Along with reliever Craig Breslow, the 25-year-old — who's been tabbed as the Red Sox "catcher of the future" — is one of two Boston players with an Ivy League education. Lavarnway spent three years, one short of graduating, studying philosophy at Yale, just a couple hours south of Boston in New Haven, Connecticut.
In an interview with NESN's Peter Gammons, Lavarnway admitted that the most pleasure he gets on the baseball diamond is not in hitting a home run, or any individual accomplishment, but rather in helping a pitcher maximize his potential from behind the plate. A game without shake-offs or cross-ups, that's the goal on any given day. On Thursday, Lavarnway echoed those sentiments.
"It's kind of an unspoken communication, seeing eye-to-eye with a guy, going in with a game plan and executing it to perfection," said Lavarnway after the Red Sox' 2-0 loss to the New York Yankees. "Seamless work between a pitcher and a catcher."
To that end, Lavarnway is an obvious choice to lead a pitching staff, clearly among the headier players in Major League Baseball. However, the Yale alumnus is also working from behind a bit. Lavarnway caught when he was younger, but didn't pick up the position again until college, when his lack of range in the outfield made it clear he wouldn't stick there for long. But his bat will play at any position.
Basically, there's no substitute for experience, so Lavarnway's had to work doubly hard to re-learn the position, and was rewarded with the equivalent of a Gold Glove in the Triple-A International League in 2012. Becoming familiar with individual pitchers, however, is a long process, so again finding himself in Boston, the learning curve has been steep.
Lavarnway is a quick study, though, which is a big advantage when forming a gameplan each and every day. Every time Lavarnway goes behind the plate, it's preceded by a clubhouse meeting with that day's starting pitcher, where they figure out their strategy for the game. Of course, that plan can always go out the window.
"Every hitter gets his own plan based on what we perceive to be his weaknesses, what he's been doing lately and what we believe our pitcher's strengths are and how he's been throwing recently," said Lavarnway. "Then once you go into the game and see how a pitcher is performing that day, then the plan can change, it can evolve along with the game, or it can be executed the way that we planned it."
Basically, the relationship between a pitcher and catcher really isn't all that different from, well, a romantic relationship, as the language of both has a lot of overlap. In each kind, it takes a lot of trust, support and confidence to make the union work.
"Any sort of confidence that I can help provide from an external perspective, to a point," said Lavarnway. "Obviously most confidence needs to come from within, but any little bit that I can provide as far as making [a pitcher] feel good about his pitches, making him feel good about bouncing a pitch that I'm going to block it, making him believe in a certain sequence. Those are small things that you can do to help a pitcher."
But it's clear why Lavarnway has taken so well to his work behind the plate. Baseball takes a lot of physical ability, but doesn't always require the most intellectual train of thought to be able to perform. Except for the catching position, that is, as Lavarnway realizes that being a little bit headier than some of his teammates is a boon for what he's trying to accomplish.
"Catching is a very cerebral position. I wouldn't say that a philosophy education helps necessarily, but I am a thinker."