Routine was everything
I was a starting pitcher.
Before each game that I pitched, I had a routine. It started even before I got to the field. The night before, spaghetti was often what was for dinner. What was once coincidence became tradition, which then became habit.
Somewhere along the line, my dad began to make me bacon and eggs for breakfast on the days I was to pitch. This was not the ordinary as my dad was often out of the house and at work before I woke up. However, I would open the fridge door to see a plate already made for me.
Once school got out, and I had a couple hours before needing to report back to the field, it was time to get a quick dinner. Again, what once was just a meal became tradition. I would go to the nearby Burger King. I would get the Original Chicken Sandwich, fries, and a coke. Oh, and maybe the most important part, I would get an apple pie.
This may sound silly, but it was the mindset I had. See, I would try to recreate what I did the game before if it was a good outing. Considering I had 28 wins to only 2 losses in my high school varsity career, this meant I was often doing the same thing over and over again slowly adding more to the routine as I went along. It was superstition.
Once arriving to the field, the routine was even more important. But I would be lying if I didn’t say that the field routine actually started 24 hours earlier. It was likely that I hadn’t thrown a ball the day before unless somehow it was forced upon me in practice the day before. I wanted to conserve as much energy in my arm as possible, saved up for when it was my turn to take the bump.
Fast forward back to game day. It was time to start warming up for the game. I would head out to left field, run a pole (from the left field foul pole to the right field foul pole and back), sit down and stretch my lower half, stand up and stretch my upper half, and then with my catcher begin to throw.
Throwing had it’s own routine as well. We would throw about 10 balls not even 15 feet away. Then slowly, what was 15 feet away would makes it’s way back to about a 150-200 foot comfortable long toss. I say comfortable in that this long toss was more a concentration in really stretching out the muscles in my arm. The trajectory of the ball didn’t matter. All that mattered was that I remained loose and I could feel the comfortable stretching.
A quick note – This warming-up, comfortable long toss was opposed to a traditional long toss where the goal is to try to build arm strength. That was where you to try to throw the ball more on a line and really emphasize velocity.
After about 10 to 15 throws at the longest distance, it steadily shrank back down to the original 15 feet away. This was my on-field prep. Then came bullpen work.
Once in the bullpen, it was all about working on accuracy with all of my pitches. Steadily building up my velocity to where the last few throws were at 100% effort. This process took about 30 throws from the rubber.
Then from the bullpen, I would make my “walk of fame” to the dugout. I call it the “walk of fame” because that is what it felt like. Since the bullpen was behind the left field fence, the walk to the third base side dugout was along the stands where people were there seemingly just to give me words of encouragement. Through the years, the words of encouragement came mostly from other parents and transforming to include fans in my later games.
All of the above was my routine. It was something built up over many years doing the same thing over and over again. It was apart of my being a starting pitcher. Though not every game was a home game – I could recreate at least 80 percent of that routine. More than enough to be sufficient. I would be lying if I didn’t say that to a degree I relied upon it.
But then I realized that I shouldn’t have relied upon that specific routine. Once I got to college, things were completely different. My freshman year playing at a Division 1 school- though I got to start two games, I was mostly a middle-reliever. I was fine with that, expecting to become a full-time starter in the years to come.
However, being a middle reliever didn’t lend well to the routine I had built up through the years. I rarely knew what game I might get into. Then when it started to look like I might get into a specific game – I needed to be ready and quick. My long, drawn out process of getting ready just was not conducive to the scenario. It was a shock to the psyche and to the trained muscles.
There were quite a few games that I came in where I already felt like I threw a complete game in the bullpen. Then there were other games where I felt like I was nowhere near warm and ready. It was a shit show. It was chaos, and it felt like it.
I would never be the same.