Sample text for Randy Johnson's power pitching : the big unit's secrets to domination, intimidation, and winning / Randy Johnson with Jim Rosenthal.

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Counter Chapter 1

The Education of a power Pitcher

The goal of this book is to teach you how to be a complete pitcher. I want to share my experience to help you fulfill your full potential.

Many people assume that success came easy to me. After all, I'm a power pitcher with pinpoint control, four Cy Young Awards, and a World Series ring. The plain truth is that I struggled at every level. I was wild and inconsistent for much of my high school, college, and minor-league pitching career.

Sure, there were fifteen-strikeout games and one-hit shutouts to keep me going. But I was just as likely to walk seven or eight batters and give up five or six runs. My mechanics were a mess. I was all over the place when I pitched, never landing in the same spot twice. My height and extremely long arms and legs made it very difficult to be compact in my delivery.

The odd thing is that no one ever taught me to be consistent with my mechanics until I was a big-league pitcher. Once I corrected a mechanical flaw in my delivery, I suddenly went from an out-of-control thrower to the control pitcher.

My whole career has been a progression. I never took success for granted. I've had to work hard for everything. And I took my lumps like everyone else.

I'm going to teach you the keys to becoming a complete pitcher-mental toughness, proper mechanics, pitch location, and proper grips and physical conditioning. But it will be up to you to put the advice into practice and turn your potential into the intangibles that make a winning pitcher.

Playing to win has always been a way of life for me. My entire career has been an ongoing process of staying focused on maximum performance.

But I want to stress right from the beginning that you cannot be successful in baseball unless your interest springs from playing the game just for the fun of it.

I've conducted many Little League clinics, and my key message to parents is to let their child enjoy the game. Let him or her progress at a natural and comfortable pace, with help from the coaches along the way. Do not put pressure on kids to take the game too seriously.

Pushing kids too hard is not going to ensure success. In fact, that's often the biggest barrier that kids face. I realize that the motives are usually positive. After all, every parent wants the best for his or her kids, but in the earliest stages of a pitcher's life, the bottom line is having fun.

My son and daughter play baseball and soccer, and I'm supportive of them in every way. But how I can evaluate whether my six-year-old son will ever play in the major leagues? For that matter, how do I know my son is even going to want to play baseball?

It's not my position to push him in that direction. My dad was a police officer, not a professional athlete. He just wanted to be supportive of my interest and passion for baseball. My mom was there to help me, too. A supportive environment will make a big difference right from the beginning.

My baseball career began at the age of seven in Livermore, California, about forty-five minutes east of Oakland. Like a lot of kids, I played imaginary baseball games, throwing a tennis ball against the garage door with tape on it in the shape of a box to

simulate home plate.

It took about 200 fastballs for the nails holding the garage door in place to come undone. My dad arrived with a hammer just before the door fell off its hinges, and we both understood that it was my responsibility to pound the nails back in so I could start my imaginary game all over again.

When I played catch with my dad, he was incredibly patient and generous with his time. My control was terrible. I'd throw five or six pitches over his head, and he'd tell me, "You start getting those balls, Randy." His insistence that I do the work to retrieve those wild throws forced me to focus on improving my location.

I threw harder than all the other Little Leaguers, and I was growing up faster and taller than most of my peers. It didn't take long to sort out the top pitchers in Little League and Babe Ruth League.

Little League was fun. Babe Ruth League was also fun. At these early stages the goal is to get the feel of your pitches and start hitting your spots. I learned how to throw my first breaking ball when I was eleven years old-it was sort of a "slurve," a cross between a curve and a slider. In Babe Ruth baseball, and later in high school, I was exposed to a variety of different pitches and grips. The concept was to put a little bit of a wrinkle into my repertoire to set up my fastball.

The town of Livermore had two big high schools. All the top pitchers from my Little League and Babe Ruth teams went to Granada High School. I ended up at Livermore High.

My main competition as the best prep pitcher in the area was Kevin Trudeau, the brother of Jack Trudeau, who became the starting quarterback for the University of Illinois and went on to play in the NFL several years later.

Kevin pitched against me at every level, from Little League through high school, and I always thought of him as a better athlete than I. He was a starting quarterback in Pop Warner, and I was a one-sport athlete at that point, though I did enjoy playing soccer and tennis for fun.

We had a terrific rivalry, and I enjoyed competing against him. I would have predicted that he would be the one to go on to major-league success, but it just goes to show that hard work and dedication will pay off if you keep believing in yourself.

To become a better pitcher, I decided to develop better hand-eye coordination and competitive intensity by playing a second team sport. I picked up a basketball for the first time at the beginning of freshman year in high school, and through hard work-and with the help of my height advantage-I started for three years on the Livermore High basketball team. I was developing into an all-around athlete, and it was very gratifying to feel that I could hold my own in a sport besides baseball.

My dad was an invaluable help during this part of my life. After work, he would come to my high school baseball games and sit in the bleachers to watch me pitch. When I played on an American Legion team in Oakland, he would drive me to and from the games, two or three hours each way, two or three times per week. That was a sacrifice he was willing to make because he saw that baseball was something I was good at and enjoyed.

My dad taught me the value of hard work. He never forced me to play baseball or basketball, but once I made a commitment to do something, he was there to help and encourage me in every way possible, and the work ethic I learned from his example has helped me improve at each step of my baseball career.


High school is the most important developmental phase of an athlete's career. It's the first time you hear about a talented pitcher with big-league potential getting scouted. In basketball, such gifted athletes as Kobe Bryant and Tracy McGrady skipped right from high school into the pros and achieved immediate stardom.

In baseball, it is a lot tougher to make that leap. So much depends on your willingness to improve your skills. If you've been blessed with a good fastball, you must learn how to throw it for strikes. It took me a lot longer than most to figure out how to harness the power of this pitch. I attribute my slow learning curve to my height and to the mechanical problems it presents.

Think of high school as the time to get to know your strengths and weaknesses as a pitcher. Take the initiative to learn about hitters and how they operate. It's simple: Your job is to throw off the timing of the hitter. How is this done?

*By changing speeds.

*By hitting spots-up and away, down and away, up and in, and down and in.

About 90 percent of the time I will throw a slider in an 0-2 or 1-2 count because it is my strikeout pitch. But if you always throw the same pitch in the same situation, you become too predictable. When I throw an 0-2 fastball right down the middle and I get a called third strike it is quite obvious that the hitter was not looking for that pitch.

Outsmarting a hitter is one of the gratifying aspects of pitching. When you fool him with your pitch selection, you know you've become a pitcher, and not just a guy who is throwing the ball as hard as possible without a plan or a strategy.

I'll typically work a right-handed hitter away, and then, when he's looking on the outside part of the plate, I can come in with my slider or my fastball down and in.

I have a lot of confidence in my breaking ball. I can throw it in a fastball count (2-0, 3-1, or 3-2) and get a swing and a miss because the hitter was guessing fastball. If you fall behind in the count and are forced to throw a fastball, then you'd better be able to hit your spot-and it had better be a spot that the hitter is not anticipating, or you are going to get hurt.

It is best to figure this out while you are still in high school. In the past six or seven years I've learned a great deal about pitching. That's why I've developed into a more complete pitcher late in my career. I developed into a pitcher instead of a thrower because I've taken the time to match up my knowledge of how to pitch with my good stuff-my fastball and slider. This combination of the mental and physical sides of the game has turned me into a dominating pitcher over the past four or five years.

It was that "good stuff," the high-velocity fastball and improving slider, that gave me hope I could play baseball past my high school years. Scouts from major-league teams started showing up during my junior year, and that routine continued almost every time I pitched as a senior.

I'm not going to tell you that this was the culmination of a dream I had when I was playing catch with my father. I enjoyed playing baseball and I knew that I had the raw talent to excel, but I wasn't one of those kids who put all his hopes into making it to the big leagues.

I remember going to the Oakland Coliseum for an Oakland A's game on Little League Day. Vida Blue, my hero and role model-he was a hard-throwing lefty like me-played on that field, and I imagined that one day perhaps I could pitch there, too.

By the end of high school, I started to consider the possibilities: As raw as I was with mechanics and control, it was beginning to seem likely that I had a career in baseball. My high school baseball coach offered encouragement, and the scouts reinforced that feeling of optimism.

The Atlanta Braves drafted me in the fourth round in June of my senior year. I was happy that a big-league organization thought so highly of my potential, but I had several options to play college baseball. I liked the idea of furthering my education while learning more about the craft of pitching.

I had scholarship offers from the University of Oklahoma, the University of Hawaii, and USC. I even had the option of playing both baseball and basketball at St. Mary's College in Moraga, a suburb of Oakland.

I sat down with my parents and we decided that playing collegiate basketball was not going to lead to any opportunities down the road. I had worked very hard to develop my hoop skills, and had been an All-Star in Bay Area high school tournaments, but my best chance of doing anything significant with my life still rested with throwing a baseball.

At this point I could throw a fastball well over 90 mph, and had developed the sharp-breaking slider. I had to master my control of those two pitches before I could hope to have any success at the professional level.

In the end I decided to play baseball at USC-a program with a solid reputation as a national power, and my best chance for being drafted in June of my junior year (which is when college baseball players are eligible to be drafted by major-league baseball teams).

I had turned down a chance to play pro ball because I wasn't ready to pitch in the minors. If I'd signed with the Braves, my entire life would have taken a different path, and I'm thankful for how things have worked out for me.

Even if you are good enough to sign right out of high school-and this applies to many young pitchers-you must evaluate where you are in your progress, and what you need to do to advance to the next level.

If my son had the opportunity to sign a major-league contract after high school, I would ask him two key questions: If baseball does not work out for you, what do you have to fall back on? Are you ready to play professional baseball right now?

The decision would be his to make, but it would be my responsibility as a father to let him know that a college education is important and will mean a lot to him whether or not he makes it in pro ball.

I enjoyed my college experience, but in terms of pitching instruction it was a setback, because I never got the one-on-one coaching that I needed to improve my mechanics. My "big discovery" and major breakthrough in refining my mechanics were still several years away.

Pitching at the college level raises the stakes even higher. The talent pool improves, and you are compared with many athletes who will eventually pitch in the majors. If things don't work out on the mound, you'll be pushed out of the way and be forced to do something else with your life. Of course, one of the advantages of going to college is that you become aware of alternative careers.

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