Sunday, July 4, 2010

Call It Prescience

I have become the father of a professional pitcher. A professional left-handed pitcher, to be precise. Jesse Biddle is now pitching for the Gulf Coast League Phillies out of Clearwater, Florida. He's trying to earn his living sawing off wood bats and making batters whiff with wood in their hands.

We watched pieces of the college world series over the past two weeks. It made me sick watching pop flies to the outfield sail over the home run fence. Batters all excited along with their teammates left me sad and bereft, as if someone were dangling the game of baseball over a sea of stomach acid and half-eaten hot dogs and popcorn crumbs.

Jesse went pro and gave up a life-changing experience at the University of Oregon where he probably would have been the Duck's ace starter by his sophomore year -- if not earlier as a freshman. It would have been a phenomenal and heart-warming experience to take that sojourn before turning to professional baseball. But he also would have been throwing 120-140 pitches a game and learning to focus on pitches that literally can't be hit because with metal the only solution is to not let a batter touch the ball.

You need the same approach in pro baseball, of course. As a pitcher, you can't help thinking that it's a severe slight against you as a player that anyone would touch your fastball. But at the same time, pro hitters are the best of the best -- even in the GCL. Good hitters find a way of making contact. And wood is different than metal. It's predictable. Unless a hitter truly barrels up on the ball with full force, most times contact isn't true and the ball gets fielded for an out.

You learn, I am told, not so much to pitch to contact, as to pitch at the batter's weaknesses. This is the way the game is meant to be played. A .300 average in pro baseball on any level is a good average. In college, it's what 7 and 8 hole hitters should expect.

Yesterday, Jesse pitched a fine 1-2-3 first followed by a glitchy second giving up a homer, hitting a batter and then giving up a triple...before settling down to three straight outs and then another three straight in the third. The homer surprised him. It was a big-time downtown shot and the report is that he and his catcher exchanged big-eyed "Wows!" as the batter jogged the base path. On the phone yesterday afternoon Jesse said, "My catcher called for a fastball inside and set up perfectly to get that sucker out. And I just threw it right down the middle." He giggled. "Wham! See ya!" It took the kid two more batters to settle down. And he gave up his first runs since April pitching as a high schooler. What strikes me though is that Jesse knew he'd been had by the batter and knew he deserved what he got. I imagine if he were to watch film of his efforts he'd see what he did wrong. And he'd also see that the triple was legit as well. But he'd also see real hitters focused on not letting him take advantage of them.

In college they run 'em out to 120--140 pitches, like I said. Yesterday with the GCL Phillies, Jesse ran up to a pitch count of about 45 and he was done for the day. What's most important here is to see that the pitcher knows he made mistakes and that good hitters took advantage of those mistakes. If he'd been throwing against metal, it would have been impossible to know how much was mistake and how much the magic bat.

See you out there on the field.

Thanks to Joe Wombough for the photo! Keep takin' 'em Joe!

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