Making a major impact

Blue Crabs pitching coach shaping the future

Friday, April 25, 2008

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Staff photo by STEPHEN DEMEDIS
Blue Crabs pitching coach Andre Rabouin is an ambassador to China in Major League Baseball’s Play Ball program.

After more than 30 years playing and coaching in minor league baseball, Andre Rabouin is finally getting a chance to impact the game on a major league level.

As an ambassador to China in Major League Baseball’s Play Ball program, The Southern Maryland Blue Crabs pitching coach has spent six weeks over the past two years teaching Chinese children and adults how to play and coach the game.

‘‘Baseball has been my life. It’s always been a part of me,” Rabouin said. ‘‘But I have really enjoyed the experience. I have met a lot of great people, and it is fun to teach the game to people who are so eager to learn.”

Major League Baseball developed the program as a means of generating a talent base in China, but to also increase the game’s popularity in a new market.

Rabouin’s first joined the Play Ball program in the summer of 2007, when, for the first time in 16 years, he didn’t have a position as a coach in the minor leagues.

‘‘I was with my roommate, James Williams, when he got a call about working some camps in China, and he asked me if I wanted to go,” Rabouin said. ‘‘I was like, ‘Yeah, let’s do it.’ I had no problem with going.”

The prospect of living abroad was nothing new to Rabouin. The Bronxville, New York, native spent 14 years of his childhood on military bases in France and Germany, and then spent 14 years playing in professional leagues throughout Mexico and South America.

His first language was French, and he is nearly fluent in Spanish.

On the first trip to China in 2007, Rabouin and his peers worked in the major cities of Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou, teaching prospective coaches how to teach the fundamentals to their players, which Rabouin feels will be the key if the game catches on in China.

‘‘There are 1.3 billion people in China, so there has to be talent. There are just so many players,” Rabouin said. ‘‘Finding the right coaches is going to be the biggest obstacle, because adults there don’t play baseball. The biggest impact we made was working with the coaches.”

Coaching is one of the things that Rabouin does best. At the age of 42, Rabouin retired as a player, but continued his coaching career, which he began the previous season in the Kansas City Royals organization.

‘‘Andre is just an outstanding coach,” said Blue Crabs manager Butch Hobson. ‘‘He works hard and is very good at what he does. You can see how good of a teacher he is when you watch him working with the pitching staff. He just has this demeanor when he works with guys. He knows what he’s doing.”

Rabouin attributes his success as an instructor to his career as a player.

‘‘As a pitcher, I had some pretty good stuff,” Rabouin said. ‘‘But I had to work at it. I had to do all kinds of drills to develop my throwing motion, and I think that working on my own pitching taught me a lot about the game.”

Rabouin’s most successful years as a player came in 1981 while pitching for Tabasco in a league in Mexico.

The University of Texas-Pan American product led the league in earned run average and strikeouts, while accumulating a 19-3 record.

Since working with the coaches in the Play Ball program, Jicheng and three of the academy’s other top players have moved to Japan to work on their game in a country where baseball is more established.