Happy New Year -- A Blast From the Past
Happy New Year! I hope everyone had a wonderful holidays and are ready for a new year. It is hard to believe it is now 2016. While at home for the holidays, I was looking through a number of boxes of mine from the past. Some were childhood momentos, while others were from college, and nearly all had some relation to baseball. I found one thing that I wanted to share. It was a story I wrote during my first year of college for a public speaking class. We had to write stories that we would then deliver to the class as speeches. One of the stories I wrote was about my experience at Can-Am.
For those of you unfamiliar with Can-Am, it was the name of Coach Ron and Jill Wolforth’s training academy before the Texas Baseball Ranch. It was the genesis of the Athletic and Combat Pitcher Programs. It has a very special place in my heart because it helped transform me from an average high school pitcher into a successful college pitcher who had the opportunity to play professional baseball. Below is the story I wrote. I inserted commentary in brackets where I felt necessary.
Brian Oates Can-Am Baseball Story
My name is Brian Oates and I am a freshman at Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas [this was the Fall of 2003]. I started going to Can-Am in August of 2002, right before the start of my senior year at Huntsville High School. I had taken numerous lessons throughout my life and when a friend told my Dad and me about Can-Am, I thought it was going to be the same old lessons where you go to the instructor and they change your form and tell you their own philosophy, which is always conflicting with the instructor you had last. But I immediately discovered that Coach Wolforth did not give the typical lessons and one of the first things he told me was that he wouldn’t try to change everything I did. Unlike other instructors, instead of just stating what he was teaching and what he believed in, he actually provided proof by showing various pictures of different professional pitchers in their delivery. This really made me believe in what he was teaching and I wanted to get started right away.
When I first came to Can-Am I was topping out at 84 mph, but velocity itself wasn’t my concern. I had a problem with recovery time. If I threw very much in a game it might take a week for my arm to feel 100% again. Not only this, my velocity was very inconsistent. One game I might be throwing 84 mph but the next game my velocity would only be 80 mph. I came to Coach Wolforth to improve my form because I knew it was not right [I would never refer to improving form or mechanics today; instead, pitchers should work on improving their movement patterns].
In September 2002, I began attending Can-Am once a week. The first few months were frustrating to say the least. I was working my butt off to improve my posture [I had a horrible disconnect as I went into weight bearing foot plant] and glove side, but all the changes I could see was that my velocity went down and I had lost most of the control I had. Coach Wolforth warned me this might happen and told me to keep working hard because I would get through that stage and the improvements would be impressive. After a few more months, things started to feel more natural and my velocity slowly started to come up. When June rolled around, I felt I was a totally different pitcher than I had been the previous August, but I knew I needed to continue to improve to be successful at the next level, and I had three months left to do so. I signed up for Can-Am’s summer camp, which was two hours a day Monday through Thursday. I attended the 9 a.m. session. Living in Huntsville, Texas, it was a good one-hour drive to get there every morning, which meant waking up by at least 7:30 a.m. every morning. None of my friends could believe that I would want to do that [Please note that I had just graduated high school and most of my friends were busy staying up half the night and sleeping most the day], but I knew how much more improved I could be if I worked even harder on my glove side and posture [I had a weak glove side and was constantly fighting a late disconnect]. Doing the backward chaining drills every day evolved my form and week by week I could see the improvement.
This fall I have been clocked at 91 mph, I have a much better breaking ball, and my recovery time is very short. On several occasions I have been able to throw a couple of innings in a game and the next day come back in and throw some more with the same velocity. I could have never done this a year ago. In fact, my form [again, I would use the term movement patterns] was so much improved from attending the extensive camp over the summer that two of my best friends and baseball teammates from high school, after seeing me pitch this fall, commented on how much better my form looked than the last time they had seen me.
At the first day of fall practice at Trinity, the pitching coach was watching each pitcher, from freshman to senior, commenting on their form and what they needed to improve. After watching me throw several pitches, he told me I was done and said he had no suggestions because he could tell I knew what I was doing. Had I not attended Can-Am, I know I would probably not be able to successfully compete at the college level and may even have had a serious arm injury.
Can-Am is a great place and will help all pitchers, no matter what age or skill level. However, it is not a place for those who are not willing to work hard and long on improving their skills. All the coaches at Can-Am push you hard and will expect you to give it your all. I have learned that you can never achieve perform form, but it is something you have to constantly work at improving every day. Coach Wolforth’s instruction has enabled me to feel what I need to work on when my mechanics seem off. I do backward chaining drills several times every week working on my glove side and posture. Other players at Trinity have watched me do these drills and some have asked me to explain what I am working on. After our fall season ended, other pitchers started working on backward chaining because they see how important it is and how well I performed. I have found myself teaching other pitchers about some of the many aspects of pitching that I have learned at Can-Am.
Coach Wolforth and Can-Am transformed me from just a baseball player to a “student” of the game of baseball. Now it is impossible for me to watch a pitcher, whether a major leaguer or a little leaguer, without studying their glove side and posture. Becoming a “student” of the game has made me a much better and smarter pitcher. I am where I am today because of Can-Am. I would recommend any player who is serious about developing into a better pitcher to become a student at Can-Am. [THE END]
I found it very interesting reading this “blast from the past.” A tremendous amount of change has occurred in the 15+ years since I wrote the above “story.” Can-Am no longer exists and the Texas Baseball Ranch has taken its place. The training at the Ranch has evolved and is cutting edge, and I know that 18 year old me would not recognize 95% of what the Ranch does today versus what Can-Am did in 2003. But that is because Coach Wolforth and his staff at the Ranch are masters at learning and evolving. They aren’t stuck in any particular methodology. If they uncover something new and improved, they will implement it.
However, while much has changed, so much remains the same. The core values I described above continue to be 100% accurate. It takes exceptional dedication and hard work to improve and get better. You have to have a fire burning within you if you truly want to make it to the next level. Nobody has pitching “figured out.” You always need to work at your craft and strive to remain at the top of your game. Over the years, I have seen countless pitchers regress because they feel they have it all figured out. They had reached 95 mph, or a Division 1 scholarship, or drafted in the first 5 rounds of the MLB draft. But they didn’t have it figured out, and most are out of baseball despite their potential and once-upon-a-time talent.
Although we are entering a new year with endless possibilities, it is still good to remember the years we have already experienced and the information and knowledge previously obtained. I wish everyone a healthy and happy 2016. May you achieve every goal you dream of and aspire to accomplish.
Until next time,