As a 20-year-old in his second season of professional baseball, Gavin LaValley has emerged as one of the more consistent bats for the Low-A Dayton Dragons.
Through MondayÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s games, LaValley ranks first on the Dragons in hits, doubles, RBI, and total bases while sporting an on-base percentage of .344. LaValley has scorched the ball in August, slashing .320/.358/.413.
An Oklahoma native and Gatorade state player of the year in 2014, LaValley bypassed a scholarship offer from the University of Oklahoma to sign with the Reds after the club selected the 6-3, 235-pound corner infielderÃ‚Â in the fourth round of the 2014 draft. (LaValley has primarily manned third baseÃ‚Â as a pro.)
I caught up with LaValley late last week, and among other things, we chatted about The Sandlot and other baseball movies; LaValley meeting Will Ferrell in spring training; Oklahoma football and the misnomers surrounding run-based shotgun offenses; his reverence for the city of Dayton; and his 2015 campaign with the Dragons.
GL: Yeah. Yeah, it is.
RN: YouÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re a big fan of the film then?
GL: Oh, yeah. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s one of my favorite baseball movies, IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢d say.
RN: Who was your favorite Sandlot character?
GL: I donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t think I have one, I just like the whole movie.
RN: I think my favorite scene is when the sandlot kids face off against…I guess you could call them the upper-class kids, and Porter, the catcher, is talking [smack] to every batter that steps up to the plate.
GL: Oh, yeah. Yeah, thatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s a good one. ThatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s a good scene.
RN: Have you ever had a catcher try and [play mind games with you] as a hitter? Or are most of them just friendly and/or silent?
GL: No, they usually ask, Ã¢â‚¬ËœHowÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s it going?Ã¢â‚¬â„¢ or something like that. ThatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s usually about it, they donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t talk that much.
RN: Do you make a habit of watching baseball movies or is The Sandlot the one baseball flick youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re keen on?
GL: I just grew up watching [The Sandlot]Ã‚Â all the time. If I see a baseball movie on, IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ll stop and watch it. Usually I just watch comedy movies or something like that.
RN: Is there one baseball movie that if itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s on TV you put everything down and watch the rest of it?
GL: I like Bull Durham. ThatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s a good one.
RN: That is a good one. ThatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s a pretty realistic — or at least maybe a semi-realistic — portrayal of pro baseball.
GL: Yeah, it is.
RN: I also saw on your Twitter that you have a picture with Will Ferrell. Was that from when he played with the Reds back in spring training?
GL: Yeah, thatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s from when he suited up for the Reds. I got to get a picture with him.
RN: What was he like to be around? IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m sure there were some people in the dugout who were a little awestruck.
GL: I wasnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t even expecting to talk to him, and he just kind of came up and started talking to me, so that was pretty cool. He was hilarious just like he is in the movies. You just laugh at everything he says.
RN: Were there other guys on the team going up to him and spouting off quotes like, Ã¢â‚¬ËœYouÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re my boy, blue!Ã¢â‚¬â„¢ or basically anything from Step Brothers or Anchorman?
GL: No, no one really…they just wanted to talk to him and have a normal conversation with him.
RN: I gotcha. Now, youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re from Oklahoma, right?
RN: Where exactly are you from?
GL: Choctaw, Oklahoma.
RN: Is that a small town or a big town? Is it close to any cities?
GL: ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s a pretty big town. My high school (Carl Albert High School) is in Midwest City.Ã‚Â I went to a 5A high school, which is the second-biggest (classification) in Oklahoma, but Choctaw is right outside theÃ‚Â city. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s kind of the suburbs, I guess.
RN: Are you a University of Oklahoma fan, an Oklahoma State fan, or anything like that?
GL: Oh, yeah. Oklahoma fan.
RN: OK, how are you feeling about this upcoming (college football) season for your Sooners?
GL: I donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t know, weÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ll see. We have a new quarterback starting this year. Depends on how the defense will do. Hopefully, they do well. I usually try to go to every game that I can when IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m home.
GL: Yeah, for sure. ThatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s why IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m not sure how itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s going to go. Hopefully it goes well but I donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t know.
RN: Did you play any other sports in high school besides baseball?
GL: I played football.
RN: You did? What position did you play?
GL: Center and punter.
RN: Was baseball still your best sport in high school?
GL: Yeah, I was pretty good at football (though). I made all-state my sophomore year. I had a couple of big schools sending me letters (of interest), but no (scholarship) offers. They were talking to me and I told them I was all baseball.
RN: You said you played center. What sort of offense did you guys run?
GL: We were in the shotgun, but it was run-based. At least eight or nine out of every 10 plays were runs.
RN: Some people still donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t think you can be a power team out of the shotgun, but I think that notion has been proven false.
GL: Yeah, it depends on the line and how well you can sequence the stuff you got.
RN: Just look at Ohio State last year. They are a power run team, but almost every snap they take is out of the shotgun. They were running for like 300 yards a game toward the end of the year.
GL: Yeah, that read-option is a good offense.
RN: LetÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s get into baseball. How do you feel about the year youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve had so far for Dayton?
GL: I feel pretty good. WeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re trying to get into the playoffs, but we have to try and finish strong and get as many wins as we can and maybe we sneak into the playoffs.
RN: YouÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re having a really strong August at the plate. Has something clicked for you this month?
GL: IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve been trying to relax. Just see the ball and hit it.
RN: HowÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s your experience been in Dayton so far? How do you like the city?
GL: Oh, itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s awesome. I love Dayton. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s awesome getting to play there in front of all those people. The cityÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s nice, so IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve enjoyed it.
RN: The sellout streak is pretty incredible. IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve had friends go up to Dayton thinking they could just walk up to the box office and get a ticket.
GL: ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s crazy. Every night…it doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t matter (what day it is), itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s going to be packed.
RN: I have to imagine playing in front of crowds like that is a rarity for you guys when you travel to other parks.
GL: No, you donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t get many like [Dayton]. You usually get a couple thousand.
RN: WhatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s been the biggest adjustment for you living away from home? Oklahoma is pretty far away from Ohio.
GL: YouÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re pretty busy most of the time so you donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t have a lot of time to think about it. YouÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re back at the field playing every day. I still call my parents and talk to them a lot. I wouldn’t say IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m homesick; IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve gotten used to it. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s not really that big of a deal.
RN: Were you set on playing pro ball right out of high school or did you think about playing in college?
GL: Yeah, I wanted to go ahead and get my pro career started.
RN: With the season winding down, have you identified some things you need to work on over the winter once you pick it back up again?
GL: I would say every aspect. Putting the ball in play more — I kind of struggled with that the first part of the season. Improve defensively and offensively. Running. Just everything.
RN: You have any vacation plans?
GL: I got two little sisters, and I think weÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re going to take them to Disney World this offseason. ThatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s one of them. I donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t know, we might go somewhere else. Probably do a fishing trip somewhere.
RN: Are you a big fisherman?
GL: Oh, yeah. IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m a bigger fisher and hunter. ThatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s all I do in the offseason.
RN: I donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t do either just because itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s not really my deal, but I gotta imagine [fishing and hunting] give you some peace of mind getting away from everything.
GL: Yeah, getting out in the woods gets you away from everything. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s nice.
This interview has been edited. Photo courtesy of Dayton Dragons.