Thomas LePage is the head baseball coach at Duluth. (Staff Photo: Ben Beitzel)
Thomas LePage, 29, is the new head baseball coach at Duluth. The former college player at Jacksonville University in Florida has been an assistant at Duluth since the 2009 season.
In this installment of “Getting to Know …” LePage talks with staff writer Ben Beitzel about playing in the NCAA regionals in Athens, the joys of being a younger Red Sox fan and living with his future in-laws.
BB: What brought you here from Jacksonville, Fla.?
TL: I loved it in Jacksonville. I found a college that gave me a shot and I stayed there, met my future wife, Katie, at Jacksonville University. She played volleyball there. She’s an engineer so she was going to finish her school at Georgia Tech. She always planned to go to Jacksonville and finish playing volleyball and go to Georgia Tech and get her mechanical engineering degree. So, it had gotten serious and I moved up here with her. Moved to Snellville, I was looking for a job and that is when I decided I really wanted to coach baseball. I got in contact with some coaches. I hooked up with Coach (Matt) Champitto, coached with him over at Shiloh for a year. I got married. I came over to Duluth with Coach Champitto in 2009 and got the head coaching job last summer.
BB: So you’ve been at Duluth for awhile.
TL: I’ve been here since the summer of 2008.
BB: So you got married after you came to Duluth.
TL: Yeah, I got married in 2011.
BB: You have to make sure you get that right.
TL: Yeah. I got married in Lawrenceville at a place called Little Gardens.
BB: How’d you two end up in Snellville right away from out of town, especially with Katie going to Georgia Tech?
TL: Her parents actually lived in Snellville. They had moved down. She is from Ohio originally, from Cincinnati. Her father works for CSX and does stuff all over the Southeast and they wanted to centralize themselves so they moved to Snellville. We actually lived with them for a few years when we first moved up and then got our own house right before we got married.
BB: What was it like living with your future in-laws. I guess you have to be careful how you answer.
TL: It was … great. It was a different experience. To be honest, it helped my relationship with her parents. For awhile it was just me and her dad because her mom still lived in Cincinnati while she was trying to find a job down here. It was honestly good. It was a good learning experience. It was good for my relationship with my in-laws and good for my relationship with my wife.
BB: It probably let you save up money to buy a house and pay for school.
TL: That was the biggest part about it. They did us a huge favor with that. We were able to save up our money and pay for her school at the same time. Save up money and buy a house and pay for our own wedding.
BB: Tell me about playing baseball in college. Did you just want to keep playing? Jacksonville is not a giant school.
TL: I wasn’t a highly sought after player. I was skin and bones. I was good enough that I could hit a little and I could play defense well enough, first base/right field. It’s a private school. It’s really small, but it’s Division I. We played Florida State, we played in the Atlantic Sun (Conference). To be honest I didn’t have high hopes, I was just happy to be a part of the program (as a walk-on). I got better. I grew, gained 30, 35 pounds. All of a sudden I had muscle and I could hit home runs so I ended up, I redshirted … I started my junior and senior year. I DH’d my entire junior year. We went to a regional, actually, in Athens. We played Georgia and Florida State. I made the all-region team at that regional. I like to tell my (players) that. They think, ‘Oh you played nowhere.’ I like to tell those stories.
BB: Were you studying to be a teacher?
TL: I was actually a business major, business administration degree. Worked for a year or so in accounting while I was still living in Jacksonville and then when we moved up, the economy the way it was I was looking for a job in accounting, couldn’t find anything. I started as a community coach at Shiloh, when I came over here I got into special ed as a parapro and it worked itself out from there. I am working on my master’s in special ed now at Valdosta State. I like special ed now, I like the class that I am teaching. Honestly, it’s helped with baseball. The things that I deal with in the classroom in special ed, the things I deal with on the field in baseball, it makes it a lot easier with discipline …
BB: … And patience.
TL: And patience. I tell my wife all the time, when we finally do have kids I am going to be the most patient dad.
BB: What drew you to special ed?
TL: It was an easy way to get in as a teacher to be honest. There are always openings in special ed. I got in and I loved it. Now I am getting my degree in it. It’s great.
BB: It seems like it worked out pretty well.
TL: It did. My mom is a teacher, my sister is a teacher and I never really thought about being a teacher, but now that I am here and now that I am living it, it’s like, ‘OK, this is kind of what I was meant to do.’ I was meant to be a teacher and a coach.
BB: You played, but are you a baseball fan?
TL: Very much so. My dad is all baseball. He instilled that in me early on. I like watching the Braves. It’s nice having a team that I can watch on TV every night even though I am not a huge Braves fan. I am actually a Red Sox fan. I grew up going to spring training and watching the Red Sox. But it’s nice to be in a baseball town.
BB: You are probably young enough where being a Boston Red Sox fan is only really fun for you.
TL: It’s funny, I tell people that. I lived in the ’90s that weren’t so great, but they started to get good at the end of the ’90s, but I have the stories from my dad. I have the Bill Buckner stories, 1975 story, I have the Bucky Dent story. I saw how my dad reacted to it. I saw how my grandfather reacted to it. So I kind of knew. Then 2003 came and they lost on the Aaron Boone home run and I saw how my dad reacted to that. At that time it was kind of like my first real feeling of it that he had experienced all of his life. Then of course 2004 happened and I was at home with my dad and we watched every game of it. This past year he came up and we watched three World Series games together. I don’t have that burden, that painfulness.
BB: So you and your wife were both college athletes, who is the best athlete in the family?
TL: (laughs and pauses) I am going to say I am the better athlete … because I played more sports. I was more all-around. You said athlete. If you had said volleyball player … She actually has me playing some volleyball now, we are playing in some adult leagues. She was probably a better volleyball player than I was a baseball player on the college level. But you said athlete.