PEELER: Plesac Embraced Baseball, And Won Big
BY TIM PEELER
RALEIGH, N.C. – Dan Plesac remembers the exact moment of his full-time baseball conversion.
He was standing behind the mound in Stockton, Calif., the day after he pitched a Single-A California League game, when his manager, Tim Nordbrook, walked up to him and said: "You know, you have to really wrap your arms around the game and fall in love with it if you want to be good."
At first, the former NC State All-America left-handed pitcher thought Nordbrook was just making conversation. Later, he realized the manager was giving him a gentle admonishment. The hidden message? Take this game seriously and you can go a long way. If not, you might as well go back to Indiana to be a full-time basketball fan and harness racing breeder.
Looking back on it, Plesac admits he didn't take the game as seriously as he should have in high school and college. Not nearly as much as his older brother Joe, who was a strapping, polished and dedicated right-handed pitcher for head coach Sam Esposito.
Truth be told, Dan was burned out on baseball, so much so that he spent three years playing outfield at his high school in Indiana. It wasn't until his coach, Dick Webb, begged him to pitch that he returned to the mound. Four no-hitters later, he was the No. 42 pick of the 1980 baseball draft.
But his heart still wasn't in it. He never dreamed about having an 18-year major league baseball career, the longest ever by former NC State player.
"I could practice basketball from morning until dark and never get enough," said Plesac, who will be inducted into the NC State Baseball Hall of Fame this weekend with Steve Martin and former teammate Doug Strange. "Baseball was always just something to do in the summer."
The 6-foot-5 Plesac was intent on playing college basketball. He signed conference letters of intent to play hoops at both Purdue and NC State. He was recruited by former Wolfpack head coach Norman Sloan and then-assistant Monte Towe. But they left for Florida in the spring of 1980, not long after Plesac signed his letter. He never suited up in a basketball uniform.
Instead, he and Joe spent their time at Doak Field, refining their pitching skills under Esposito. Joe remained the more solid pitcher, but Dan was spring-loaded with potential, a long, strong lefty who wasn't yet baseball savvy.
"I was very lucky," Dan says today. "I came across a lot of people in my baseball life. Sam Esposito is at the top of that list. I wish I would have listened a little more intently at the time. I was probably like the majority of 18-to-20-year-olds. I thought I knew enough.
"Most of what Espo told me went in the right ear and came out the left."
Esposito recognized the talent of the Plesac brothers, but he also was concerned that the younger Dan wasn't fully committed to the sport.
"He was very impatient," Esposito said in a 2002 story in the NC State Alumni Magazine. "He expected a no-hitter every time he went out there. He didn't let the game come to him... I think the one point we got across to him was to respect the game. It's a very difficult game. Don't get too high and too low."
The Milwaukee Brewers saw enough potential in Plesac to make him the No. 26 pick in the 1983 baseball draft. He spent two-and-a-half years in the minor leagues before making the Brewers' roster out of spring training in 1986.
For the next 18 years, Plesac was one of baseball's most durable left-handed relievers. The three-time All-Star recorded 158 career saves during stints with seven different major league franchises. He pitched in 1,064 games during his career, which ranks No. 6 in the history of major league baseball.
He retired in 2003, after spending two years in the Phillies bullpen. In his last major league appearance, in the final game played at Philadelphia's Veterans Stadium, Plesac struck out Atlanta's Ryan Longerhans for the 1,041th strikeout of his career.
Since then, Plesac has been a broadcaster. He spent three years doing Chicago Cubs pre-game and post-game reports for Comcast Sportsnet Chicago. Last January, Plesac signed a three-year contract to be a studio analyst on the fledgling MLB Network, joining former major leaguers like Sean Casey, Tony Clark, Barry Larkin and Harold Reynolds in providing year-round commentary about professional baseball.
His last assignment was to cover the Caribbean World Series, which sounds like more fun than it actually was. He covered the weeklong event, played in Venezuela, from the MLB Network offices in Secaucus, N.J., where he was covered in a little over two feet of snow.
"While you are playing, you don't look at what your next career is going to be after baseball," said Plesac, who also dabbled in harness racing in Chicago. "I kind of fell into this. It's been a great move for me, covering 30 teams and staying up on top of rosters, trades, free agents.
"It's been a lot of fun, but it's a full-time, 365-day, 24/7 job. Even when you do get a little bit of a break, you can never really turn the game off. You have to constantly stay updated with what is going on. It's not just with one team."
But, from his early playing experiences, Plesac learned to embrace the challenges of his new career. In short, he loves what he is doing.
"It's kind of like playing," Plesac said. "You get out of it what you put into it. We are on long shifts of about 3-4 hours at a time. If there is a team you don't know or if there is a trade you don't know about that happened three or four days ago, you can become very easily exposed in a matter of seconds.
"So I try to stay as informed as I can."
Plesac spends most of the baseball season in New Jersey, from March 1 until the end of the World Series. He spends the rest of the year in his hometown of Crown Point, Ind., where his two daughters, Madeline and Natalie are in high school. Madeline, a senior, recently won the Indiana Miss Teen USA pageant and will compete in the national pageant in the Bahamas this summer.
It may have taken a while, but Plesac has fully embraced baseball.
"It truly is the greatest game in the world," Plesac said. "It just took me a little while to realize that."
You may contact Tim Peeler at firstname.lastname@example.org.