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Archive for September, 2010

More Fall Scrimmaging

Another Wednesday, another scrimmage. Today was a nine inning scrimmage for us, getting nine pitchers an opportunity to get some work in. As has been the norm thus far, each pitcher throws one inning of work. Today I was scheduled to be the starting pitcher and couldn’t wait to get out to the field and get ready to go. I arrived at the lovely Bob Barnes Field at 2:40pm. After getting my cleats on and collecting my thoughts for a few minutes I went out to go through my pregame routine. With me I took my glove, a ball to warm up with, and my towel for drills (a towel with a golf ball taped into it). I ran to centerfield and back, and then went through my dynamic stretching. Then I went through all my static stretching until I felt that all my muscles were properly warmed up and ready to go. If one little thing doesn’t feel right, you might not get the results you want, so it is so important for pitchers to thoroughly and properly warm up before taking the mound.

After stretching it is time to play catch, but before I play catch I like to go through 10 or 15 repetitions of my pitching mechanics with the towel rather than the ball. Going through your mechanics with a towel is a great tool for pitchers because it has limited stress on your arm when you throw with the towel rather than a ball. After that its time to throw. The starting pitcher always plays catch with the starting catcher, and today was no exception. When I warm up I go through a process called walking your arm out. I make 10 throws in three different drills, one at 30 feet, one at 45 feet, and one at 60 feet. Then I lob catch the ball all the way back to around 150 feet. After I feel my shoulder is loosened up I start to work my way back in from 150 feet throwing the ball with more velocity and on a tighter flatter line rather than arching it. I worked my way all the way back in, and finally felt loose enough to head to the bullpen to finish the warm up process.

In the bullpen I throw five light fastballs to my glove side to make sure my mechanics are sound and my arm is loose. Then I start to work at game speed. Two fastballs outside to a right-handed hitter and two change-ups outside to a right-handed hitter. Then two fastballs inside to a right-handed hitter and two change-ups inside to a right-handed hitter. After I feel I have command of the plate I start alternating fastball, change-up, fastball, change-up every pitch getting the feel for them. Then I go to the stretch and repeat the same routine, except I throw my breaking ball instead of my change up. Finally I like to finish my bullpen with going through each of my four pitches from the wind-up and then the stretch throwing them at game-speed with a purpose and a location in mind.

I was loose, I was ready, I was focused. I took the mound for the scrimmage. I had been at the ball park getting ready for over an hour, it was time to go get my real work in. I threw my eight warm-up pitches with conviction and purpose. Finally the first hitter stepped in. First pitch fastball, ball one. Dang, I hate when I don’t throw that first one in there. Second pitch fastball, strike one. Alright we are back, don’t mess around and pound the zone.After a couple of foul balls and a ball, the hitter fisted a 2-2 fastball to the shortstop and became out number one. The next hitter was jammed and popped a soft fly ball into the waiting glove of our right fielder. The third hitter worked the count well. He took a check swing at a 2-2 slider and was deemed to have held back. He watched as a 3-2 fastball flew over the plate, but it was too low, and he reached on a two-out walk. You can’t be walking people, don’t let this one hurt you. With that, the next hitter popped a routine fly ball to center field and ended my inning.

I was happy with the outing, but not happy with the walk. I felt I executed my pitches when I needed to, but would have liked to have that 3-2 pitch back that walked the hitter. I got a little too out front with the ball, and the fastball at the shins was not the right pitch in that situation. Nonetheless I did my job and got the boys off the field and up to bat with a zero on the scoreboard. As always I went to check my strike percentage, that ultimate teller of success. After much debate on who had the correct percentage it was finally recorded that I threw 17 pitches, 10 strikes, 7 balls, for a final strike percentage of 59%. Not stats that jump off the page, but I threw the ball well and continued to collect the outs I needed. After the high-fives and “good inning” from my teammates, I consulted my pitching coach for feedback. He responded with a simple, “I’m not going to fix what’s not broken.” I’ll take that as I am throwing the ball well and getting the job done. As long as I am getting outs and putting up good strike percentages, I’ll take the lack of feedback as a good thing.

I ran 10 poles in the outfield with a fellow pitcher during of the scrimmage for conditioning and to flush the lactic acid build-up out of my arm before leaving at 5:30 to head to night class. It was another successful day, and I feel like I am really building towards my goal of being a weekend rotation guy. I have no control over what will happen and who pitches on the weekend, but if I keep throwing good strikes and getting guys out, I can make it pretty tough for the coaches to keep me off the mound.

As always, never stopping working towards my goal.

Saturday Afternoon Intersquads

Fall ball is a time to get work in and see who is going to contribute on the field in the spring and who needs another year to mature and work before they are ready to be a major player on the collegiate level. That is why scrimmages are so prevalent during this fall season.

Today was an intersquad scrimmage, where we divide up the roster into two sides and play it out like a real game. Pitchers each throw an inning, and are on 15 pitch maximums.I was slated to be the fourth pitcher on the mound today, pitching the bottom of the second inning.

Saturday intersquads are usually a very relaxed and fun, but still competitive atmosphere. Today was no exception. Everyone arrived to the park by about 10:30 for the noon scrimmage. There was a lot of field work to be done following the days of rain we have had in the Twin Cities. After we got the field, especially the mound and home plate, in playable condition, we ran, stretched, and played catch to get loose.

All morning my shoulder and pectoral muscle on my left side were much tighter than usually. It took me a lot longer to get loose than normal, and even after playing catch to about 100 feet, my arm still felt tight. I knew I had to get my body ready to pitch so I asked one of the freshman pitchers to come to the bullpen with me. I went through my wind-up over and over just lobbing fastballs and change-ups down there, getting my arm warm and my body used to my mechanics off the mound. I probably made 50 throws before I finally felt loose enough to open up and put something on the ball. I went through my pregame bullpen routine throwing fastballs and change ups on the inner half from the full wind-up, and fastballs and breaking balls down the middle from the stretch. Once I feel like I have command of my pitches, I like to go through all my pitches throwing them to particular spots and executing them with game like mentality. I always finish the bullpen by saying 3-2 fastball and spotting up a good down in the zone fastball.

I took the mound and made my eight warm-up pitches with the best game-like mentality, hitting spots and making the ball move. Then the first hitter stepped in and the game gets real. The first hitter worked his way to a 3-2 count (keep in mind we start with a 1-1 count) before a fastball on the outer half was cued of the end towards the third baseman. The long wet grass of the infield slowed the ball and we never had a chance to get him. An infield hit, the worse! You make a great pitch and can’t do anything about it. With a runner on first and no outs I automatically made a throw over to first base to check for the hitter squaring to bunt, he didn’t. After the runner moved up to second on wild pitch on a slider thrown far too outside trying to get a strikeout, the left-handed hitter rolled over to the second baseman for the first out of the inning, but moving the runner up another 90 feet to third base. After a first pitch strike, I wanted to throw a change-up down and away, but missed right down the middle. If the pitch hadn’t of fooled him and let his weight get out front, the ball might still be flying. As is, he was out front and hit is squarely to centerfield for a sacrifice fly. With two outs and no one on, the next hitter flyed out to centerfield to end the inning. I felt I had made good pitches outside of the one slider and the one change-up, but I was still a little frustrated allowing my first run of the fall.

As always I went over to get my statistics for the day, and they were as following; 13 pitches, eight for strikes, five for balls, which is 62% strikes. I gave up 1 run on 1 hit with no strikeouts and no free bases. A pretty solid outing for a fall scrimmage I think. All I can do is keep working towards my goals and giving my self the best opportunities to be successful. If I handle my business the rest will work out.

Fall Stat Line thus far:
63 Pitches (38 strikes-25 balls, 60.3%)
ERA 0.53 (1 earned run allowed over 17 outs collected or 5 and 2/3 innings)
Opponets Batting Avg, .105 (2 hits in 19 at-bats)
Strikeout-to-Walk & HBP Ratio 3 to 2 (1 BB, 1 HBP)

These stats mean nothing, they aren’t going to get me the baseball on the weekend. Being successful and confident in the execution of my pitches is the only way to earn the spot I want in the weekend rotation.

Scrimmaging in the Rain

Today was a scrimmage for us.  It rained all game, but never hard enough that we had to leave the field. Scrimmages like this are not my favorite. It is wet and cold, guys lose focus easily, and my least favorite thing is when a coach calls balls and strikes from behind the pitcher. This is something I battle with every year, I don’t like people calling pitches from behind the mound. I don’t know what it is about it that I don’t like, I just don’t. But that was the situation for the day, and I don’t have a say in the way scrimmages are run, I just have to shut up and play.

We had nine pitchers throw today, each an innings worth of work. I was scheduled to throw the seventh inning today, and on a day like today that is not an easy task. You warm up with the team before the game, before standing around for six innings getting colder and wetter by the minute. Luckily after dealing with this last year I keep my jacket and a pair of gloves in my bag at all times. Today they definitely came in handy. The gloves kept my hands warm, and for a pitcher that is a huge thing. If your hands stay warm, it is easier to get the rest of your body ready to pitch. So word of advice for any young pitchers that play in places where it can get cold, always have a pair of gloves in your bag!

As for the game, I started the seventh inning. I had some nerves today, because earlier today I spoke to the general manager of a summer team that I am looking to play for in a pretty prestigious league. I had a great talk with the GM, and he said he would be phoning my head coach tomorrow to talk about my performances and possibly signing me for the college summer. Since this would be my last outing before coach gave his report to this GM, I knew I had to leave a good impression.

I took the eight warm up pitches to think through my mechanics and breath out any nerves that I had. It was still raining lightly as I faced my first hitter of the day. The first hitter struck out on a great sequence. I threw to one of my favorite catchers today. For whatever reason I am extremely comfortable with him behind the plate. He always calls a great game for my strengths as a pitcher. The first batter saw a fastball on each side of the plate, followed by a great change-up on the outer half, and went down swinging on a fastball up. One down. The next hitter worked me to a full count before hitting an outside fastball high into right field. With the rain coming down and the wind blowing our right fielder couldn’t make a read on the ball and it dropped in for a double. Nothing hurt. The next hitter got a wet baseball to the back as the ball, still slick from getting hit for a double slipped off and into the HBP column. Breath, you are still one pitch away from being out of the inning. After regaining my composure it was time to turn it on. I had to execute pitches and get myself out of the mini jam. The next hitter rolled a change-up to our charging third baseman who made a great play on the ball to get the out at first base. Two down, still nothing hurt. With runners on second and third with two outs, I was one pitch away from getting out of the inning unscathed. Three pitches later I did just that, a 1-1 fastball on the hands of the hitter was lined softly into the waiting glove of our second baseman. I had gotten out of the inning with no damage to the scoreboard, and had executed pitches when it mattered.

Walking off the field I got some high fives and “good jobs” from teammates and coaches. But I wanted to know one thing; what was my strike percentage? That was my downfall the previous season, so now that’s just about the only stat I care about. If you throw well, ERA, opponents batting average, and wins work themselves out, but strike percentage, that’s what decides who gets the ball, and who cheers from the bench. Today I threw 18 pitches, 10 were strikes, eight were balls, for a final strike percentage of 56%. I didn’t miss the zone by much on those eight balls. I made timely executed pitches, and did my job of collecting three outs and getting the team off the field with a zero up on the scoreboard.

Hopefully I get a good report from my coach to my possible summer GM. I can’t control that, all I can do is be successful on and off the field in the things that I do. I am confident in my ability and the way I am throwing the baseball right now, everything else will fall into place. Still continuously working towards my goal to be a Concordia Golden Bear weekend starter.

Day One with the New Squad

There is inevitability in collegiate athletics, and one thing that is absolutely inevitable is that there will not be enough spots on the team for everyone that wants to be on it. This year we had five days of practice for players to prove their mettle to the coaching staff. With 40+ guys trying out this year our coaching staff decided for the first time in the program under head coach Mark “Lunch” McKenzie to do a normal cut process. After five days last week a list of 30 players was posted, and that became the new team for the 2010-11 season. There are many guys that are willing to put in the work to be on the team, but the coaches have to make the decisions that will best provide us with a winning formula.

Today we practiced for the first time as the team that we will be competing with this spring. The feeling was a little lighter, people are not worried about cuts and can now use the fall for what it is intended; working on your game and earning tentative spots for the spring. These 29 guys will be my family for the next nine months. I will spend more time with my fellow teammates than I will with family, friends, and classmates. My teammates are my brothers, and these will be guys that I will remember long after my playing days are over. When it comes to playing baseball everyone has to do their job for the overall success of the team, and that can me setting aside personal issues and just being teammates.

Lunch also announced to us that for the first time in the program under his management we will have individual player meetings following the fall season. During this time players will get a definite answer to what their role is on this team as we head into the spring season of 2011. This puts on some pressure to perform in the fall, but also will give players a clear cut answer and take away a lot of that gray area surrounding position battles. With any sport though these spots are very fluid and can change, but knowing where you stand going into the spring is a great thing. It can motivate guys to work hard over the winter and push for a position in the spring, and can also let guys know that it is their spot to lose, and they need to put in the work that goes with being the starting shortstop or a weekend starter.

Today was the first day as “our team”, and just another day to work towards my goal of being a weekend starter this season. Here is a glimpse into what my day consisted of:

-Jog to centerfield and back, dynamic stretching, static stretching.
-Pitcher crossover bands and body-blade exercises
-Pitcher fielding practice working on covering first base on a ground ball to the first baseman
-Pitchers long toss out to 150 feet while dodging balls from hitters taking on-field batting practice
-Throw a 30-pitch bullpen to prepare for Wednesday’s scrimmage against Hamline University
-Run 12 jog-sprint-walks on warning track for conditioning
-Clean up the field and put the tarp on the pitcher’s mound

That is just a general idea of what a pitcher, in this case myself, does on a daily basis. College baseball is a 12-month job, and every day counts.

A New Beginning…

Baseball is a funny game. Coaches can analyze you, measure you, and time you all they want, but the only thing that matters is can you deliver between the lines. In the two years since high school I have been in a category of “people that don’t deliver”. Last year as a left-handed pitcher, that at times registered on the radar gun as high as 85 mph (a pretty good velocity for a division two lefty) was a “touchdown guy”, and for those of you that don’t know that means I pitched in the game when we were up seven runs or down seven runs. It was somewhat embarrassing for me, because I felt that I had more talent than that. But it was because of my constant pitching Achilles heal, strikes. Throwing strikes has been my problem since I left the comforts of high school baseball. In a game last year in Orlando, Fla. against St. Joseph’s (IN) I managed to throw just 42% strikes, and although I only allowed one run, I limped through the game. I was constantly right around 50% strikes every time I took the baseball, and that is not going to lead to success. I am sure when I left after the season last year my coaches did not have the highest of expectations for me for the coming season, and the saddest thing is I couldn’t blame them.

But I left with a goal. I wanted to live up to the talent that I felt I have, and turn myself into what I considered a “weekend-starter” caliber pitcher. I wanted to earn the right to be one of the four guys that gets the baseball every weekend against our conference opponents. These are our four guys. The ones that we count on, the ones that win or lose conference championships. And while you can’t win a championship without a complete pitching staff, including your “touchdown” guy, I want to be the guy that can throw six innings and give his team the chance to win games. So that was my goal, and I was determined to work towards it.

I spent the summer in Honolulu, HI playing in the Hawaii Collegiate League. This league does not get the publicity that Cape Cod or the Northwoods League receive, but I would be willing to bet a lot of the talent is on par with those leagues. We had players from all over the country, from the Big Ten, Big 12, Pac 10, Mountain West, WAC, Big West, Ivy League, Big East, Missouri Valley, and various division two and three powerhouses such as perennial world series participants UC-San Diego (D2) and Chapman (D3). This gave me the chance to learn and absorb what guys that have continuously gotten it done on big stages are doing. I was able to learn how they carry themselves on and off the field, and how deliberate they are with each action they make between the lines. If I could say the one thing that I absolutely took away from this summer, its that I learned what a college baseball player is. I worked hard to make myself one, I experimented with workout bands and weighted balls, long tossing and flat grounds. I made myself consistent, and I made myself confident.

So when we returned to St. Paul, Minn. for fall ball practice this week, I felt confident and ready to chase after my goal. For the first time in college when I stepped on the field this week I felt that all my goals and aspirations were suddenly very attainable. I don’t know if my coaches or teammates saw or noticed, but I personally felt I played this week with a sense of swagger, just a little bit different attitude then what I’ve had on the field since high school. I had to wait until Friday to get the opportunity I’ve been waiting for, to prove it between the lines. You can work hard in all the drills you want, but what the coaches want to see is are you a guy that can go collect outs, can you execute pitches to help us win. After four days of waiting I finally got my chance, and I took my new found swagger to the mound.

Keep in mind that every hitter in our inter-squad scrimmage starts with a 1-1 count, so just three off target pitches and you’ve walked someone. But I came out firing. I punched out the first hitter on three fastballs. The second hitter was set down on back-to-back strikes, and when the next three hitters all hit rollers to the shortstop my first set was done. Through 14 pitches I had delivered nine strikes (thats 64% for anyone that was wondering, because I was) including some great off-speed pitches in the zone. I had located my fastball and was in complete command of every aspect of the game around me. But its not enough to do it once, anyone can do it once, that is why we throw two sets. That second set is the separater between the guys that get lucky, and the guys that get it done. After watching a teammate throw his first set, I retook the mound. After the first batter became my fourth straight ground ball victim, a slow roller to the second baseman, I found myself getting into trouble for the first time. I threw two straight balls to the next hitter, I battled back, but eventually walked him. My first walk of the fall, and something that had haunted me for two years. For a moment all those negative thoughts came rushing into my head, was I suddenly back to the old me? I had to step off the mound and take a deep breath. I told myself to knock it off, everybody walks a person now and then, I was still me, I still had my swagger. After going to 2-1 on the next hitter, I delivered a brilliant fastball on the hitters hands which he grounded right to the short stop, and in any game probably would have resulted in a tailor-made 6-4-3 double play. I was suddenly back. The next hitter again was the victim of a well placed inside fastball and chopped an easy one to the third baseman. Another strikeout and a ground ball out later and I was done for the day.

I was excited for my performance, how could I not be? I delivered between the lines. Part of me wanted to run over to the coaches and just receive all this praise and hear how great I was, but part of me understood that I should have been doing this all along, that I didn’t deserve all this praise, this should be an expectation, the norm. Plus who was I kidding? This isn’t third grade, coaches aren’t like that anymore. So I went in the dugout had a drink of water and collected my thoughts. When I finally walked over to the coaching staff I got my final stats for the day. I threw 32 pitches, 20 of them were strikes, which when rounded was a 63% strike percentage. I topped out at 81 mph with my fastball but more consistently sat 78-79 mph. I got a couple hand shakes and some job well dones, but it didn’t matter. All that mattered to me is I had taken a step toward showing the coaches that I am capable of going out their and dominating all aspects of the game. I am okay that I won’t blow fastballs by anyone, but if I can execute a pitch on the inside corner it doesn’t matter, a hitter is going to hit a soft ground ball on that every time. I have come to understand pitching more, and come to understand my capabilities more. As the season goes on I will probably level off around 80-84mph with my fastball, and that will be plenty.

I know that yesterday I took a big step towards my goal of being a weekend starter. But plenty of other guys had good outings this week too. I am not rooting against any of them. If we have a pitching staff of seven righties and five lefties that can all throw above 60% strikes and hit spots and command the running game, we will probably be playing for a national championship. If one of my teammates is more deserving of that weekend role, then I will accept whatever role I’m given to help the team win, as long as I have shown how I’m capable of pitching, I know I will get plenty of innings in whatever role I serve. But we all have a competitive nature, and I want that weekend job badly. We have some great young guys, so its not going to be easy. Hopefully we all push each other to that point where it doesn’t matter who our coach puts out there, we are all going to be successful.

Now I get to enjoy my weekend and get ready for practice on Monday.

For more information on myself and my teammates please visit www.cugoldenbears.com
For more information on the NSIC conference please visit www.northernsun.org
And, for more information on the Hawaii Collegiate Baseball League please visit www.hawaii-cbl.com

Is This Heaven? Nope, it’s Madison Mallards Baseball in the Northwood’s League

On a balmy mid-summer evening in Madison, Wisconsin there is plenty to do. A college town and home of the University of Wisconsin, people scurry about their everyday lives. But there is a place in the center of town that helps about 7000 of those people unwind, relax, and most importantly, it is a place that lives, eats, and breathes college baseball when the Madison Mallards are in town. That place is the “Duck Pond”, home field for the Mallards since 2001 and a member of the Northwood’s college summer baseball league.

Knowing I was going to be in Madison I was curious to catch a game and luckily enough they were playing at home against Eau Claire.  It seemed like your run-of-the-mill ballpark,  that is, until I parked the car and headed up to the park to get a ticket. Duck prints on the sidewalk lead me to the entrance. It was bobble head night, and the featured bobble head was not of one of the players, but of the owner. I saw grown men running to get in line to ensure they would secure a bobble head, and at that point I knew I was in for something a little different.

The Madison Mallard mascot rip-corded in from high above right field to home plate after the national anthem. People were lined up in droves to get a “Curd Burger”. The announcer chastised a few regular season ticket holders for “jumping like little girls” when a foul ball came back towards the backstop screen. It was a constant barrage of trivia, pop music, organ music, and an atmosphere that has a bit of a carnival feel to it. For nine innings the only time there was ever a lull was when the pitcher started his wind-up or started to come to the set position. Only then, for a  brief moment did the music, trivia, organist, and announcer  fall silent. The minute the ball popped the catcher’s mitt or was put into play the antics started right up again.

It is exactly what  Estevan Uriegas anticipated when he agreed to play in Madison. As a junior pitcher at Texas A&M, coach Rob Childress wanted him to play in a competitive summer league where he could get some innings, play against good competition, and work on his velocity.

“One of our assistants said he had a great place to play in Madison, Wisconsin . Wood bat league, Uriegas explained, “ I had been asked back to Alaska but it sounded great to come up here. Great competition, lots of scouts, and everyone loves baseball here.”

Uriegas wasn’t alone. Tyler Jones, a local on the team out of Madison Technical College and headed to LSU, said he was working on a change-up this summer.

“Summer ball here is really competitive but it is easier to come out and work on different pitches. It’s a lot easier to come out here and be loose, work on things, and experiment,” Jones said.

It was very appropriate that Kyle Gaedel, great nephew of the (in)famous Eddie Gaedel (who standing just 3’7” tall, was the shortest player in the history of the major leagues ), had the opportunity to play in Madison this summer. The right fielder out of Valparaiso University said the transition to using a wood bat is definitely just that, a transition. “You can definitely get away with some things with an aluminum bat, but it took a couple of weeks to a month to get used to using wood” noted Gaedel.

Eau Claire first basemen Josh Scheffert (University of Nebraska) said using a wood bat even becomes more difficult when you are playing every day. “It’s been a little difficult and been a fight to get my swing back to what it was this spring, but I know it is helping me in the long run.”

Eau Claire right fielder Michael Blatchford (Creighton University) said that playing in front of 7000 people a night is something he could get used to. “It’s great. Just playing in front of all these fans….it’s a great experience. I’m just up here trying to get stronger, work on my game, and this is a great place to do that.”

So, if you are ever in Madison, Wisconsin, take a trip down to the Duck Pond to catch a glimpse at some of college baseball’s stars of the future. Take a walk around the stadium. Listen to the hum of excitement as game time approaches. Get yourself a curd burger, a soda, and settle in for an evening filled with all kinds of antics, oh, and some pretty darn good baseball as well. Is it Heaven? Nope, but pretty darn close if you are a baseball fan. Madison Mallards….well done.