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On the Mound with...
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This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around December 19, 2009. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.
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Copyright © 1997 by Matthew F. Christopher
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages in a review.
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First eBook Edition: December 2009
The Best Pitcher in Baseball
Greg Maddux doesn't look like the best pitcher in baseball. But he is. In 1992, 1993, 1994, and 1995, Greg won the National League's Cy Young Award. Named after Cy Young, baseball's all-time victory leader with 511 career wins, the award is given each year to the best pitcher in each major league. No other pitcher has ever won the award four years in a row.
In his ten-year big league career (through 1995), Greg has won 150 games and lost only 93. In his four Cy Young seasons, he won 75 games, and lost only 19.
Still, if you didn't know better, you'd never guess that Greg Maddux is such a great pitcher. Although Greg is more than thirty years old, he looks like he just got out of high school. For a professional ath lete, he isn't very big. Greg stands only six feet tall and he weighs only 175 pounds. Off the baseball field, Greg wears glasses and dresses like someone in college. If he walked into your school today, you might think he was a student teacher dropping in to observe a class.
Even when Greg is wearing a baseball uniform and warming up before a game, he still doesn't look like the best pitcher in baseball. Greg is small for a pitcher, and he doesn't throw the ball as hard as most big league hurlers do, either. Most major league pitchers throw at least 90 miles an hour. Randy Johnson and Roger Clemens regularly throw the ball over 95 miles per hour, so fast that the hitter can barely tell where the ball is going before it smacks into the catcher's mitt.
Although Greg was once able to throw 90 miles an hour, he doesn't throw that hard anymore. He rarely throws a ball faster than about 85 miles per hour. That's still fast, but it's not fast for the major leagues. There is probably someone on your local high school team who throws close to 85 miles per hour.
Of course, Greg throws more than a fastball. He also throws a "cut fastball," or "cutter," that moves, a curveball, and a change-up. But none of these pitches is much better than those thrown by many other players. If you watched all the pitchers on Greg's team, the Atlanta Braves, warm up before a game, and then you had to guess who was best, Greg Maddux would probably be the last guy you would pick!
Even when Greg takes the mound during a game, he doesn't look like the best pitcher in base-ball. He doesn't strike out very many hitters. In fact, he doesn't even want to strike out most hitters. Most batters facing Greg eventually hit the ball, and that's fine with him. The best pitcher in baseball actually wants the batter to hit the ball!
So when does Greg Maddux look like the best pitcher in baseball? At the end of the game. That's when his teammates run out to the mound to congratulate him on another victory, while the hitters on the opposing team sit in the dugout dejectedly shaking their heads, wondering why they only managed to collect five or six hits and scored only one or two runs.
How does Greg Maddux do it? What makes him the best pitcher in the major leagues?
Greg is the perfect example of someone who just tries to do the very best he can with the talent he has. Since he doesn't have a great fastball, Greg learned that to be successful he had to do more than throw the ball by the hitter. He pitches with his brains as much as he does with his arm. Greg simply outthinks most hitters.
Imagine that you are at the plate and Greg Maddux is on the mound. You've watched him warm up and you feel confident. After all, he doesn't throw the ball as fast as most pitchers, and everyone knows you're a good hitter.
Greg looks in at his catcher, winds up slowly, and throws his first pitch.
It's a fastball, just what you were hoping for!
The ball looks like it's going to go right over the middle of the plate, so you decide to swing. But at the last second, the ball tails away and darts to the outside corner.
Oh no, you think to yourself, that's not just a fast-ball! It's Greg's cutter, a pitch thrown almost as hard as a fastball that curves a little bit at the last second. But it's too late to stop your swing. Instead of hitting the ball squarely, you foul it off for strike one.
Okay, you think, since I fouled that ball off, he probably doesn't think I can hit the ball low and outside. This time, I'll be ready.
Greg goes into his windup, and you're expecting another pitch in the same place.
Wrong! This time Greg throws you a change-up, a pitch that looks like a fastball at first but is about 20 miles per hour slower. The pitch is waist high, on the inside part of the plate, just where you like it. But you are expecting a fastball outside and swing before the ball even gets to the plate. You miss it by a foot. Strike two!
Now you're really confused. You don't know what Greg will throw next. But Greg does.
He winds up and pitches. The rapidly spinning ball sails to the outside then curves away. You are so confused that you don't even bother swinging. But you get lucky. The pitch is just an inch or two outside, and the umpire calls it a ball.
Now what do you do? Where will Greg throw the next pitch? What pitch will he use? How fast will he throw it? Will it be inside or outside, high or low? Will he throw a fastball, a curve, or something else?
Greg winds up again and throws.
A fastball! But it's not where you expected him to throw it. You were looking to the outside part of the plate. Wrong again! This time Greg threw the ball inside, an inch or two below your belt. Normally, you'd smack an 85-mile-per-hour fastball like that over the fence for a home run. But Greg fooled you by throwing it inside. You swing anyway, but you don't get your bat around fast enough. You hit the ball off the handle.
The ball slowly dribbles out toward the mound. Greg fields it cleanly and flips it to the first base-man as you race down the line. You're out by twenty feet.
As you turn and jog back to the dugout, you ask yourself, "How did I miss that pitch?"
You missed it because Greg Maddux is the best pitcher in baseball, that's why. But don't feel too bad. You have plenty of company. Nearly every batter in the National League has asked himself the same question.
Learning to Play the Game
It may be hard to believe, but Greg Maddux's pitching career began on a softball field.
Dave Maddux, Greg's father, was a member of the United States Air Force. He and his wife, Linda, Greg's mothertraveled all over the world as Dave was transferred from one air force base to another.
Dave Maddux loved sports, particularly baseball. But there wasn't an opportunity to play baseball on base. The air force only sponsored softball leagues. So no matter where Dave Maddux was stationed, the first thing he did was join the air force-base soft-ball team.
Dave didn't play slo-pitch softball. That's the kind of softball that is often played in local parks on Saturday morning. In slo-pitch, the pitcher tosses the ball underhand toward the plate, and it is easy for hitters to hit.
Dave played fast-pitch softball, a game more similar to baseball than other kinds of softball.
In fast-pitch softball, the pitcher stands only fifty feet away from the batter. Instead of throwing the ball overhand, as in baseball, or lofting it underhand, as in other kinds of softball, in fast-pitch softball, the pitcher winds up like a windmill and throws the ball underhand as fast as he can. The ball travels al-most as fast as a baseball, and despite its larger size, it can be just as hard to hit. Games are often low scoring.
Dave Maddux was a pitcher. He liked the fact that a fast-pitch softball pitcher could use the same strategy as a baseball pitcher. He could throw so fast that the hitter couldn't catch up to the ball, make it curve so it would be hard to hit, or change speeds and move the ball around the plate to upset the hitter's timing.
Dave Maddux was a good pitcher. He didn't just throw fast. He also tried to upset the batter's timing.
In 1959, the young couple had their first child, a daughter they named Terri. Two years later, while stationed in Dayton, Ohio, Linda Maddux gave birth to a son, Mike.
Mike loved watching his father play ball. As soon as Mike could walk, Dave Maddux began teaching his son how to play. When he got off duty at three-thirty in the afternoon, Dave took Mike into the backyard and played baseball. He taught Mike how to throw, how to bat, how to field, and how to pitch.
After Dave was transferred to an air force base in San Angelo, Texas, Linda gave birth to another son. Gregory Alan Maddux was born on April 14, 1966.
Like his father and older brother, Greg learned to love baseball. As soon as he was old enough, he joined Mike and his father in the backyard.
Dave had fun with his sons, but he was serious about the way he taught them to play baseball. He made sure they learned to play the right way. Before the boys were old enough to attend school, Dave had taught them how to play sound, fundamental baseball. Mike and Greg learned how to field ground balls correctly and how to throw accurately. Their father taught them how to swing level and to run hard down the first base line every time.
Even though Greg was four and a half years younger than his brother, in their backyard games, Dave Maddux tried to treat the boys equally. While Mike was bigger and a better player, Greg always tried to keep up with his brother.
The two boys had a great time growing up. When their father was on duty, they had each other, and there were always plenty of other kids to play with on the air force base. Even when the air force transferred Dave to Spain, his two sons had no trouble finding other boys to play baseball.
- On Sale
- Dec 19, 2009
- Page Count
- 128 pages
- Little, Brown Books for Young Readers