Legacy baseball coach rejected major-league offer to stay in Las Vegas Valley

Joey Lauria has built a career by overcoming challenges — including some of his own doing.

The 25-year-old former pitcher at Legacy High School signed with the UNLV baseball team in 2010, but his scholarship was pulled because his coach thought he didn’t have a good work ethic, Lauria said.

He took a year off and transferred to the College of Southern Nevada’s team in 2011. He played there for two years before getting another chance at UNLV.

In June 2015, Lauria was drafted in the 25th round by the Philadephia Phillies, giving him a chance to play for his hometown and favorite team. But when he was only offered a $1,000 bonus, he turned it down and decided to pursue a master’s degree and become an graduate assistant for the Rebels baseball team under coach Tim Chambers.

“I have no regrets with what happened,” Lauria said. “It’s everyone’s dream to play pro baseball, but I was looking ahead. I had to think, ‘Joey, do you want to be 26 and ride buses around the country or have a career and to be settled down?’”

But when Chambers resigned in fall 2015, Lauria and another assistant were let go. He said he didn’t let that discourage him.

Another opportunity came early in 2016 when a former coach at Legacy contacted Lauria and asked if he’d be interested in being an assistant pitching coach.

“I thought it would be pretty cool because I’m an alumni,” he said. “Why not come back and give back to the kids? In order for this program to be saved, I was the right guy for the job.”

Legacy had won just 18 games in the past four years, Lauria said. His goal was to recreate the success he experienced as a senior in 2009-10, when the school won its only division title.

He became the team’s head coach this school year.

“I think so far I’ve definitely changed the culture, and the players know what I expect from them,” Lauria said.

The players agree.

“There’s a different atmosphere, and he’s more passionate about the game,” 17-year-old senior center fielder Donta Williams said. “… He cares about us and wants us to succeed.

“Our start (this season) is better than the past four years, not just because of the coaches but also the players who want to see Joey succeed.”

The Longhorns were 1-4 before starting league play March 20.

Senior second baseman Willie Valdez, 17, said Lauria’s expectations have pushed him to work harder.

“It pushes everyone to try harder,” Valdez said. “He doesn’t care how old you are. He’s going to play his best nine guys.”

Lauria recruited his former Rebels teammate Brayden Torres, 22, who also played at Legacy. Torres said he wouldn’t have agreed if another coach asked him.

“We definitely have a chance to turn this program around and get it back to what it used to be,” Torres said.

Lauria also brought his 19-year-old brother, Nick, onto the staff, making him coach of the junior varsity team.

Lauria is also completing his master’s degree in special education, which he teaches at Legacy. He said he was inspired to go into the field after being a student aide for a special education class in high school.

“I love the challenge I face every single day at work,” he said.

Lauria said that he hopes to coach in college eventually, but he’s focused on building a winning program at Legacy first.

“I know it’s going to take a long time,” he said. “I knew that when taking the job that I needed to be patient. I have really high expectations for myself.”

In October, Lauria plans to marry his fiancee, Riley Duran, whom he met at Legacy in 2010.

To reach North View reporter Kailyn Brown, call 702-387-5233 or email kbrown@viewnews.com. Follow her on Twitter: @KailynHype.

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