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Center of the field: inside the minds of pitchers

A woman midpitch.
Adrien Gobin / THE GATEPOST

By Adam Levine

Sports Editor

Professional baseball games often begin with a ceremonial first pitch. The crowd watches and applauds the honoree, despite the throw’s speed or accuracy.

But for softball and baseball pitchers, each and every pitch places them at the beginning of the play and the center of the game.

Pitcher Caroline Hughes, a senior captain on the softball team, said she began playing softball 11 or 12 years ago - when she was 9 years old - and began pitching within her first year.

She said she became a full-time pitcher during her junior year of high school.

Hughes said she throws a range of six to eight pitches with different mechanics to vary the speed, drop, and curve of the throw, but she only regularly throws four pitches - fastball, changeup, screwball, and drop ball.

Her most successful pitches are currently her fastball and screwball, she said.

Hughes said she began to learn different pitches in high school after she became more confident throwing her fastball and changeup.

Having an arsenal of pitches helps her control the batters more, she said.

“It was definitely exciting because I was really working just an inside [or] outside with a fastball and changeup. It was more exciting to see different spins and try to work the count better and jam the hitters,” Hughes said.

She described each at bat as a “battle.

“I look at the batter I'm like, ‘I'm gonna win this battle,’” Hughes added.

When pitches don’t go her way, Hughes said she tells herself to “clock in.

“I stand behind the mound and I just breathe [and] take my time,” she added.

Hughes said “tough” umpires can affect a pitcher’s mindset as well.

“Our coach tells us all the time, ‘We play our game. Don't let them ruin how we play our game.’ … It’s best for me to just take a breather, play my own game, and just adjust to how they're calling it,” she said.

Hughes said being a pitcher might be “a lot of pressure. But at the end of the day, it's exciting.”

A man mid-pitch.
Adrien Gobin / THE GATEPOST

Pitcher Ally Moran, a senior captain on the softball team, said she began playing softball 15 years ago - when she was 8 years old - and began pitching when she was 12.

“I definitely put in a lot of work when I first started just because I wasn't very great so I really wanted to get better at it. It was something that I really enjoyed at first,” she said.

She made the transition to a full-time pitcher when she started playing in high school, Moran said.

Moran said she rotates throwing six different pitches depending what will match up best against the batter.

She said she first learned to throw a changeup - her most successful pitch - within a year of pitching and then learned spin pitches in the months that followed.

“It was really hard at first. You're taught, mechanically, a motion and then for different pitches, you have to change that - a grip on the ball, the flick of your wrist, [or] even sometimes your body placement has to be different depending on what you're throwing,” Moran said.

She said pitching is hard because you can never take a break from the game.

“You literally cannot take a pitch off because you're obviously the ones throwing it. You have to be in it - every single pitch, every single batter, every single play. … If you get distracted or you don't throw your best pitch, sometimes, that can change the whole game,” Moran said.

When asked her favorite aspect of pitching, Moran said, “If you asked me this three years ago, I would have never said this answer. But I guess I like being in control of the game. I like setting the pace - whether we need to slow things down a little bit or speed things up sometimes.”

Catcher Talia Duca, a sophomore on the softball team, said she began playing softball “as soon as I could stand” and began catching around 13 years ago when she was 7 years old.

“The team that I was on, we didn't have a catcher. So my coach was like, ‘All right. You're up. Throw the gear on. Let’s go.’ And the rest is history,” she said.

As a catcher, Duca said it is her role to support her pitcher.

Duca said, “I taught myself - every pitch, every at bat - that I know I have to set my pitcher up for success, no matter what. … It’s very important that I'm helping my pitcher attack the batter, but at the same time, playing my defensive position.

“When I squat and I receive the pitch, I always make eye contact with them. I want them to make sure that they know that I'm there and I'm ready and I'm going to support them however I can,” added Duca.

Hughes, Moran, and Duca all said they rely on Head Coach Larry Miller to call the different pitches.

“Coach will have scouting reports on a lot of batters. … I feel like at this point, it's almost predictable the way he calls pitches just because I've been pitching under him for so long - hopefully it's not predictable for anyone else,” Moran said.

Duca said, “He knows what he's doing and I know that he has a plan to set the batter up to either ground out or pop up. I trust what he says.”

Pitcher Vincent LoGuidice, a junior on the baseball team, said he’s been playing baseball for as long as he can remember, but did not begin pitching until he came to FSU.

“I always thought pitching was really fun and I just never really got the opportunity. I wasn't good enough,” he said. 

When he came to play here, the Rams had a “stud” third baseman and he began pitching.

“I thought it was really fun because you get to put the whole team on your back. And you just set the whole tone going from the first inning to the whole game and it just sets a certain amount of energy,” LoGuidice said.

He said he came to FSU and did not know how to throw any pitches. He throws offspeed pitches, but typically only “fills up the zone” with fastballs and occasionally throws a curveball to get the batter off balance.

LoGuidice said he has a “hitter’s mindset” as a pitcher. “I always think, ‘What pitch do I throw that the hitter doesn't want to hit?’ … I just tried to limit damage and just try to produce as much weak contact as I can.”

Baseball is a “humbling” sport, he said.

As a pitcher, LoGuidice said he tries not to let wild pitches or tough umpires affect his performance.

“You just have to work pitch-to-pitch,” he said.

LoGuidice said there is not much players can do when an umpire makes a tough call. 

“Maybe I'll ask them where the pitch missed to let them know that I disagreed, but there's really not much you can do,” he said.

LoGuidice said young pitchers should not focus too much on speed if they want to pitch in college.

“The number one thing is keep your arm healthy. … You have to grow into your body, you need to keep your arm healthy, [and] you need to worry about accuracy,” he said.

LoGuidice said his favorite aspect of pitching is being in control. 

“The game is all in my hands - all the eyes are on me. Everything revolves around me. If we lose, it's my fault. If we win, it’s my fault,” he said.

Pitcher Josh Sunderland, a sophomore on the baseball team, said he always played baseball growing up and made the transition to full-time pitcher during the beginning of high school.

“I just couldn't really hit the ball so I stuck with pitching,” he said.

He said he began throwing different types of pitches when he was 14 years old and now throws mostly fastballs and curveballs and sometimes changeups.

Sunderland said, “Hitting is one of the hardest things to do in all sports,” and it helps him realize each pitch doesn’t need to be perfect. 

He said it is the batter’s job to prove he can hit the pitches. “They have to be the ones to hit the ball and it's definitely the hardest thing to do in sports.”

Sunderland said his strategy to calm down in between pitches may be different than others.

“I say some choice words to myself. … For me, it helps somehow,” he said.

There is not much he can do when an umpire makes a bad call except learn what the umpire calls strikes, Sunderland said.

Catcher Johnny Lynch, a sophomore on the baseball team, said he has been playing baseball all his life and began catching when he was 8 years old.

He said he plays a “big role” in supporting his pitchers.

“I wouldn't say it's the hardest position on the field. I'd say it's the second hardest, behind pitchers. But you have to control the whole game,” Lynch said.

Sunderland and Lynch said they have known each other for five years, including three years on the same high school club team.

Sunderland said, “He knows the batter’s swings better than I do and how I can read them. …  He’ll call the pitches and most of the time I agree with him, but maybe once or twice a game I'll shake him off to throw a pitch that I think is better in that situation. Other than that, I'm going behind him and throwing what he calls.”

Lynch said some catchers use an earpiece to talk to their pitchers, but he just uses his fingers to signal pitches.

He echoed Sunderland and said he watches the batter’s swings to call the best pitch.

Another part of being a catcher is calming down your pitcher, sometimes with a mound visit, Lynch said.

“I try not to talk about baseball when I go out to the mound - just get their mind off something else,” he said.

Sunderland said his favorite aspect of pitching is “being a part of every single play during the game.

“Every play comes down to what I throw and what [the batter] does with the ball,” he added.



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