Sometimes, a mound visit can help you focus is by making you not focus at all
By Todd Jones - SportingNews
From waffles to fireworks, mound visits are more than just talk
Remember the scene in Bull Durham in which Robert Wuhl, as the pitching coach, visits the mound to talk to Nuke LaLoosh? The infielders gather around, and Wuhl directs the conversation to possible wedding gifts for Millie. Well, sometimes that's pretty close to what actually is said.
In the minor leagues, guys are trying to get a feel for pitching, and pitching coaches can see when there is too much going on between a guy's ears. A pitcher can be in obvious trouble, but he's so wrapped up in what he's doing that he's the only one in the park who doesn't know it. I had a pitching coach in the minors who would ask me what I had for breakfast. I'm thinking, huh? I've got second and third with one out and you want to know whether I had pancakes or waffles?
Little did I know that he was clearing my head. He saw I was holding on too tight to a situation. So I told him waffles, that I wasn't as big of a pancakes fan. Next he asked about syrup. Once I started thinking about syrup, then he brought me back in and gave me one tip. I was either rushing or not finishing my curve. Whatever. Just one tidbit so I didn't have too much to think about. Then he turned around and left me in the midst of waffles and second and third with one out. And you know, when he did that, it was funny how often the guy up would make an out.
In the big leagues, the pitching coach is not usually worried about what you had for breakfast. Most visits fall under one heading: damage control. The major league pitching coach on a mound visit is the team shrink. He comes out to help you refocus -- to think about what's about to happen, not what just happened.
Sometimes, he'll visit just to give you a break, like after you've walked a guy after a lengthy at-bat.
The worst visit is the stall visit. That's the visit when you're getting crushed and the pitching coach comes out to buy time for the bullpen so the manager can come get you after the next hitter. This is when the pitching coach might ask what you had for breakfast.
One of the great visits by a pitching coach occurred in 1991, when Mark Portugal was pitching for the Astros and Bob Cluck was his pitching coach. In a game at Cincinnati, Portugal gave up back-to-back-to-back homers with fireworks exploding after each one. So Cluck strolled out to the mound after the third homer. Portugal was livid and asked Cluck what he was doing out there. Cluck replied that he was just giving the guy time to reload the fireworks.
What could Portugal say after that?
Todd Jones is a Tigers reliever. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org