Pitchers and catchers are reporting in every spring camp this week. Reporting may be too strong a word. Let's call it showing up. They and their coaches and managers will refer to it as WORK. We called it Play when we were kids. Some just play longer than others. One spring day in 1998 I, along with photographer Rick McFarland ,were doing our best to look as if we were working. Rick was doing his thing and I was just watching the Astros pitchers throwing off the side of their main diamond at the complex in Kissimmee.
Spring training for baseball is far different than any other pro sports training camps. Spencer Tillman was with us one year. He suffered through 10 football camps filled with heat, hitting, humidity, and sometimes humiliation. He asked what the Astros did once their morning session was finished. I told him the sad truth. "They play golf." OK, back to me watching the pitchers. Billy Wagner, the soon to be ace closer, wasn't happy. He wasn't placing his pitches where he wanted them.
Billy needed help and who better to aid a local hero than 2 sports guys. We told Billy we would tape him and he could look at himself and figure out if his "MECHANICS" were off . When we were kids that was called "Throwing funny". Billy agreed and said he did notice something he was doing, like dropping too low or "aiming" his pitches. i said something like "just let it fly". I am sure pitching coaches were all over my new found knowledge. There were too many pitchers throwing to concentrate on just one, but our camera didn't shoot any of the others, just Billy.
Billy went on to wrack up 69 saves the next couple of years. He became the darling of the fans and one of the keys to the team's success. I hope he mentions Rick and me when he gets to Cooperstown.