By Nathan Mayberg
MONTICELLO July 19, 2005 The barrage of professional athletes to visit Kutshers Sports Academy this summer continued last Monday as New York Mets relief pitcher Heath Bell conducted a two-and-a-half hour clinic with a group of KSA campers.
As the dozens of young baseball players watched closely, Bell showed them how he pitches regularly at 95 miles per hour. He also took the time to detail the various grips pitchers use for fastballs and changeups. He then signed autographs and took pictures with all of them.
Bell strongly warned the youngsters that none of them should pitch anything but a fastball or changeup until they were at least 17 years old, or fully developed. Throwing pitches such as curveballs, sinkers, sliders and knuckleballs at a younger age may cause athletes to experience severe shoulder, elbow and arm injuries.
Bell said the body needs time to develop before it can throw breaking pitches, which put more strain on the body. He learned that from his father, and it has been repeated by many other pitchers, including a legendary Mets pitcher, Ron Darling.
Once you get injured, its very hard to get back. You only have one arm, Bell said.
Bell signed with the Mets as a free agent in 1998, and was called up to the majors last August. Since then, he has been a steady and important part of their bullpen. He grew up in California, and attended Rancho Santiago Community College at Santa Anna. Bell said he wanted to play baseball since he was 5 years old.
You control the game, everybodys eyes are on you. Whether you win or lose, everybody either loves you or hate you, Bell said of being a pitcher.
Bell pitched in Little League and high school, but walked on to his college team as a catcher. Ultimately, they needed him as a pitcher, which helped him along the path to becoming a Major League player.
I love pitching, he said. It is one of the most beautiful things in the world. I have more fun on defense. In baseball, the defense controls the ball more than any other sport.
For those who cant throw 90-plus miles per hour just yet, Bell is a case of why not to worry. In high school, he topped out at 82 miles per hour. By the time he was finished with college, his pitches were reaching 88 miles per hour.
In the minor leagues, he worked with a Venzulean hitting coach in the Mets organization who taught him how to reach 93 miles per hour. By the time it was all said and done, the radar gun was registering his pitches at 95 miles per hour, with an occasional 97 or even at 98, Bells said.
The final piece of the puzzle was Paul Wilson, the former Mets pitcher who was rehabbing with the team while Bell was in the minors. Bell noted that it was Wilson who put the finishing touches on his fastball.
For any pitcher to reach full velocity and movement on their pitch, they must use their whole body. It begins from the ground up. Some hurlers use less of their bodies than others, but Bell is one who needs all of his frame to gain maximum velocity. It also requires him to expend more energy.
If you want to be a good pitcher and pitch for a long time, you have to use your [whole] body, Bell said. That way, you are not as prone to injury.
Bell said that he throws a two-seam and a four-seam fastball, along with a curveball/slider, which runs from side to side
In addition to speaking to the young campers, he took some questions from them, too. He said that his least favorite batter to throw to is Marcus Giles, whom he noted is a good contact hitter, who usually forces Bell to throw between 12-15 pitches per at-bat by consistently fouling them off.
As a teammate of Pedro Martinez, one of the great pitchers in the game today, Bell explained the advantage Martinez has with his famously long fingers. Martinezs fingers actually move upwards on the ball, allowing him to have outrageous movements on his pitches particularly his changeup, which will drop straight down. Bell noted that he is trying to unlock the secret behind that pitch, and showed the athletes how Martinez grips the ball.
Bell was asked to demonstrate how he would throw to some of baseballs top hitters like Andruw Jones of the Atlanta Braves and Gary Sheffield of the New York Yankees. In the case of Jones, Bell said he has an uppercut swing which necessitates pitches inside, and higher rather than lower. Jones will crush hanging curveballs, Bell said.
Kutshers General Manager Neil Gilberg helped bring Bell to the camp. Gilbergs son, Michael, was a Mets bat boy during the 2004 season and became good friends with Bell.
As for the Mets 2005 season, in which they have been hovering at or about the .500 mark, Bell said, Weve had our ups and downs. I expect the team to do better in the second half. We were on a hot streak [before the all-star break] and were close in the games we lost. We will make a run for the playoffs. We just need to keep playing good baseball.
This is the time to get hot and ride it into the playoffs, Bell continued. Last year, the Houston Astros were written off by everybody [at this point in the season], and they got within three outs of the World Series, when they lost to the St. Louis Cardinals. We will be one of those teams that everybody forgets about. People will ask, Where did we come from?