Bruin legend Trevor Bauer left his mark for U.C.L.A. with a spectacular 3 year career, capped (pun intended) by a magnificent junior season where he was 13-2 with an ERA of 1.25. He led the nation in K's with 203 (in 136 2/3 innings) and finished the season with 9 complete games. Oh, and he brought home the 2011 Golden Spikes Award given to the nation's best amateur player (think baseball's Heisman). He was the third overall pick in the Major League draft this year by the Arizona Diamondbacks, and is likely to be called up to the bigs on Sept 1 when the rosters expand to 40 players and his team battles San Francisco for the NL West title. Bauer's career so far is going just as planned.
But Trevor's route to the top was far from conventional. But as we know from his warmups, his between-inning workouts, his quirky philosophy, and that famous Bruin cap, nothing about Trevor is conventional. And maybe that's what has made the difference.
Sports Illustrated writer Lee Jenkins has written a fantastic piece looking back at Trevor's path to this point. Some excerpts are below, but it is definitely worth reading the whole article on SI.com or in the magazine this week. In an era when developing pitchers focus intently on mechanics and release points and velocity and ball clubs delicately coddle their young stars though pitch counts and well prescribed training regimens and scheduled appearances, the one thing that separates Trevor from the bunch is something that he has developed in addition, his mind.
Bauer will tell you that virtually every play in a baseball game takes 12 seconds or less, so his workout regimen consists of vigorous exercises that last no more than a fifth of a minute. He will tell you that every hitter must decide to swing no later than the first 20 feet a pitch is in the air, so he practices throwing into a metal grid 20 feet in front of the mound to ensure that all his pitches start on the same plane. Bauer has at one time or another deployed 19 different pitches, some of which he may have invented: They include the "reverse slider" (a harder variation of the screwball) and "the bird" (a splitter thrown with the middle finger raised).
Trevor grew up in Valencia near Magic Mountain and attended Hart H.S. (who used to annually crush me in football way back - I presume they still do). He was a baseball junkie all the way through and has been taking the unconventional route since he was 10 years old. Guided through the years by his father, pitching coaches, and a pitching camp in Texas, he constantly explored the whys of pitching, not just the hows. Studying the physics of the game and the mechanics of his motion, he developed a regimen that brought great strength and stamina, while minimizing strain on his pitching arm. In doing so, he allowed himself to throw and throw and throw, building strength and stamina without wearing out that golden arm. He could have entered the MLB draft after a successful high school career, as many young stars do, but Trevor knew his unconventional means would be unlikely to be accepted by the current way of thinking in MLB.
Bauer throws at least six days a week with baseballs, weighted balls or medicine balls. He long-tosses 380 feet, even before starts. He warms up for his outings with about 45 pitches in the bullpen, and during especially long innings when his team is at bat, he heads back to the pen for more work. On his first warmup toss between innings, he crow hops across the mound and unleashes a fastball more than 100 miles per hour.
Over the past 20 years most organizations have tried to protect young starters by barring them from long-tossing more than 120 feet, or from throwing more than 30 pitches in the bullpen or more than 100 in a game....80% of pro organizations opposed long-toss programs like his. "I'd have just been some dumb high school kid," Bauer says. "But if I went to college and made a name for myself, maybe they'd see that it worked."
Thank goodness for that.
U.C.L.A. was the benefactor, as Trevor graduated early from Hart and went on to log an incredible 34-8 career and set a host of records for the Bruins. The most amazing stat in my mind though is his 9 consecutive complete games (and 10 overall) to close out his junior year. Obviously this required great stamina and conditioning of his arm and motion. But remember that these games also came during a race for a conference championship and then in the post-season. There may be a few guys strong enough to string together a few complete games in a row. But doing 9 in a row in a time when every game was crucial shows just how effective Bauer was that there was never occasion to remove him from the game.
I guess doing it his way, going to college, and making a name for himself worked out ok for Trevor. Whereas his Bruin teammate Gerrit Cole was naturally gifted with the frame and skills of a prototypical pitcher, Bauer had to make his own way. And in true Bruin fashion, he showed what happens when you combine a desire to succeed with a curious and daring and beautiful mind.
"Look, I'm not that big," says Bauer, who is 6'1", 185. "I'm not that strong. I'm not fast. I'm not explosive. I can't jump. I wasn't a natural-born athlete. I was made."
The article is a great read, and I'll definitely be following Trevor's career wherever he goes. Interestingly, Arizona plays here in Denver against the Rockies in the first week of September. I may have to find my way over to Coors Field. I have an old script UCLA cap that I bought the day before I graduated. Now twenty years later, that cap is pretty beaten up. Bauer might appreciate that. I think I'll don that old cap and go root for him.