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In Davenport College’s first college tea of the spring, Los Angeles Dodgers’ first base coach George Lombard discussed his career playing and coaching in the majors.

Students, faculty and enthusiastic baseball fans alike piled into the college’s common room to hear Lombard speak about his career last Thursday. Lombard has been with the Dodgers since their 2016 season, helping to lead the team to two back-to-back National League pennants in 2017 and 2018, and coaching in the World Series as LA faced the Houston Astros and the Boston Red Sox. At the talk, the 44-year-old coach focused on the journey that brought him to baseball and the motivation he carried through that journey to make a difference.

“I’m always asking myself ‘how can I connect with players?’” Lombard said. “The answer is to try everything you can to make a difference.”

Lombard then went on to share the story of his mother, Posey Lombard, whom he regards as a leader in her time. Deeply involved with the civil rights movement in the 1960s, she’d routinely protested against unfair Jim Crow laws in Georgia. On Aug. 28, 1963, Ms. Lombard participated in the March on Washington, led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Lombard had a very short time with his mother — she passed away in a car accident when he was just 10 years old.

“After my mom passed, we didn’t know what to do, my siblings and I — we ultimately went to our father,” Lombard said. “My father did the best he could with us, at times, it seemed like we raised him as much as he raised us. We grew up fast, we learned to hustle and grind to make it by.”

This hustle and grind helped Lombard excel in sports once he started school. Attending a public high school in Atlanta, the former journeyman always felt comfortable around sports. He showed promise playing football and won a scholarship to play at the Lovett School in Atlanta, Georgia, where he quickly excelled as one of the team’s best wide receivers.

“It was just what I needed at the right time, being a part of a team was like having an extended family,” Lombard said. “I had many coaches in high school who were like second parents to me.”

During that time in his life, Lombard said he came to appreciate the value of making a difference in someone else’s life in the way of mentorship and guidance.

The Georgia native was originally selected by the Atlanta Braves in the second round of the 1994 MLB draft.

“It was amazing to be drafted to play in Atlanta,” Lombard said. “As a kid I remember riding my bike down to Fulton Stadium to watch the Braves play, now I’ll be playing with them. It’s an awesome feeling to accomplish something like that.”

Lombard appeared in 144 big league games with the Braves between 1998 and 2000, playing as an outfielder. His entire run as a player in the MLB spanned 16 years from 1994 to 2009, as he moved to the Detroit Tigers, the Tampa Bay Rays and the Washington Nationals.

Lombard spent part of the 2008 season with the Dodger organization as a non-roster invitee.

“There were lowlights as well as highlights,” he said about his run with the Braves. “But I loved every minute of it. I had a great opportunity to make a difference in so many lives. It was amazing and I wouldn’t change anything about it.”

His major league accomplishments included a .220/.281/.340 record in 350 at-bats with eight home runs, as well as 23 stolen bases in 25 attempts. Lombard is also known for his involvement in the first MLB China Series in 2008 and was the first American baseball player to hit a home run in the country in the two games that the Dodgers played against the San Diego Padres in Beijing.

He started his coaching career in 2010 with the Boston Red Sox minor league farm system, first as the hitting coach for the Single-A Lowell Spinners. He then served two years from 2011 to 2012 as the manager of the rookie-level Gulf Coast League Red Sox, before he was promoted to Boston’s minor-league outfield and base-running coordinator, a position he served in for three years.

“What helped with my coaching career was that I never thought the game was easy,” Lombard said. “I played in my career along [with] a lot of other guys who ended up Hall of Fame players, but would have never made great coaches because the game came so easy to them. I always thought of the game as a grind and treated coaching the game as a grind.”

In 2015, Lombard worked with the Braves as their base-running coordinator, as well as overall minor league field coordinator in its player development system. But in December of the same year, the Dodgers came calling and Lombard was announced as the first base coach of the team out of Tinseltown.

LA’s manager, Dave Roberts, broke the news.

“I didn’t see it coming — I was blown away,” Lombard said, laughing to himself as he recounted his astonishment that he’d end up back in Los Angeles.

Lombard received several offers to leave the Dodgers after their successful seasons — he was a candidate for manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates, and first base coach for several other teams.

But Lombard chose to remain with the Dodgers for a few more years, feeling like the team had some unfinished business in the league.

“Failure was the first step — if you succeed all the time you’ll never find new ways to improve — we didn’t win the World Series, but then we immediately got back in it and asked ourselves how we can improve,” he said.

Lombard finished his discussion on an optimistic note: he was eager to head back into the season and hopefully help lead the Dodgers to a national championship.

When asked how he knows that he’s made a difference, Lombard talked about how a coach wants to help players be the best versions of themselves, be it in improving their game, or even in off-field lives.

“It was a really great message,” Henderson Heussner ’21, captain of the Yale club baseball team, said. “He made a really relevant point about how someone can maximize the potential of their position, as a coach or as a leader, to maximize the potential of others.”

The tea and discussion was moderated by Davenport Head of College John Witt.

Andrew Bellah | bellah.bellah@yale.edu