Connor Lambert’s fastballs were a thing of beauty as an all-state baseball player at River Ridge High School, with velocity reaching the 90s.
While his playing days are over, these days he’s transitioned his talents to molding and mentoring younger players.
Text messages and phone calls from the pitchers he’s coached, announcing they’re off to play at a four-year institution are some of his proudest moments as a 26-year-old coach.
“That stuff means a tremendous amount to me,” he said. “I love having an impact on those guys’ life and trying to show them a better way to do it than I did.”
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Pitching coach is Lambert’s full-time job between Tacoma Community College and the Corvallis (Ore.) Knights of the West Coast League, a high-end Northwest collegiate summer wooden bat league.
Lambert is in the midst of his fourth season as pitching coach for the Knights, who began a six-game roadtrip with Tuesday’s 5-0 win over the Kitsap BlueJackets at Kitsap Fairgrounds and have their sights set on repeating as WCL champions.
In high school, Lambert was the Pacific 9 MVP as a senior at River Ridge, posting a 4-2 record with a 2.57 ERA while hitting .400 with 19 RBIs in 2006. At Washington State University, on a roster that also featured high school teammate Seth Harvey, he went 11-3 lifetime primarily as a reliever and helped the Cougars advance to two consecutive NCAA tournaments.
But Lambert found coaching his forte as an undergraduate assistant at WSU in 2011, and it developed into a passion he wasn’t ready to give up after one year.
“I’m a very competitive person — it’s a blemish on my character at times, and it keeps me around the game, which I’ve always loved,” he said.
He wrapped up his second year as pitching coach at TCC this spring, helping the Titans to a 39-8 record, including 27 victories in a row and seven straight shutouts.
Lambert’s pitching staff with the Knights ranks fourth in the league in earned-run average (3.50) and opponents are hitting only .237 against it.
While his role in the summer includes development and leadership, Lambert also watches pitchers’ inning and pitch-count limits that come directly from their college programs.
Knights players described Lambert as a player’s coach, an easy-going guy who will do everything he can to help players succeed. One of those is Chris Bishop, a Rochester High School graduate, who has been with Corvallis since 2012. Each year, Bishop takes something else back with him he learned from Lambert to Pacific Lutheran University, where he’ll be a senior next season. This past spring, he threw his first career no-hitter for the Lutes, coming off a summer where he gained further confidence in his role as a pitcher.
“That’s what he preaches,” said Bishop, who helped Rochester to the Class 1A state title in 2008.
Brandon Choate, who pitches for the University of Washington, worked with Lambert at TCC, noting Lambert helped make Choate the pitcher he is today, starting with the mental game. Choate described himself as immature before Lambert worked with him to create good habits.
“He really turned my pitching performance around,” Choate said. “He taught me how to be a pitcher as opposed to a thrower.”
And for Lambert, he can’t imagine doing anything else but coach.
“This for me,” Lambert said, “doesn’t ever feel like work.”