PHOENIX -- The baseball career of Vance Lovelace has taken him from Little League teammate of Dwight Gooden and Floyd Youmans to his current role as director of professional scouting for the Dodgers and special assistant to general manager Ned Colletti.
Whether it's the fact that he cut his baseball teeth in the Florida hotbed of Hillsborough High School (which also produced Gary Sheffield) or the fact that his mother was a loyal Brooklyn Dodgers fan, for Lovelace, Black History Month is a time to reflect on those who paved the way.
"Black History Month is a time to celebrate the people that came before you, and that's what I try to do," said the 47-year-old Lovelace.
"Dr. [Martin Luther] King came along back in the time when there was no equality. Before that, Jackie Robinson and the Negro Leagues. It's fun researching, and it starts with Jackie. It's about life and being able to live your life on a 'quote-end-quote' equal footing. There's kind of an energy to say that. It's just having the opportunity. And absolutely my opportunity came from what they did."
Back in his playing days, Lovelace had the promise of a left-handed Gooden. With a blazing fastball, Lovelace was an intimidating 6-foot-5 and 240 pounds when drafted in the first round by the Chicago Cubs in 1981, signing and bypassing a full scholarship to Florida State. That Draft also produced Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn, Cy Young winners David Cone and Frank Viola, and an outfielder who found another calling by the name of John Elway.
After the 1982 season, the Cubs dealt Lovelace and outfielder Dan Cataline to the Dodgers for Ron Cey.
Lovelace never conquered a tendency toward wildness, but not for lack of trying. He played professionally for 13 seasons, enjoying brief Major League callups in 1988, '89 and '90. There also was a year pitching in Taiwan and two more in independent baseball, when he was talked out of a two-year retirement and a job with a liquor distributor to reunite with Youmans.
When he could no longer take the ball, he transitioned to a three-year stint as pitching coach and assistant general manager for the independent New Jersey Jackals.
"My arm was shot by then, but they thought I could impart my knowledge," said Lovelace. "I recruited players and I got a lot of insight on building a team. I held tryout camps. I learned a lot about the game and about myself."
Lovelace turned to scouting in 2001, when he was offered a position by Dodgers assistant general manager Bill Geivett, a former Minor League teammate and currently an assistant general manager with Colorado. Lovelace has survived five general managers with the Dodgers, became a special assistant to the general manager in 2006 and a year ago was promoted from special assistant to his current role, which added administrative supervision to in-the-field scouting.
"I'm not playing anymore, but I'm valued for my mind," said Lovelace. "I manage people. I was thinking that 40 or 50 years ago, that never would have happened to someone like me. My mother was a Brooklyn Dodgers fan. It's pretty neat being in her favorite organization, where Branch Rickey first embraced Jackie, the organization that took the first chance with a black player and has taken a chance with me."
Colletti considers Lovelace a key advisor in his inner circle.
Although Colletti inherited Lovelace when he arrived in 2006, he talked him into rejecting an offer from another club to stay with the Dodgers, and now has entrusted him with coordinating all professional scouting.
"Vance Lovelace approaches every day with this organization with more passion and pride and determination than anybody I've been around in the organization," said Colletti. "He's relentless, he's tireless. You ask him a question, his mind thinks, 'How does this help the organization?' not 'What will this do for me and my career?"
Lovelace is a father of 23-year-old twins -- both college graduates, he's proud to report -- and he still lives in his native Tampa.
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.