August 2012, it was pretty late at night when the plane landed, I remember I was picked up by Paul( my translator then) and Rodney( the current head scout for Lamigo). On our way to the hotel, I remember driving past the Taoyuan International Stadium and getting excited about seeing a big stadium, since pitching in front of a crowd is what I really enjoy. The second night there, I found that there’s a night market close enough to walk myself to from the hotel, so I just went there and have my dinner by myself, it was a really cool experience. I didn’t know how long I’d be staying in Taiwan, so I tried to make the most of it to enjoy myself.
I’d never been to Taiwan before playing for Lamigo, so I didn’t know what to expect. I’ve heard of Taiwan, but honestly, I didn’t know too much about it. (I knew there’s a baseball league here, and I knew Taipei is the capital city, that’s all). From planning retirement to receiving a contract playing at a higher level half a globe away, my initial thoughts are just to enjoy my time, embrace the culture and my teammates, compete and try my best to fight for the championship with the team.
Back to 2012, I was playing at the Atlantic league then, and although I’ve had a decent year in 2011, I was actually gonna retire after the 2012 season. I’d try to find a job, probably a job outside of baseball in New York. My wife was an attorney at the time at Manhattan. At the end of the season, I got this chance to play for Lamigo. It felt like moving upwards moving from Atlantic league to CPBL, a better league to be in. My wife and I both thought that it was a great opportunity I need to take and see what happens.
Being a baseball player, I’m never satisfied with where I am, and I always think I can get better. Not that I’m not happy after a good game I pitched, I just don’t want to get complacent and think ‘’I got it figured out’’. When I start to think ‘’I know how to get everybody out,’’ man, that’s when I’ll get knocked around on the mound, things go sideways on me. I think it’s the process of self-improvement that gets me staying in the CPBL for the past couple years.
To elaborate on that, if you look at me as a pitcher when I first came here in 2012 and the pitcher I am now, there are going to be differences. There are subtle things in my mechanics, pitching style and velocity that I’ve changed. I didn’t use to throw sliders in 2012, but now I have a slider; I used to throw a big slow curveball, and I got rid of that and have this new curveball now that I’ll use here and there. I used to throw a lot of fastballs, primarily outside of the hitters, and along the way, 2015 probably, I started to pitch inside hitter a lot more. I need to constantly make these adjustments to improve my game while the hitters are also adapting to my pitching style.
In evaluating hitters and to know their approach against me, I always open the ears to coaches and other players if their perspective was different from mine. I don’t want to have a tunnel vision, I would want to be open-minded and absorb more information. I do check my stats every once in a while, one of them I’ll look at is my WHIP, the fewer baserunners I left on base means fewer runs I can give up, so I always try to have a low WHIP, if I can keep it around 1, that’s fantastic.
At the end of the day, stuff alone doesn’t make a good pitcher. You need good command in pitching. Actually, the command is something you could develop when you’re playing catch in the outfield, and have every throw with a purpose and idea. For me, usually I’ll aim at my catching partner’s belt, that’s my checkpoint of staying on top of the ball. Whether it’s pregame warmup or in practice, I’ll make sure to have each throw the way I want it to be. I’m not just out there and going through the motions, cause if that’s my mentality, I start to develop bad habits. Bad habits in playing catch could be brought to the mound, and all of a sudden I’d be in great trouble. It’s all about developing muscle memory, with 500 perfectly executed throws in the outfield during the week, I sure can bring my command to the mound for my next start.
Every pitcher wants to have good command, but sometimes you could overthrow, trying so hard to make this great pitch and you get ahead of yourself and lose the mechanics. That’s the case I’ve seen the most here in Taiwan, some pitchers try so hard that they get ahead of themselves. Especially in a league where pitchers and batters know so well of their opponents.
If I feel that there’s no room for mistake in my next pitch, I’ll try to envision that pitch before I throw it, try to see the ball coming out of my hand with a great result. This is my way to gain confidence and block the negative thoughts from creeping in, especially in those really big games or a big jam. I want to stay on time, stay under control and have a late explosion to the plate. I have to throw the ball with conviction, and for the next pitch, I’m gonna do it again.
Each lineup is hard here in CPBL, just to name a few good opponents that have given me a hard time( I'm sure missing some of the guys): Wang Bo Long, Lin Hong Yu are tough outs obviously, the Brothers’ Chang Chi How gave me tough time the past couple years, Yung-Chi, Su Chi Chieh and Jay Hsien of the Lions are also really good hitters. These guys will make me pay for it when I make mistake facing them, so I always try to improve, to be a few steps ahead of them and make sure I’m at my best when facing them.
Besides the technique and my ever-improving mindset, I think I’m quite a strong competitor who just hate losing. The combination of these personalities help me survive the league. I always try to be very aggressive in my pitching, if I get an early contact out, I’d be very happy; but if I got a two-strike count, I’m gonna try to strike the batter out, getting an out with no ball in play is a surest out. Though the mental side of the game can never be too emphasized, I don’t bring religion to baseball. I don’t want to make this matter too religious or philosophical. God wants to see everybody do well, so why is he giving me a good day but not the hitters? He just wanna see everybody do their best, and that’s what I’m trying to do.
Li He to all my fans! Let’s keep going for the season!
哩賀！台灣！ | 羅力 Mike Loree
2005 (上) | 林英傑