by Dr. Rug
I’ve been approached on several occasions this summer by want-to-be pitchers and asked what’s the key to success? How does one achieve immortality and become a great fastball pitcher? Obviously, they’ve come to the right person. Today I’ll provide some answers and advice on how to take your pitching skills to the next level and become a fastball star.
Fastball pitching is a very natural and basic motion: spin arm, step forward, release ball, grunt. There’s not much to it. As Ryan Strain has demonstrated, pretty much anyone can be taught how to throw the ball down the heart of the plate on a consistent basis. So rather than look at the basics, today I’m going to teach you how to get to that next level. Instead of looking at the science of pitching, we’re going to look at the art of pitching. To truly become a Van Gogh of the mound, there are a few key nuances that you have to master.
First up, tempo. One of the biggest mistakes that rookie pitchers make is being much too slow in the speed and tempo with which they approach the game. Having a well-paced, quick tempo helps on several fronts. It keeps your fielders engaged and ready behind you, it keeps the hitters off balance and it keeps the umpires happy (we’ll cover these guys in detail a little later on). There’s absolutely no reason to be lollygagging around, kicking dirt, talking to yourself, and wasting time when you’re out there. Get the ball, pitch the ball.
Secondly, attitude. A gentle reminder to the pitchers in the league, we play in the Yellowknife Fastball League. This is not the MLB. When the defense behind you consists of players like Mark Whitehead, Donald Morrison, Tyler Blewett, or Rick Morrison you have to understand and expect that on occasion, errors will happen. When your centerfielder overthrows the cut-off man by 40 feet or your second baseman forgets to cover first base on a bunt, there’s no point in swearing, throwing your glove, and reaming the guy out. It has happened before and it will definitely happen again. Relax, take it in stride and get the next guy to ground into a double play. Mistakes happen, move on.
The third key in the “Pitching as an Art Form” handbook is knowledge. I heard a great story last week from one of the catchers in the league. As we were watching a game he was telling me about how he used to catch for one of the top pitchers in the league and when the number 9 batter on a certain team would come up the pitcher would tell him, “Don’t even bother throwing down signs, I’m just going to fire three balls down the middle of the plate and move on to the next guy”. That is pitching brilliance.
Know the hitters. Why bother trying to make a guy chase a rise ball 2 feet out of the strike zone when he can’t even touch a pitch that’s down the heart of the plate? Don’t waste pitches when you don’t have to, just get guys out. Along these same lines, there are players in the league that crush drop balls and can’t come close to a rise ball or vice versa. When you’re facing these guys, don’t try to get cute and mix in the pitches they can hit in some sort of wild attempt to outsmart them, just throw the one you know is going to get them out, and move on to the next batter. Going up against the same players game after game, year after year you learn their tendencies; use this knowledge and don’t make the game any harder than it has to be.
Finally, a little something I like to call “massaging the umps”. I think the first thing they teach you and umpire school is, “You are the center of the game (and maybe the universe)”. All umps have a little bit of an ego and as such they don’t like to be questioned, shown up, or corrected in front of everyone. A good pitcher will use this egotism to his advantage. Tell James that was a great call, nod in agreement with Glen when he’s calling the outside half of the plate a ball, laugh at Marchiori’s lame attempts at humour, and if all else fails, buy Rob a beer or two in the beer gardens. Every little bit helps. Before long you’ll find that the extra inch off the inside corner of the plate has become a strike and all the close calls are going your way. Having the umps on your side makes the rest of the game that much easier.
Follow these simple pieces of advice and before you know it your teammates will be in awe, the opposition will be confounded, the fans will adore you, and the writers will shower you with praise.
You will be the next Picasso of Pitching.