Saturday, June 19, 2010

Artistry And The Fastball

A sincere artist is not one who makes a faithful attempt to put on to canvas what is in front of him, but one who tries to create something which is, in itself, a living thing. - Giorgio Morandi

I've always said that pitching was an art, but not being an artist, I had a hard time completing the analogy. My wife, however, is an artist and fluent in the language of analogies, so when she began the conversation last night with "It's like you're an artist..." I was intrigued.
Yesterday I had the opportunity to pitch for a playoff birth for our team (the first such accomplishment in 14 years for Savannah's franchise). It was a big game for me, I knew it, and I was ready for I thought. I worked out of jam after jam and pitched with runners in scoring position for most of my night. They managed 9 hits off of me, 5 of the infield variety, and scored only twice in 5 innings. After the game I had to decide how I felt about my performance. Did I pitch well? No, not particularly. Did I battle hard? Yes, definitely. Did I go out to accomplish what I intended? I'm not sure. You see, I hadn't set a specific goal for the game., I just wanted to win and pitch well. Here's where the analogy continues.
Ashley said to me that If I don't have a specific goal in mind each time I go out on the mound and only hope that I pitch well, it's like an artist looking at a blank white sheet of paper and saying "Be Art." No, an artist knows the picture that he is trying to create and has specific tools for each aspect of the piece. In the same way, a pitcher must have a specific picture in mind and full confidence in the tools he is using to paint it. So what kind of pitcher am I, in art terms? I am a landscape artist. I don't paint big broad strokes. I'm precise. I'm not a guy who will blow you away throwing 96. I work at 88-91 with a two and four seam fastball that I spot low in the zone. As an artist I have three primary colors (pitches) that i use in combination to paint my artwork. I have Red, my fastball. I have Blue, my 12-6 curveball. And I have yellow, my up and coming changeup. In order for me to paint vast landscapes (7 innings) I have to use all three in combination. A landscape that is all red isn't a landscape at all, and one with only blue and yellow is just a green mess. Most importantly, though, is the painter's ability to call on these colors at will in order to impose his will on the blank canvas. If he knows he needs a bright blue for the sky, but isn't sure if he will get royal blue or navy blue, the sky will be either day or night. Big difference. In the same way, if I know I need a sinking fastball away, and I'm not sure if i will get the sinker or the cutter, the outcome is as unpredictable as day and night. People always say that you cannot control the outcome of baseball. You throw the pitch and live with the results. Well, what if that was not the case? What if you decided to control the outcome of your pitches? You may not get the result you are looking for 100% of the time, but maybe you'll get 80%. And in baseball, 80% of anything is a lot.
So the new goal is this, 7 inn. 5 hits or less, 0 walks, 0 runs. The new idea is being able to throw all three of my pitches at will in any count. I will have an idea of what I want the hitter to do and throw my pitch to make that happen. I have a sneaking suspicion that I will get more groundballs that I've been getting, and giving up less 0-2 hits. Pitching isn't just AN art it IS art. And I'm an artist. Time to paint.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Boom, Roasted

You probably ask yourselves everyday, "What do minor league baseball players do with their days off?" That's understandable seeing as how we are so interesting and our off days are so few. This last wednesday was the first real day off (one where we weren't traveling 15 hours), and being near the beach here in Savannah we were all on the same page. My wife and I are not necessarily beach people. I'm white like a ghost and Ashley is what we like to call an indoorsy person. However, most of the guys were going down to Tybee Island and we weren't about to be left out. We packed up our Reisenthel satchel with beach towels, food, and most importantly Sunscreen. You see, the last thing our manager said to us before we left for our off day was "don't get too burned to play." As we've already said, my skin is not historically friends with the sun, so I wrestled with the best way to get a nice bronze and still remain playable. Unfortunately for me, I have a wife who doesn't believe in sunscreen and naturally tans in one day in the sun. My conclusion was to put SPF 30 on my shoulders so that I could move them freely the next day and let the rest of my front and back get a "little" sun. In retrospect, this was a bad idea.

We spent 3 hours at the beach in midday laying out, swimming, listening to music, and having a wonderful time with each other...relaxing. The sun, combined with the sea breeze, felt good on my body. I felt good about my health because I was drinking water and lots of it. I thought "I need to stay hydrated so I don't feel bad tomorrow." Little did I know that was the least of my worries. We packed up and came on home salty, sandy, and tired. As I peeled the shirt back from my unexpectedly tender stomach I gasped. I was no longer a ghost, I was worse. Splotchy! I had covered my shoulders in what looked like a child's finger painting. Spots of red and white speckled my maimed body and all I could hear from across the room was hysterical laughter. Ashley was rolling on the floor with her perfect tan and I was standing shocked at my condition. Pedro's last words were ringing in my ears "too burned to play." Was I indeed too burned to pitch in two days?

Come on Folks, let's remember that I'm Scotch/Irish. Our fate is this...Get sun, get burned, turn purple, turn pink, peel, and repeat. This is a pretty quick process so don't worry about me, I'll be ready to go.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Running To Perfection

Coach: Do you want to run or get hit by a car?
Player: How fast is the car going?

Could this be the year of the pitcher...again? Not since 1968 have we in the baseball world seen pitching performances so good in such a cluster. Perfect games from Dallas Braden, Roy Halladay, and Armando Galarraga (minus Jim Joyce's hiccup) and a no hitter from Ubaldo Jiminez, who also happens to be 10-1 with a 0.78 ERA. So many people have commentary on these guys, but I have a different type of question regarding them. I wonder how much running has to do with all their success? I only ask this because, in my personal baseball opinion, running is the worst part about pitching. I mean we only run about 90 ft total during a game, and if strength is what we are going for...have you seen those marathon runners?? Yet year after year nearly all organizations implement some sort of "flush" runs for their pitchers after they throw. A flush run is a long distance jog meant to "flush" the crap out of your body that your pitching created the night before. I don't like running. It's boring to me. But hey, if these guys are doing it, who am I to argue.

Seen the day after his no hitter in Atlanta in April, Ubaldo Jiminez was running the streets of Atlanta. His 6 mile trek led him through downtown Atlanta, down Peachtree St., and into Grant Park. He threw 128 pitches that day, which was the highest total in the league to that point, so I guess he felt the need to flush a little extra. I'm not sure what the others did after their performances, but I imagine it was some form of distance running (though I did hear that Dallas Braden liked running stadium steps after pitching...yuck). Here's my problem with it all. Running in circles around the field so monotonous, and in Savannah's 90+ degree 100% humidity weather it's almost unbearable.

So in the spirit of Ubaldo, I told our strength coach that I was going on a scenic journey of Daffin Park (the park around Grayson Stadium). I threw my headphones in, put on some Phoenix, and started my run. My goal was to run as close to the trees as possible so that they could be my natural sun block, but the spanish moss was hanging too low and I wasn't in the mood to get chiggers on my face. I kept to the rubberized track next to the sidewalk for half of the trip which led me by the pond and fountain. Now as I'm running by this little pond I thought wow this would be a great place to take Ashley on a picnic. That thought lasted about 30 seconds as I strolled up on two large people taking up an entire park bench and making out on it as if it were their parents basement couch. Kinda ruined the picture i had in my head. On the back side of the pond sat 4 older gentlemen crouched next to their bicycles discussing something. I like to think that they were talking about how irresponsible GM has been and how their boycott of the motor vehicles will catch on soon enough. Who knows. Anyway, the middle part of my run was a blur partly because i left the shade of the oak trees and partly because I was paranoid that someone was following me. I just kept looking behind me thinking "I'm too tired to outrun anyone right now". As I saw the homestretch I knew that I wanted to make an entrance into the stadium like a champion. The center field gate was open and I saw my opportunity. With arms raised and head back I ran through the gate to the sound of riotous my own head of course. In reality the team was in the middle of BP and nobody noticed my entrance. No worries though, one day I'll flush run down 5th Ave. in NY and maybe someone will say "Hey, there goes Collin Mchugh!"