A MOUND OF PROFESSIONAL ADVICE : UCSD Pitchers Turn Tips Into Victories
Before the UC San Diego pitchers start throwing baseballs, they first practice being quarterbacks.
“At first we made a game out of it,” pitcher Rick Nowak said. “People wanted to go out for pass patterns. We would tire ourselves out playing football.”
The football-throwing drill is one of Texas Ranger pitching coach Tom House’s training methods. House, who lives in Del Mar in the off-season, worked with the UCSD staff for six weeks early in the season.
The Tritons also received coaching from another professional. Warren Brusstar, who pitched in the major leagues from 1977 to 1984 with the Phillies and the Cubs, was a volunteer coach most of the season before he started pitching in the Mexican League three weeks ago.
UCSD’s pitchers have taken advantage of their coaching.
The Tritons are competing in the NCAA Division III World Series this week for the first time. One of the main reasons the Tritons are enjoying their most successful season is their pitching staff.
Led by a starting rotation that includes two freshmen and a sophomore, the Tritons are 32-11 and have a team ERA of 2.94. The 22-19-2 record of a season ago had been the university’s previous best.
“Being from an academic school, these kids are very intelligent,” Brusstar said by telephone from Monterrey, Mexico, where his team was playing. “You can show them something one time and they’ll pick it up.”
Brusstar became involved with the UCSD program when he trained at the Tritons’ field during the off-season. He said he just started talking to the pitchers, giving them advice. What started as an occasional chat became more permanent.
Brusstar began working with the staff on a daily basis, and UCSD Coach Lyle Yates asked him if he would like to be listed as an assistant coach.
“I wanted to see what I could do because I would like to coach when I’m finished pitching,” said Brusstar, who had a 24-13 record and a 3.05 ERA in the major leagues. “I know there were people instrumental in my career, so I thought I would do whatever I could to help these kids.”
House’s involvement fell along similar lines. He works out with several major league pitchers in the off-season. He asked Yates if he could use one of his batting cages. Yates said he could and, in return, House offered to assist the UCSD pitchers.
“Talent is important and (Yates) has some good young arms there,” House said from Detroit, where the Rangers were playing. “They’re fortunate that Lyle Yates is broad-minded enough to let them work out with professional athletes.”
The pitching staff agrees that House, Brusstar and staff pitching coach Tom Cartier, formerly an All-Western Athletic Conference pitcher at Texas El Paso, have helped them tremendously.
“They’ve shown me things I’ve never seen before,” said Nowak, a sophomore who has a 10-3 record with a 1.95 ERA this season. “Before, I was just throwing the ball.
House worked on Nowak’s mechanics.
“It (House’s training techniques) kept my body under control,” Nowak said. “I was fighting my body too much. I didn’t realize pitching could be this easy.”
Nowak, previously cut from tryouts at UC Irvine, figured he would be able to pitch for the Tritons. However, Mike Morgan and Kyle Abbott, the two freshman pitchers, were not so secure.
Morgan, who moved to Coronado after playing his junior and senior years of high school baseball in Belgium, did not have high hopes of making the UCSD team.
“I’ve got to give the credit to (House and Brusstar),” said Morgan, who is 5-2 with 2 saves and a 2.19 ERA. “It’s surprised me, the season I’m having. I was just hoping to make the cut at the beginning of the season.
“What’s helped me a lot is the repetition of the little things in my mechanics,” Morgan said. “(Brusstar) has the eye to tell you what you are doing wrong. It’s amazing how the little things can affect your pitching.”
Abbott, the Tritons’ top pitcher, was so sure he wasn’t going to make the team that he asked Yates the day before cuts if he should even stick around to read the list.
“I was really surprised that I made the team,” said Abbott, a left-hander who is 8-1 with 2 saves and a 1.75 ERA. “First thing I did was call my mom and dad.”
It took awhile for the coaches’ and pitchers’ work to show as UCSD started the season 4-5. But the Triton pitchers were still getting used to their new body mechanics, and the coaching staff limited the starters’ playing time at first.
Each pitcher was given 75 pitches his first outing, 100 the second and 125 the third.
“We counted pitches and it made them concentrate more because they had limits,” Brusstar said. “They had to get their feet on the ground and not just go out there and throw one pitch.”
The coaching staff did not just help with the pitchers’ physical game, but also with the psychological aspects.
“(Having House and Brusstar) helped me be more professional,” Nowak said. “They’ve given me a better attitude. A tougher attitude.”
Also a winning one.
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