at Trenton) and 20-year-old starter Philip Hughes, a phenom who threw back-to-back one-hitters and lead the Eastern League in ERA (2.25) while going 10-3.
But Eiland's greatest success involves Jeff Karstens, a 24-year-old right-hander who began the season, abysmally, in Triple-A. After going 0-5 with a 9.85 ERA in his first seven starts for Columbus, Karstens was demoted to Trenton in mid-May. Under Eiland's tutelage, he was 6-0 with a 2.31 ERA.
In July, Karstens was sent back up to Columbus, where his stats (5-0 and 1.85) earned him a promotion to the majors and a spot in the Yankees starting rotation. He credits Eiland -- his coach in three of the last four years -- with instilling the confidence he needed to throw off-speed pitches at any point in the count.