Baseball is a simple concept. Someone throws the ball, someone else tries to hit it or catch it. Sounds easy on paper. But Rainiers' starting pitcher Andy Baldwin, in his fifth year as a professional, is still working on this concept. He's improving on what he needs to do, but said he occasionally tends to over-think situations.
"I've gotten better every year," he said. "I didn't have much of an idea what was going on when I was younger."
Baldwin's career started in 2004 when he was drafted by Philadelphia. He was traded to Seattle as part of the Jamie Moyer deal in 2006. He found out about the trade on the Sports Center crawl while he was eating with his teammates following a game. "I had to look twice, after someone pointed it out." That piece of unexpected information was followed about 15 seconds later by his manager calling to tell him the news.
He spent the end of that season with the Mariners' Single-A team in San Bernardino, Calif. The following year he was in Double-A West Tennessee. He arrived in Tacoma at the beginning of the 2008 season, and has become one of the team's best starters. But he's still working hard on his pitching resume.
"At this level (the game's) much more mental than at the lower levels," Baldwin said, "so I pay attention and develop a plan. For players I see only once I try to use my pitching strengths, but when I see players several times over the season I want to learn from them how to pitch to them."
Baldwin has spent most of his career as a starter, which gives him the opportunity to see batters multiple times. But he has also pitched in relief on occasion. "This year I was told on the last day of spring training that I would be a reliever. (Of his 26 appearances this year, eight have been in relief.) Pitching should be pitching but relieving takes a different mentality. I'm really uncomfortable without the routine of coming in every fifth day, but I need to be able to do both if I am going to be a Big League pitcher." He added that he now has a lot more respect for the bullpen pitchers, but they will probably say the same about starters.
Baldwin was born in Duluth, Minn. When he was 11 his family, including a younger brother and sister, moved to Oregon. They settled in Hood River, about 100 miles east of Portland on the Columbia River. After he graduated from Hood River Valley High School in 2000 he moved on to Oregon State University. "My college team was always competitive, but never in the Pac - 10's top three," Baldwin said. "Then the year after I left they went to the College World Series." The Beavers did not win that year, but took the title in 2006 and 2007.
Baldwin attended OSU until 2004, leaving for the MLB draft a few credits short of his degree in multi-media communications. This was a program created especially for him, allowing him to do pretty much his own thing centered on a combination of communications and marketing. Baldwin said he likes this field because "it's expanding and includes work in so many avenues - sports, advertising, corporations, even making movies for friends," adding "This will be a cool thing to do once baseball is done. It's never outdated." He also spent some time as an intern at Nike.
After the Phillies drafted him, Baldwin started his professional career at Single-A in Batavia, N.Y., in 2004. He led the Muck Dogs in innings, strike outs and starts. In 2005 Baldwin played with the Blue Claws, another A level team in Lakewood, N.J. His 168 innings led the South Atlantic League.
He started out 2006 with the Advance Single-A Clearwater Phillies in Clearwater, Fla. He racked up 147 innings and eight wins there (his career high until 2008) before the trade on Aug. 20, after which Baldwin made three appearances with the San Bernardino 66ers as a starter. He spent all of 2007 in Double-A West Tennessee, starting 26 games and leading the Southern League with 166 innings pitched. He also finished third among all Mariner Minor League pitchers with 115 strikeouts, and was eighth with a 4.23 earned run average.
This year is Baldwin's first at Triple-A. He likes pitching in Cheney Stadium where the deep centerfield (425 feet) is very pitcher friendly. He also enjoys playing in Portland where a lot of his friends come to cheer him on. Baldwin likes the fact that he has made a lot of new friends here and is being helped by some new coaches. "Every coach gives you something different," he said, "but I've never had a bad coach. They always look out for my best interest." He credits Rainiers' pitching coach Dwight Bernard with helping him learn some new things about his pitching mechanics and said he has learned a lot about how hitters watch pitchers from Alonzo Powell, the team's batting coach. Powell, who was with the Mariners in 1991, was a three-time batting champion while playing in Japan. Baldwin also got some hints from his uncle, John Hiller, who was a relief pitcher for Detroit from 1965 to 1980.
Last year Baldwin picked up many tips from Brad Holman, his pitching coach in West Tennessee. "Brad was awesome. I was really fortunate to have him," he said. "I learned a lot about pitching and also about how to approach baseball from him—things like how to bounce back after bad starts and how to fine tune my stuff. He really helped me grow up as a baseball player."
Baldwin still isn't sure yet what his pitching style is, but he said Holman helped him a lot with figuring it out. "I don't strike a lot of guys out, just get them to put the ball in play and then trust my defense to make outs. I try to get outs as fast as I can, give the team a lot of innings, pitch as long as I can every outing. I don't have dominating stuff and my out-pitch is definitely situational." He said he wants to throw strikes with whatever pitch he's throwing, and that getting ground ball or fly ball outs also depends on individual situations and batters.
Baldwin is a real fan of as well as a participant in sports. "I grew up liking all sports, but I never had anybody I wanted to model myself after in any sport. I liked the Giants and Barry Bonds and the Vikings were the only NFL team I followed." He also loves Brett Favre and said it would have been "fantastic" if the former Packers' quarterback had wound up his career in Minnesota.
But Baldwin doesn't spend a lot of his time off watching sports on TV. In fact he doesn't have a set in his current home in Tacoma. "I'm a big reader, I love to write, and I like music. I play guitar and piano and like to be by myself. Sometimes I read two or three books a week."
Baldwin said that the North End of Tacoma reminds him a lot of his off-season home in Portland. "It's full of little shops and businesses. It's a beautiful place." Before coming to the stadium he will usually work the crossword puzzle in the morning paper, admitting "I'm addicted to crossword puzzles."
With the Rainiers currently on a hot streak, Baldwin said the attitude in the clubhouse is positive. "We get used to winning, and we play better. Everybody tries hard and the team is better to be around. It's been a nice, fun year. Everybody's excited to come to the park."
Baldwin's under contract for next year and will probably be back with the Rainiers to start the 2009 season.
After the season ends he will head back to Portland where he has an off-season job and stays away from baseball-related activities. He likes to ski and snowboard as well, and often does both on the same trip, depending on how the snow conditions are. Another favorite haunt is Powells' Books in Portland, which Baldwin refers to as "the world's biggest book store." He compares it favorably to King's Books in Tacoma's Stadium District.
So if you see a crossword puzzle clue for an 11-letter word meaning "intelligent and capable of learning new things on the mound," it can only be AndyBaldwin.
NEXT UP FOR THE RAINIERS
The end of the Rainiers' season is turning out to be the most exciting part of the year. Thanks to going 14-5 between July 29 and August 17, the team closed to within five games of first place Salt Lake. Since no games remain between the Rainiers and the Bees, Tacoma can only narrow this gap by winning as often as possible and hoping Salt Lake will continue to lose.
The last home stand of the 2008 regular season begins Aug. 25. Sacramento will be in Aug. 25-28, followed by four vs. Portland Aug. 29-Sept. 1. All games begin at 7 p.m. except Aug. 31 and Sept. 1, which start at 1:30 p.m.
As of Aug. 18 the Rainiers remain in second place in the PCL's Pacific North Division, with a record of 68-60. Andy Baldwin's record of 9-5 is tied for fourth in wins.