Monday, March 02, 2009

Pitching in Arlington is about first winning the mind game

Rangers Ballpark in Arlington

Randy Galloway:
The howling winds blowing in over Home Run Porch in right field, then mysteriously blowing out again (blame it on the glass windows from the Tequila Club behind home plate) has made The Ballpark a notorious Bermuda Triangle for pitchers. Particularly mediocre to bad pitchers, which describes most Rangers staffs.

"It depends on where you hit the ball and what time of year it is," said Kinsler. "Rudy is right in that balls you think you tagged will sometimes get knocked down at the warning track.

"But a lot of days early in the season, the ball jumps to center field, then by June, from the edge of the berm all the way around past our bullpen [in right field], you can go for several weeks at a time when anything hit in the air will fly out of there."

Kinsler concedes that frustration and ballpark paranoia for Rangers pitchers has to be a concern, although he added, "It’s mainly considered a hitters’ park because we hit well as a team."

But pitching in Arlington, as a legendary hitting instructor like Jaramillo explained, "that’s a mentality. You’ve got to get the ballpark out of your head. That’s what you will hear from Mike. He’s right."

"Mike" is Mike Maddux, Nolan Ryan’s handpicked new pitching coach for the Rangers.

In this camp, Maddux and Ryan preach the same message to the pitchers:

"No excuses. Just pitch."

But cleaning out the head of ballpark ghosts is, of course, an ongoing chore.

"The earlier we get that mentality established, the better," said Ryan last week. "Frankly, we just need tougher pitchers, and that certainly includes mental makeup as well as the physical approach."

[Kevin Millwood:] "If you are making good pitches, our park is really no different than any other," [Millwood] said. "Now, one difference is when you make mistakes at our ballpark, you probably won’t get away with them."

And the solution:

"That tells you to make fewer mistakes," Millwood deadpanned.

Eddie Guardado is a reliever who has been in the majors so long he battles speculation about once having faced Babe Ruth. Last year was his first for Arlington being his home yard.

His thoughts: "All those years of coming into Arlington on the visiting team, it never failed that someone would mention before the first game of the series, "Boys, you’ve got to keep the ball down in this park." My reaction was, "Boys, you’ve got to keep the ball down in every park."

"But even though we really do need to stress it to the kids that if you make your pitches, Arlington won’t get you killed, there’s still human nature involved. Let’s be honest here. It’s a ballpark that will put some doubts in your mind, particularly for a young pitcher."

That’s why Guardado is an advocate of the Ryan-Maddux "no excuses" approach.

"Preach it, and keep preaching it," he said. "Pitching in Arlington is about first winning the mind game."

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