Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo discusses his late father’s support and guidance and how that relates to the Diamondbacks’ success this season. David Kadlubowski/azcentral sports
Time steals details, but memories and emotions remain.
How old was Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo when Loretta Lynn came over for dinner with his family? Was he 11, 12? Does it matter?
What about the story of his cool-as-lemonade father, Sam Lovullo, an L.A. powerbroker, losing his composure during a business call. “Torey’s hit a home run! I gotta go,” he said, according to Sandy Brokaw, a publicist. It couldn’t have happened exactly as Brokaw recalls. But so what?
The remembrances illustrate the influence and love that have ineffably touched and shaped the Diamondbacks’ season, a charmed run filled with clutch hits and close wins.
Arizona is within striking distance of first place in the NL West, despite retaining much of the core of a team that lost 93 games last season. Lovullo, in his first season in charge of his own big-league club, has made all the right moves, from sticking with a struggling closer to putting a starter in the bullpen.
It all comes back to his father, who taught him the game and remained his No. 1 supporter, but died in January at age 88 after struggling with heart problems.
Sam Lovullo saw Torey guide the Boston Red Sox as interim manager for a stretch in 2015, but he would never see his son run his own team. Torey has dedicated this year to his dad. Many believe the father and son are together today.
Father and son similarities
Torey Lovullo comes across as a nice guy. He jokes, smiles and laughs in a way that’s easy and genuine. But he must have a stubborn streak as vast as the Sonoran Desert.
He played for seven big-league teams in an 11-year stretch filled with trips to the minors. He later spent six years as a bench coach in the majors and nine seasons as a farm club manager.
For a guy tabbed by Sparky Anderson as a surefire prospect – “There’s really nothing Torey can’t do,” the Hall of Fame skipper said – it must have been tempting to give up. He didn’t. Now he’s flirting with a playoff run.
Similarly, Sam Lovullo had a fledgling TV show that CBS cancelled in 1971. But he believed in it. Rather than quit, he took it into syndication. It aired in more than 200 markets and ran for the next 20 years. Sam Lovullo was right about “Hee Haw.”
Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo talks about his unusual upbringing, given his father’s job in television with the TV show “Hee Haw.” David Kadlubowski/azcentral sports
Ability to connect
Torey Lovullo’s communication skills are discussed far more than his baseball acumen, which is a shame.
Rather than panic when closer Fernando Rodney got off to a bad start, Lovullo stayed with him. He also made Archie Bradley a reliever. The moves have helped the Diamondbacks bullpen become one of the best in the majors.
To work, the decisions required trust, and Lovullo’s ability to connect with players has been attributed to managers Anderson, Terry Francona and John Farrell. But it must have started at home.
Sam Lovullo was pals with the pioneers of mainstream country music. He zipped back and forth between California and Tennessee, working with “Hee Haw” stars including Roy Clark and Buck Owens. But as producer and co-creator, Lovullo was their boss. Still, the chemistry worked. The show’s longevity and success must have been rooted in part on the relationships he fostered.
“Torey would have gotten the roadmap, and the guidebook, from watching his dad,” Brokaw said.
“He was raised by an extraordinary person.”
Ahead of his time
Like a good father, sometimes a manager has to know when to be encouraging, when to be direct and when to back off. Today, pop psychology books call it “emotional intelligence.”
The way Torey Lovullo describes it, Sam had it decades ago.
“My dad always had a gentle hand in trying to tell us about what was right and wrong,” Lovullo, 51, said. “And that’s the way today, that’s what people are doing today.”
Lovullo shows similar skills, but they must have been tough to learn. “Torey had a bit of a temper growing up,” said Dean Singer, Torey’s best friend since childhood.
“He had a level of competitiveness that was different than others.”
Singer thinks Sam Lovullo’s influence helped Torey harness his nature and learn to talk of “being true to the process” and “staying in the moment.”
Torey’s team has responded with one of the best starts in franchise history.
Does it matter that Torey Lovullo can’t remember what exactly his folks served for dinner the night Loretta Lynn came over? Not at all. What matters is that she was so beautiful. Lovullo looks like a starstruck kid describing it some 40 years later.
Does it matter that in 1993, when Brokaw remembers talking to Sam Lovullo on the phone, Torey didn’t hit a home run in Yankee Stadium? No. What counts is that the only thing that could make Sam leap was rooting for his son.
And is Sam watching this season from above, guiding Torey and his team? Consider this story:
Torey’s wife, Kristen, and his mother, Grace, were watching the first game of the season, preparing for disappointment. The Diamondbacks were down two with two outs in the bottom of the ninth. Then they tore off four hits in a row, capped by a walk-off RBI single.
To celebrate, Kristen and Grace had to reach over a photo of Sam, sitting in the chair between them.
“I turned to her,” Kristen said, “and I said, ‘You know why that happened, right?’ ”
And as soon as Kristen saw Torey after the game, “the first thing he said when I saw him, ‘You know who helped me, right?’ And I said, ‘I absolutely do.’ ”
Connect with Greg Moore on Twitter, @writingmoore.