One wild idea: Williams as a pitching coach"This is the only thing . . . where I know what I'm talking about,"says the ex-Phillie, now with the Atlantic City Surf.
May 04, 2001
By Amy S. Rosenberg
INQUIRER STAFF WRITER
It is two days before the season opener, and Mitch Williams is back on a baseball field, trying to iron out a pitcher's control problem.
"I don't care if you throw it out on the runway," Williams, 36, says with a nod toward the local airstrip just outside the fence of Sandcastle Park, home of the Atlantic City Surf.
Williams does, of course, know a thing about pitches ending up in odd places."You fall to the plate," continues Williams, who has done his share of toppling off the mound after delivering a fastball. "You don't jump to the plate. "
The next day, the Wild Thing is back at it, reassuring one of his young starters that his somewhat unorthodox follow-through across his body - where has that been seen before? - was nothing to worry about.
"That doesn't bother me," he says to 26-year-old Andy High. "Anytime you have to cross over, that means you got down through the ball. "
High looks back at Williams."You recommend that?" he says, with just a hint of disbelief.
"I don't have a problem with that," replies Williams. "I care what happens before delivery. You can . . . burst into flames after your delivery, I don't care. "
Williams, 36, the Wild Thing who would be happy if nobody ever called him "Wild Thing" or played that song again, the former Phillies reliever who is still living down the infamy of the one pitch that ended the 1993 World Series, who took a high-wire act to the mound, loading up bases with hurtling fastballs but still managing to save 102 games in three seasons with the Phillies, is once again commanding attention on a baseball field.
Tonight, Williams will debut as - he insists not improbably - a pitching coach, with a starting pitcher, Koichi Taniguchi of Japan, who speaks no English.
"Sign language" is how he coaches Taniguchi, whom he calls Bob.
(His pitching staff also includes the suave Joe Petcka, an actor who has appeared on HBO's Sex in the City and has promised to bring Sarah Jessica Parker to the ballpark in a bid for more airtime for his character, Shawn Sullivan. )
His team, the Surf, will open its season by hosting the expansion Camden Riversharks (who feature another 1993 Phillie, Kim Batiste) at 7 p.m. in what the eager-for-a-gimmick independent Atlantic League is billing as the Expressway Series.
Williams says he sees this job - which pays him $2,500 a month, some of which goes for the cheeseburgers and ketchup-drenched fries he scarfs down in the locker room before practice - as a way to explore a coaching career.
He does not see the irony or humor in the idea of someone with his own, let's say, unorthodox technique now being the guy doing the instructing. OK, maybe a little. Asked whether any of the pitchers reminds him of himself, he responds, "God, I hope not.
"Still, Williams thinks there's plenty to emulate in his pitching style."Mechanically, I was sound before I let go of the ball," he says during yesterday's practice in the sultry stadium that offers a view of the casino skyline and the city's back bays. "I just didn't end up in a fielding position. I figured they paid eight other guys to field. I don't coach any different.
"With that Wild Thing name, people think I'm a blithering idiot, that I didn't know anything about pitching," Williams says. "This is the only thing I've ever known, the only thing where I know what I'm talking about. "
His only concern about coaching is "whether being back around the game was going to make me want to pitch. I think about it. My phone ain't been ringing. Actually, I'm real content seeing these guys take what I say and do something with it. "
Williams does still look fit enough to play, but he says he felt terrible throwing batting practice recently. "My left arm's all right, but I have a pinched nerve in my neck," he says.
He vowed to take the mound for the Surf only if a "tragic accident" left him without any pitchers.
He says he is ironing out basic technical kinks in his players' pitching motions and also stressing the mental aspects of the game, going over the thought processes that help bring out the best performance.
The team gives him high marks - for his instruction, for his golf game, and for keeping the team laughing."He's awesome," says Petcka. "He's given me the best advice I've heard in a long time."
His main advice on the head game?
"Short memories," Williams says. "The day before doesn't mean nothing in this game. All I'm trying to teach them is how to give themselves the best chance to succeed. I hope they learn that when they put that uniform on, it's not a cakewalk, there's some pride that goes along with it. "
Speaking of short memories, he insists he does not think about the pitch that cost the Phillies the World Series, the one that Toronto's Joe Carter sent into the stands, the one that led to death threats and for some overshadowed an otherwise accomplished, if occasionally circus-like, career.
"Some people insist on asking about it - for God's sakes, it's eight years ago," he says. "They ask about it all the time. I say the same thing: I threw it, he hit it, game over. That's when it ended. "
Williams is a bit cranky about the prospect of the team trading on his whole Wild Thing mystique. He dreads the thought of the song "Wild Thing" echoing through the 6,000-seat stadium every time he goes up to talk to his pitchers.
"They better not," he says. "If they do, I will put a direct halt to it. It's not about me. "
He may want to speak with general manager Mario Perucci, who has other ideas.
"Oh, yeah," he says, about playing the Wild Thing anthem. "We'll have some T-shirts, too. "
Amy S. Rosenberg's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.