Thursday, May 16, 2002

Some highlights on the best baseball pitches ever thrown in the game, as well as whose throwing the "Lights Out" stuff right now.

Nothing is as sweet as watching a pitcher go to work with fantastic stuff at his command. I am spoiled since I get to watch Pedro Martinez so often - his assortment of fastball, changeup, and curve frustrating to hitters. Then there is Greg Maddux. Watch him and you scratch your head wondering how this guy has won at least 15 games ever year for the past 14 years straight. His stuff is subtle & deceptive. But he is perhaps the best example of a pitcher in the game today. He knows what to throw, when to throw it, and how to get inside a hitter's mind and screw them up.

For me, my game is Whiffleball. I have been a junkie of the game for over 15 years at least. Everyday in the summer I would play at least one game with my friends - on top of countless hours in the backyard throwing pitches and making up new ones. I even set up a backstop using wooden stakes and chicken wire. I had a baseball diamond, and the side of my house was called, "The Yellow Monster". Anything hit over The Monster was usually a home run. As for the pitching, I am addicted. There is a lot of satisfaction to be had in being able to command that white sphere with the cutouts on one side. I've had a number of different pitches that I've come up with over the years. Many have been lost. My current repertoire is proving difficult to maintain - no matter how much I practice. Is it stance, arm angle, speed, wrist rotation, finger placement? I experiment with all those elements and try to zero in and look for favorable results from each change in my pitching motion. It used to come easy. But now it takes a lot just to be able to make the pitches move where I want them to move. Unfortunately, they have nowhere near the sharp break that they used to.

Below are some of the pitches I've developed and the movement the hitter has to guard against.

Apple Turnover: Holes on the right side of the ball. Index and middle finger placed at either side of the centerline. (Like making a "peace" sign with your fingers and then holding the ball this way). This pitch was thrown down low and required that the middle finger rotate around the ball with the wrist rotating in unison. The spin on the ball would curve the pitch away from right handed hitters. The path of the pitch would start down low (with the appearance to the hitter that the ball was coming either behind them or down at their shins). Then the pitch would "turnover" and rise up and sweep away from the hitter. In effect, the path of the Apple Turnover changed not just horizontally, but vertically - with an arc that started low and inside and ended high and away from the hitter. No longer thrown: Cannot recreate proper wrist and arm rotation

Circle Curve: Similar to the Apple Turnover. This was developed immediately after the loss of ability to throw the Turnover. Finger placement required the making of an "A-OK" symbol with the hands (where thumb and index finger are joined in a circle). The ball was placed in the palm of the hand with the thumb and index finger encircling the stamped "Seal" of the Whiffleball. The rest of the fingers wrapped around the pitch. Throwing required that the pitching arm rotate around the body and that the pitching elbow be "planted" - with the forearm and hand relatively vertical (and parallel) to the pitchers body. The planted elbow acted as a fulcrum in which the forearm, and hand rotated in a counter-clockwise direction, along with the snap of the wrist in similar fashion. The ball would come out of the hand with unbelievable spin and curve away from the right-handed hitter with tremendous break and sweep. The path of the Circle Curve was more horizontal than vertical (not as much rising action as the Apple Turnover), but the break of the ball was such that at the beginning it appeared to the hitter to be going behind them - only to end up 5 feet or more away from them on the opposite side. A fantastic pitch that required so much torque that it made my elbow extremely sore. Had to abandon out of overuse, increased pain, and fear of further damage

Split-Fingered Fastball: An easier pitch to throw but hard to maintain with consistency. The purpose of the pitch is to appear as a straight fastball (enticing to the hitter) and then drop suddenly. The best path of the ball would have it bottom out and land precisely on the home plate in a split second. The pitch required that the holes be placed on the lefthand-side of the ball and that the forked "peace symbol" be made with index and middle finger. The ball would be thrown like a straight fastball with no arm or elbow rotation. However, at the point of release, the wrist was required to rotate inward and downward - with the index finger leading the "screwball" rotation. This motion forced a downward spin on the ball which dictated the vertical drop. Periodically thrown. The point at which the drop occurs is hard to dictate. The best of course being at the last possible moment before the ball enter the hitting zone. Difficult to provide the proper wrist rotation without also throwing the pitch lightning fast - and therefore unenticing to the hitter. Also hard not to have the ball drop too soon before even reaching the hitting zone and home plate. Inconsistent and marginally effective. However, its North to South action is useful when setting up the more horizontal East to West curveball pitches currently thrown.

Knuckle Curve: My current curve. Struggling at the moment to find the sharp break and consistency, but this pitch is the easiest I can throw of all the pitches I have developed to provide the big East to West break. When working, this pitch can break upwards of 10 feet. Excellent motion. Easy on the arm. Fun to throw. The pitch requires that the holes line up on the righthand side of the ball. The ball is then placed in the palm of the hand with the knuckles raised up and the fingernails pressed against the ball. The ball is thrown straight with a inward and downward wrist rotation right at the point of release. Furthermore, the point of release requires that the fingertips push outwards at unison and with force. This action puts tremendous forward spin on the ball and produces the sharp curve effect. This is a bread & butter pitch when working well. Throw it in all situations to both righties and lefties.

Other pitches I have in my current repertoire: a true Knuckleball; a straight Fastball with accuracy; a batting practice pitch that is straight and keeps hitters interested; an underarm Knuckle pitch that appears to "float"; an underarm curve that rotates from down and away and sweeps up and in (kind of like an Apple Turnover that instead runs inside to righties rather than away. The break is not as tight though, more of a floating pitch). Other stuff too, but that's all a secret.


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