Detroit Free Press Jeff Seidel column
Jan 22, 2013 (Detroit Free Press - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
I was holding a baseball, getting ready to throw my first pitch, and I had to go to the bathroom. What can I say I've got a wimpy, nervous bladder.
To make it worse, tons of people were watching, a bunch of kids, their parents and several coaches, including Tigers pitching coach Jeff Jones.
I was thinking, "Man, what do pitchers do when they are out on that mound, nervous as heck, and they have to use the facilities "
Let me back up and explain. It sounded like such a good idea. Go to a pitching camp. Talk to some little kids who want to become Justin Verlander. And maybe, if I got enough courage, I would participate in the camp, too -- a little taste of George Plimpton to kick off the Tigers' Winter Caravan week.
Jones was the headline instructor, and that made it even better.
Here you had the guy who coaches with the best rotation in baseball, and he was working with 60 kids at Livonia Stevenson High School.
And that is how I found myself standing on a strip of tape -- a makeshift pitching rubber -- about to throw a ball to D.J. Lipinski, a Walled Lake Northern freshman catcher, who drew the short straw and had to catch me.
"I'm going to take a video of your delivery," Jones said, smiling. "And if you ever make fun of our guys ... "
Thankfully, I don't think any video exists.
Jones actually started tweaking my technique, telling me to shorten my windup and put a little more bend in my body. Which is not easy, because I have a lot of body to bend.
"You have to stay top-heavy," he said.
"You saying I'm fat " I asked. "No," he said, laughing. "I want a quiet upper body."
Me I want quiet kids, but that's a whole different thing.
Then, he asked me to release the ball farther from my body. I was short-arming it.
"The whole key to velocity is to release the ball as close as you can to home plate," Jones said.
And I thought the whole key was dating Kate Upton -- allegedly dating, whatever.
Although that's the old chicken-and-egg argument. What comes first The velocity or the supermodel
So I tried to throw again, bending my left leg more, and it worked. I started throwing harder. But it's all relative. My fastball could be measured by a sundial.
"You can teach an old dog new tricks," Jones said, laughing.
Hmm. I'm guessing the supermodel is not too far behind. (Quick note to my wife: Just kidding, honey.)
Pitching mechanics are like a moving jigsaw puzzle. Change one little thing and everything can go out of whack.
Last spring, Max Scherzer was moving his glove too far back in his windup, and it threw him off. During one stretch in April, he lost three times in a four-game stretch. Seriously. You had all kinds of people calling sports talk shows, saying Scherzer had a serious issue and the real problem was his windup.
"It caused his front arm to be late," Jones said. "Early in the year, that's what he ended up doing."
Scherzer made the adjustment and won five straight games.
"A lot of guys know what they need to do," Jones said. "Sometimes, for whatever reason, they get out of whack."
I threw about 45 pitches, and a few were actually strikes.
"What's the biggest thing I need to become Justin Verlander " I asked.
Jones laughed, nervously.
"Justin Verlander is just a tremendous, tremendous athlete," he said.
Ouch! "So you say I need to be an athlete to begin with "
"That would help," Jones said. "But Justin is also a tremendous competitor. He wants to win everything."
Quick note to all the kids at that camp: It's too late for me, but keep working. Keep dreaming of becoming the next Verlander, because you never know.
And always use the bathroom before you take the mound.
Contact Jeff Seidel: 313-223-4558 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @seideljeff.
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