Pitching coach is wrapping up his ninth season on Florida Tech’s coaching staff
For the past nine seasons, the Florida Tech Panthers have had someone with a wealth of experience in professional baseball roaming their dugout and working with pitchers. That person is pitching coach Lee Stange, who picked up the game growing up in Chicago.
“Back in my day, we did not have Little League,” Stange said. “Most of the time it was just the kids playing together. I had a field about a block away from my house, and we were always playing baseball in the summer.”
After finishing high school, Stange, 77, went to Drake University to play football. A knee injury his freshman season ended his football career, but it did not end his dream of being a professional athlete.
“Two years later, I called a scout (Washington Senators scout Ossie Bluege) who saw me play baseball in high school, and I said I wanted to play ball. He sent me a contract for $200 a month (to play) in Fort Walton Beach, Fla.”
Fort Walton Beach was a Class D minor league team for the Washington Senators in the Alabama-Florida League. After a few seasons in the minors, Stange made his major league debut on April 15, 1961, not as a Senator, but with the Minnesota Twins. The Senators had left Washington, D.C., after the previous season and became the Twins. He pitched one inning out of the bullpen in his first of what ended up being 359 career appearances.
He holds the distinction of being one of just 67 major league pitchers to record four strikeouts in an inning. He finished his career with a 62-61 record and a 3.56 ERA. He threw a total of 1,216 innings for four teams over 10 years. He pitched his final game on Sept. 21, 1970, with the Chicago White Sox.
“I was lucky that I got in the big leagues and never had any arm problems,” Stange said. “I was traded a couple of times, was lucky enough to get to Boston and be on the possible dream team in 1967. We won the pennant, but lost the seventh game of the World Series to Bob Gibson (and the St. Louis Cardinals).”
Before his playing career was over, Stange began coaching. When the team’s bullpen coach had to leave to care for his ailing wife, Stange started serving as a player-coach. He ended up coaching for 11 years in the majors and spent over 20 years in the highest level of professional baseball.
Stange began working with the Panthers as a member of former coach Paul Knight’s staff nearly a decade ago, and as with his time in professional baseball, he was energized by working with young players.
“The kids are the most fun, more fun than the big leagues, which is why I am enjoying what I am doing here,” he said.