DIXFIELD — Bragging rights at the Lafleur dinner table are on the line this spring. Ryan Lafleur and his father, Dave, are playing together on a wooden bat men’s league baseball team, the Dixfield Diamondbacks and, so far, father is out-hitting son with a robust .666 batting average.
“It’s been my hitting philosophy against his, and I can’t help but remind him that my philosophy has the higher batting average right now,” Dave Lafleur said.
If Dave Lafleur has taught his son anything, it’s to not settle for second place. Ryan Lafleur has been coached by his father all the way from Little League up through to this, his senior year at Dirigo, and he has developed into one of the top pitchers in Class C with that guidance.
Ryan is grateful for the time and money Dave has spent to make him the player he is. He credits everything he knows about the game to his father and regards him as a “great baseball mind.” But he has gone his own way with some of the biggest decisions regarding his baseball career.
One is his “no stride” batting stance, which he learned at Frozen Ropes. It is a different approach than the one his father teaches, but it seems to suit him fine. After being hampered by a rib injury early in the season, he has raised his average to .333, leads the Cougars in doubles with four and is second on the team with 14 RBIs hitting clean-up.
Two years ago, Ryan made a big decision that also didn’t necessarily jibe with his father’s wishes. He gave up football, a sport he loved playing, to concentrate on baseball in the fall. He watched the Cougars enjoy two winning seasons from the stands and missed out on being part of a state championship team last fall.
“As a father and a coach, I’m still not sure if it was a good choice. It’s a tough choice, to give up a sport you probably can only play while you’re in high school,” Dave said. “I know it was extremely difficult for him to watch the football team’s success over the past two years and be on the sidelines, but he never would have gained the baseball experience had he not done that.”
Ryan has no regrets because playing fall baseball has been invaluable, particularly for his pitching approach and mapping out his future in baseball.
Though not the prototypical flamethrower, the diminutive Lafleur has the fastball to be a power pitcher and has always pitched like one. Playing in the fall taught him being a power pitcher doesn’t have to mean striking out the side.
“Last year, I got in a lot of trouble with high pitch counts and walks. This year, I have cut down on walks tremendously,” he said. “A lot of the credit there goes to playing on the college prep team for Frozen Ropes. That team taught me that you don’t always need a K to become effective. Throwing a two-seam (fastball) to jam the hitter and get a ground ball works just as well.”
Lafleur was one of only two Class C players to play for the Frozen Ropes squad (Ryan Leach of Hall-Dale was the other). Pitching against college-caliber competition, he learned to keep the ball down and refined his aggressive style on the rubber.
“I feel when you’re on the mound, you have to own it,” he said. “To be successful, you have to pitch inside to be able to command the outside corner. My most important pitch is strike 1, and I feel if I get up 0-2, no one should hit me.”
Very few have, in any count. A four-year starter, Lafleur is 15-3 in his career. This year, he is 4-0 with a 0.26 ERA with 38 strikeouts and nine walks in 26 innings. He has allowed just one extra base hit all season (just four in the last two years).
“He throws what I would call a ‘heavy’ ball,” Dave said. “He’s always had a strong arm, and with all of his experience, he’s gained a lot of valuable knowledge regarding how to pitch inside as well as keeping hitters off-balance.”
He is getting yet another perspective on pitching this season, as a catcher.With limited experience at the position, he volunteered for the Frozen Ropes team. Coaches and scouts have told him that may be where his baseball future lies. Ryan hopes to be an every day player who also pitches in college, so he has spent time behind the plate this season, usually catching Eric Bolduc, one of the top catchers in the Mountain Valley Conference who has taken up pitching this year.
Ryan has been accepted at Francis Marion University, a Division II school in South Carolina, and is also considering Southern Maine Community College and Central Maine Community College.
Right now, though, his focus is on adding some baseball trophies to accompany the football hardware he missed out on. The Cougars are 10-2 and sitting atop the MVC North standings with a critical rematch at Livermore Falls this Wednesday.
“I can’t say I’m happy we have two losses… but a lot of good will come out of those losses,” he said. “We have seven seniors on this team. It’s our job to make sure we do not take one play off. My goal is a state championship, and I can say that no team is going to work harder than we do for the season.”