Spring training starts in earnest today, but if you’ve been paying any attention to Twitter you know that the majority of this season’s important players are already enjoying the weather on the back fields in Glendale, Ariz.. Editor emeritus and current Athletic sensation James Fegan is on the beat and captured my favorite image of the spring thus far.
This guy is throwing again pic.twitter.com/0gGIWTOg95
— James Fegan (@JRFegan) February 13, 2018
I have never hidden my love of Nate Jones and his idiosyncratic pitching motion. It’s what makes him him. His stuff is certainly good enough that he’d still be a very effective late innings reliever without his awkward pause of doom, but it’s so much easier to get emotionally invested and attached to someone who does things differently. It’s my favorite thing about baseball.
No other sport has so many athletes doing such fundamentally necessary actions in such a wide variety of ways. You might see a slight difference in how some quarterbacks throw, but the motion is essentially the same. Slam dunks offer the chance to showcase individuality and creativity, but more so during the dunk contest as opposed to in the average game. But baseball? Think of how many bizarrely unique batting stances you could mimic flawlessly if I threw you a wiffleball bat right now. It’s the only reason people remember Craig Counsell’s career as a player.
The same truth holds for pitching motions. Yes, there are standard and technically-correct ones but you don’t fall in love with those. I was seven years old when Hideo Nomo came to the United States and his windup has haunted my dreams ever since. I scour YouTube semi-regularly for clips of it to show my incredibly patient and indulging wife how a man could somehow be effective despite turning himself into a cyclone before launching a ball towards a rapidly shrinking rectangle. It may not be ballet, but it’s definitely an art.
Bullpens seemingly used to be full of unconventional arm angles. Even just looking back at the White Sox over the past 15-20 years it’s not hard to conjure up memories of distinct approaches. Chad Bradford threw so underhanded that he routinely scraped his knuckles on the mound. Kelly Wunsch looked like a lost disc golfer who decided to wear a full baseball uniform for some reason and decided to make the best of a bad situation. El Duque would not spare you his leg kick solely because he had been shuffled into the bullpen. You would see that knee rise and rise and forget that a pitch was coming until it was too late. Ehren Wassermann looked like a drunken bowler who somehow manages to never topple over despite getting so much rotation out of his waist.
But that beautiful weirdness seems to be dying out. Bullpens have become home to uniform flamethrowers that pummel hitters into submission instead of using deception and guile to trick them into wandering off the cliff like so many Wile E. Coyotes. Brad Ziegler will be 38 this season. Pat Neshek turns 37. Baseball needs strange folk like Nate Jones keeping things weird. There’s a reason ice cream shops sell more than just chocolate and vanilla.
Photo credit: Jake Roth- USA Today Sports