Changeup lessons from a 13-year-old kid

I wonder how many times perfect lessons are right in front of our face that we never see?

A 13-year-old kid throwing a changeup

For some reason this year I've woken up at least six times in the middle of the night dreaming about how to throw a changeup, or wishing that I had learned to throw a changeup when I was a pitcher in high school. I probably wasn't very good, but I wasn't too bad either, and if I didn't have arthritis at age 18 I might have pitched a little in college.

I couldn't throw as hard as a lot of guys, but I ended up being the starting pitcher of our opening games all four years I played, and was a co-MVP of the team my junior year before being injured at the end of my senior year. There were several guys that had much more talent than I did, but I worked hard, had great control (I had something like 77 strikeouts versus 7 walks my junior and senior years), and knew how to pitch, so one way or another each year I ended up starting our opening game all four years.

Ahh, but I digress. :) The important thing -- the thing I keep dreaming about -- is about a kid from even younger days -- little league -- a kid named Brad Johnson. Brad was a little left-hander who didn't throw very hard either, but he had great control -- and a tremendous changeup. He had the best changeup I have ever batted against. We'd go up to bat against him knowing he didn't throw very hard, so nobody was scared like we were against faster pitchers. But we also rarely hit this kid. He was like a little version of Fernando Valenzuela, without the stomach and screwball. The ball was always on the outside corner of the plate to a right-hander, and you knew it was either going to be a fastball or a changeup. All you had to do to hit him was guess right, which we rarely did.

Loss of a role model

Getting back to my point, I should have learned this lesson from him when I was maybe 12 years old, 13 tops, and applied it to my own game. But in the next six years did I ever learn to throw a changeup? Nooooo. To my credit I did learn to control my fastball, came up with a big sweeping curve that I could throw for a strike any time, and I experimented with a bunch of other pitches. But I never remembered how difficult it was to hit Brad's changeup, probably because he moved off to another school.

With Brad gone I watched a lot of Chicago Cubs games in the afternoons, and my role models were control pitchers like Rick Reuschel, and curveball pitchers like Mike Krukow and Lynn McGlothlen, and Bruce Sutter with his split-fingered fastball -- but no changeup pitchers like there are today (Santana, Moyer, Maddux). I wanted to be a pitcher, and I learned all I could, and these guys were my role models, the people I learned from, but they didn't throw changeups.

The moral to the story

Which brings me back to the moral of this story. The rest of my life I can wish I had learned to throw a changeup. But seeing that I'm 44 years old and have arthritis in my shoulder, I don't think that really matters too much.

But I think the moral of this story is this:

How many role models are right in front of your eyes right now -- or have been in your eyes in the past -- that you aren't paying attention to?

How many people have you watched throw changeups in your profession, striking out much bigger, stronger athletes they shouldn't be able to compete with? Be honest with yourself. If someone is achieving something you want to achieve, what are they doing to achieve it?

Are they better programmers than you because they're relentless when it comes to writing clean code? Have they taken the time to study different languages like Ruby or Smalltalk while you still know just one or two languages? Do they gather requirements better than you because they make the effort to communicate better? Do they estimate better because they know things like Function Point Analysis? Are they better designers because they take the time to study other great designers?

In the end, it comes down to this: What do you want to achieve in this lifetime? Who is already achieving what you want to do right now? What are they doing to achieve these things that you should be doing? Assume these role models aren't throwing changeups; what should you do? Answer: You look at what other people in history have done to achieve similar successes? Think long-term; look around; observe; understand; practice; use it in your life.

How to throw a change-up

If you really want to know how to throw a change-up, check out my detailed article, Baseball: How to throw a change-up.