To most people, the life of a starting pitcher must seem pretty simple: pitch once every five days, ice your arm, do some light cardio, and plop down on the bench with some Big League Chew and a bag of sunflower seeds for the rest of the week.
Not a bad gig.
Even now, the name of one of my all-time favorite pitchers, Andy Pettitte, evokes memories of the playoff legend laughing and blowing bubbles on the bench in his Yankee pinstripes rather than actually pitching in a game.
I remember thinking to myself, “This guy has the best job in the world—he gets paid millions of dollars to hang out and goof off in the dugout.”
This false notion was part of the reason I wanted to be a starting pitcher as opposed to an oft-used reliever, the type who pitches three or sometimes even four times a week.
To me, being a starter seemed like a much better deal.
I remember telling my friends that I would be able to throw every fifth day and go out and have fun the other four nights.
After my first two weeks as a professional starter, I have learned that “icing from the inside out,” as our pitching coach refers to drinking, is not the way to stay in baseball.
As it turns out, “Game Day” is arguably my easiest day of the week.
Preparing for a start is comparable to getting ready for a final exam: the days preceding the test and the amount of preparation inevitably dictate your performance.
During exam time, everything is structured. You know that if you put in the proper time, you won’t be as nervous, and ultimately, you’ll have a higher rate of success.
Almost immediately after being taken out of the game, the preparation for the next start begins.
After sitting in the dugout and watching your replacement throw an inning, you are escorted into the locker room by the team trainer, who puts you through an intensive shoulder workout to start the healing process.
Following the shoulder circuit, you are then turned over to the strength coach, who makes you ride the stationary bike for twenty minutes as a cool down.
Then, most pitchers elect to take some sort of anti-inflammatory medicine (my drug of choice is Aleve) and ice their arms for about twenty minutes as they listen to the end of the game they started on the radio.
This must be about the time that I am free to go shower up and commiserate about the game at the bar with the rest of the team—right?
After all, don’t we always read about Derek Jeter and his model girlfriend of the month being spotted at New York City clubs?
Doesn’t David Wells get into bar fights at all hours of the night?
Maybe some players can get away with this lifestyle, but for most this is not the case.
There is always the “Day After” to consider, and for pitchers, this is the most physically demanding day of our schedule.
The night before, we must arrive an hour and a half before the rest of the team for a one-on-one lifting and running session with the strength coach.
As you can imagine, each crunch, curl, and squat is closely monitored, and therefore cutting corners when you start to feel the burn is no longer an option.
Since I threw this past Saturday, on this particular Sunday morning (Easter Sunday), I had my one-on-one lift, immediately followed by fourteen full poles—basically a sprint from one foul pole to the other along the outfield’s warning track.
After finishing up the lifting and conditioning, I am still completely responsible for all of the other team assignments during the day, including stretch, throwing, and batting practice.
‘BP,’ as it is called, is by far the most boring part of the day for the pitchers who have the unenviable task of shagging the hitters’ fly balls for forty-five minutes.
Finally around noon, I am able to shower and eat—but this in no way marks the end of my day, since I still have several meetings to attend.
The longest but perhaps the most important is the daily pitchers’ and catchers’ meeting.
Here, the pitchers from the day before highlight their strengths and weaknesses from the prior day and form a strategy to attack that day’s hitters by outlining what they would do differently if given the chance.
Right around the time the starting lineups are announced, I am finally finishing up all the meetings, stretching, running, lifting, icing, heating, and shagging that needs to be done. By the time the game begins, I have already put in a full day’s work.
And still, this will only be one day in a weekly routine that I am to adopt as my own over the next five months.
Just another “off day” for a pitcher.
—Frank Herrmann, who has allowed only one run in seven professional innings, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. His diary appears every Wednesday.