Springfield's 'Mr. Baseball' Remembered

Springfield's 'Mr. Baseball' Remembered

Tom Ravalette was involved in the Central Springfield Little League for over 30 years and coached at Lee and West Springfield High.

Bill Renner got to know Tom Ravalette when his son was named an all-star to a Little League baseball team Ravalette was coaching.

He quickly learned that there was lot more to Ravalette than met the eye.

"He wasn't going to say 10 words, unless you talk to him. He was quiet, but he had a wealth of knowledge," said Renner, the varsity football coach at West Springfield High.

A coach and leader in the Central Springfield Little League and several Fairfax County high schools, Ravalette died Wednesday, Feb. 9, of complications due to a rare sinus condition. He was 57.

"When you look at the Springfield area, you would be hard-pressed to find anyone who played here who wasn't influenced by Tom in some way," said Mark Nocera, assistant student activities director at Lee High in Springfield. "He was tireless in his efforts to help kids play the game, and promote the game, and teach the game." Nocera coached the Lee varsity baseball team from 1996-2001, and during that time, Ravalette served as an assistant coach. Nocera said Ravalette's primary duty was advance scouting on future opponents, to develop a scouting report for each game.

"He had a great eye for the scouting part of it. If he told you you could [steal a base] on this catcher, you could run on this catcher," said Nocera.

After Nocera stepped aside as coach at Lee, Ravalette moved on, too. But he didn't have to wait long before joining another school's staff. Mark Gjormand, varsity coach at Vienna's Madison High, snapped up Ravalette in a hurry.

"He was a fixture in our bleachers, and I figured if he was scouting us all the time, I'd better hire him," said Gjormand.

The partnership turned out to be a good one, as Madison went 29-0 and won the state championship during Ravalette's first year at the school.

"He had a report ready every day," said Gjormand. "And he did the stuff that nobody wants to do."

RAVALETTE WAS planning to be on the diamond for his fourth season at Madison when spring practice began this year, but his health got in the way. He was diagnosed with a rare sinus condition in November and had more than 25 procedures at Washington Hospital Center. In early February, as his condition improved, Ravalette was transferred to Cherrydale Health and Rehabilitation in Arlington to begin a four-week rehab stint for his sinus condition. He developed complications from the condition, however, and died on Feb. 9. A memorial service was held on Sunday, Feb. 13, at Messiah United Methodist Church on Rolling Road in Springfield.

"All he talked about was, 'Coach, I'll be out in time, I'll be back in time for baseball,'" said Gjormand.

A single man, Ravalette attended the University of Delaware, where he studied English and played baseball. According to Jim Hamilton, who also coached Little League in Springfield, Ravalette held the Delaware school stolen-base record for many years after he graduated.

Ravalette's involvement with the Central Springfield Little League began in the 1970s, and he was also involved in Springfield Youth Clubs, coaching football and basketball.

Ken Moreland, 43, of Springfield, said Ravalette coached him in Little League when Moreland was in elementary school.

He said that in addition to Ravalette's passion for coaching, he collected baseball memorabilia and all his old scouting reports.

"One day, he showed up to practice and said, 'Hey look, I got [former Washington Senators first baseman Mike] Epstein's cleats,'" said Moreland. "He just picked them up somewhere, I guess."

Moreland said Ravalette even ran a small baseball card shop in Concord Plaza in Springfield, before it closed.

IN 1994, Ravalette was an assistant on the all-star team from Springfield, which Hamilton managed, that earned a spot in the prestigious Little League World Series in Williamsport, Penn. In 1998 and 2000, he was an assistant on teams that won Little League state tournaments.

Even when Ravalette wasn't coaching all-stars, Moreland said he was involved in instruction of baseball at all levels.

"If somebody didn't want a particular team, he would take them on," said Moreland. "They weren't the most talented kids, but he would always find time to coach those teams."

This led to some unforeseen problems, according to Moreland.

"It wouldn't be uncommon for Rav's teams to be playing one of his own teams, just so those kids would have a place to play."

Hamilton said that Ravalette traveled to Florida every year to keep statistics for the Little League Southern Region championships. While there, he would scout for the Virginia teams that competed.

"He touched a lot of people. He's somebody that's going to be missed down there, and here," said Hamilton.

Ravalette lived in Woodbridge and worked the midnight shift at the Shell gas station on Backlick Road in Springfield, a position that allowed him the flexibility to attend baseball games.

"Rav was a very intelligent man. He had an English degree, but he chose to work at this gas station and work nights in order to do what he wanted to do, which was coach, and be involved in Little League," said Hamilton.

Those who knew him well said that Ravalette's death, while a difficult blow, wasn't surprising, due to the diabetes that affected the circulation in his legs.

"He's an example to anybody who has a one-hundredth of the problems he had," said Renner. "Tom Ravalette didn't think about himself, and was sicker than anybody who has bumps and bruises and cries about them."