Last Tuesday I had the opportunity to travel to Winston-Salem, North Carolina to visit with a former college teammate of mine and watch him pitch a couple of innings. I played ball with Evan Bronson at Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas for three years before he was drafted in the 29th round of the 2009 draft by the Washington Nationals. After being drafted, Evan was sent to play for the Vermont Lake Monsters of the New York Penn League. Evan had a phenomenal season coming out of the bullpen for the Lake Monsters as he went 3-0 with a 0.55 E.R.A. in 49.1 innings making the NY Penn League All-Star team.
After reporting for spring training in Viera, Florida, Evan pitched well including an outing in the AA game. As camp broke and players reported to their respective teams, Bronson was assigned to the High-A Potomac Nationals in the Carolina League. The Carolina League is one of three High-A leagues but is often touted as being the best of the three (FYI: The Florida State League and California League are the other two). When I met up with him, the Potomac Nationals were in town playing the Winston-Salem Dash, an affiliate of the Chicago White Sox.
As it turned out, it was the opening game of the Dash's new ballpark, BB&T Field in downtown Winston-Salem. As I entered the beautiful new stadium, I noticed it felt more like a AAA game than it did an A ball game. The game was sold out as there were more than 7,000 fans in attendance and the Dash front office seemed to have pulled out all the stops before the first game in their new ballpark. The festivities included honoring the city council, mayor, and team owners as well as a marching band from Winston-Salem State University playing on the field pre-game. White Sox general manager Kenny Williams threw out the first pitch and a color guard presented the flags prior to the national anthem. After the singing of the national anthem and a flyover by Air Force fighter jets I had to remind myself that I was at a minor league game, and not watching the Washington Nationals themselves.
The game turned out to be a long one as Potomac won in 12 innings and Evan threw the 6th and 7th innings. After the game and fireworks show, I was able to sit down and chat with my friend as we discussed a wide range of topics. I decided to ask a number of question about his professional baseball experiences and I began by asking him what he thought of the Carolina League. Evan is from a suburb of Richmond, VA, so he has always been familiar with the Carolina League since many of its teams are close to Richmond. The Potomac Nationals are based out of Woodbridge, VA, which luckily for Evan is only about an hour and half from home. He said the bus trips, which can be miserably long in some leagues, are not bad as the longest drive they have this season is around 8 hours.
The next thing I wanted to hear Evan's opinion on was the difference between college baseball and professional ball. Coming from a small division III school, it is even more of an adjustment than those players coming from big time programs such as Texas or LSU. Bronson said the biggest difference has to be the talent, which is far superior to other competition he has faced. High A hitters are much better at hitting mistake pitches than DIII hitters and even those he faced in the New York Penn League. The overall depth is overwhelming as every arm coming out of the bullpen is upper 80's to mid 90s. I also wanted to know from Evan about the difference in camaraderie between our close knit college team and those on his professional teams. Evan stated that although it is different than college where everybody was good friends, he really enjoys his professional teammates. According to Evan, the guys pull for one another and there isn't a cut throat atmosphere as with some teams. Another thing I couldn't help but ask was what the difference was between playing in front of more than 7000 fans, such as tonight, as opposed to only a couple of hundred during his college days. Evan said that although it is fun playing in front of large crowds, it isn't really a factor because when you are on the mound your focus is only on the task at hand. However, when you do well at home, or bad on the road, the roar of the crowd can definitely be hard to block out.
While at Trinity University, Evan utilized a number of different products from Oates Specialties and I wanted to ask him what equipment he liked best. Evan immediately responded that his two favorite pieces of Oates Specialties equipment that he thought helped him the most throughout his college days was the resistance tubing and Shoulder Tube. These two things helped to warm his body and arm prior to throwing and provided a good cool down after. Evan used these two products all four years he played at Trinity and he gave them a lot of credit in keeping him healthy during his college days. Oates Specialties tubing, is commonly known and considered by many (including Evan) to be the best resistance tubing product available. It is available in five different resistances and is offered with your choice of handles, wrist cuffs, or a combination of the two.
The Shoulder Tube Evan mentioned, was created by Oates Specialties with the throwing athlete in mind. It is an amazing tool in keeping arms healthy. It can be moved through the shoulder's full range of motion resulting in increased flexibility and blood flow to the shoulder complex. We often find that once athletes start using the Shoulder Tube prior to throwing, they never want to throw again without first using it because of how great it makes their arm feel.
Bronson also spoke with me about the weighted ball set from Oates Specialties that he used countless times during his first few years of college. Evan came to Trinity as a left-hander throwing 79-81 mph, but by his Junior year was throwing in the upper eighties and touching the low nineties. He attributes this 10 mile per hour gain to a number of things including putting on muscle mass and maturing, but he said using the weighted ball program without a doubt helped in this equation. The weighted ball set Evan used, includes a 2lb, 21 oz, 14 oz, 7 oz, and 4 oz balls that are used in progressive order from heaviest to lightest. This causes the arm to speed up as you progress to the lighter balls increasing velocity. Also, when throwing the heavier balls, your arm becomes more efficient because of the heavier load, thereby creating a better arm action. The weighted ball program has helped numerous pitchers, like Evan, make tremendous gains in velocity.
I had a great visit with Evan and found our conversation stimulating. It is always great talking to pitchers who have played at high levels because you are able to find out what has made them successful over the years. Since we spoke, Evan had his first start in the Carolina League throwing 5 scoreless innings and picking up his first win. I wish him the best of luck this season!
Until next time,