(Photo credit: Jon SooHoo)
Up until the beginning of the 2016 season, from Joe Ferguson to Davey Lopes, every Los Angeles first base coach over the past 25 years has been a player for the Dodgers at some point in their careers. What’s more, the club has actually seen less first base coaches than managers during the exact 25-year time frame.
George Lombard, however, has never (officially) played for the Dodgers. Better still, Lombard has never coached in the majors prior to arriving in Los Angeles. Yet as his fellow coaches and players get to know him, they are quickly discovering that Lombard may be bringing more energy and enthusiasm than any of his predecessors.
Tim Hyers, the new assistant hitting coach for the Dodgers, coached with Lombard in the Red Sox farm system and has known the rookie first base coach for more than 20 years. Upon learning that Lombard was hired, Hyers had nothing but good things to say.
“Very, very high energy. He’s a players’ coach. He is high energy every single day. He has a love for the game and a love to get better every single day,” Hyers stated. “He is going to bring some energy, some passion and the desire to get better that day and go win.”
Lombard, who last played at age 31 in 2006, was once committed to play football at the University of Georgia as a heavily recruited running back, but ultimately chose baseball as his desired career path.
The Atlanta native was drafted by his hometown Braves in the second round of the 1994 MLB draft. He would ultimately go on to play for four different teams over a six year career, and eventually begin his coaching endeavors as a hitting coach for the Low-A Lowell Spinners in 2010.
Lombard was promoted to numerous positions throughout the Boston farm system, holding down spots anywhere from manager of the Gulf Coast Red Sox to outfield and baserunning coordinator for Triple-A Pawtucket. In 2015, he was hired by the Atlanta Braves as a field coordinator.
Although he never officially played for the Dodgers, he was a non-roster invitee to the Dodgers’ Spring Training camp in 2008 and made the trip with a split squad to play the first-ever Major League games in China. In the process, he achieved what is perhaps his biggest claim to fame— becoming the first American baseball player to hit a home run on Chinese soil.
Baserunning and positional range were Lombard’s best tools as a player. In his brief major-league career (144 games in six seasons), Lombard stole 23 bases in 25 attempts.
Despite never having coached first base, Lombard showed humility, yet expressed confidence in himself in an interview with Cary Osborne of Dodger Insider before the season began.
“I think I’ll be comfortable with it, but by no means do I think it won’t be a challenge,” Lombard said. “The minute you think you have the game figured out, it will bite you in the butt. I feel I go to work trying to learn something new every day from players, from coaches and other teams the way they go about it.”
And conceivably more important than anything else, at the side of Dodgers’ manager Dave Roberts, Lombard was one of the first members of the new coaching staff to forge a genuine relationship with and gain respect from star outfielder Yasiel Puig.
“When Dave (Roberts) called me and presented this opportunity it was something I couldn’t pass on,” Lombard added. “Teaching is the fun part. Dealing with the players and seeing a player progress and being able to put your hands on them and help them progress — that’s the rewarding part. And it’s fun. I feel like I’ve never worked a day in my life.”
If the special connection with Puig is even a minor indication of his abilities and talents, alongside Roberts, Lombard may very well quickly blossom into a much needed source of guidance and leadership for a club with high aspirations.