(Editor's note: This is part one of a three part series. To read the rest, click on these links to get to Part Two and Part Three. - KL)
Hey there kids! I am not sure what your regular dad is up to, probably working on his handlebar.... however I do have a surprise for you this weekend - a three part interview with former Brewer pitcher, Brad Woodall.
A lot of the dreams I had as a child, are unfulfilled at this point in my life. Most of them; given my lack of ambition and the puzzling lack of push behind an Adam and the Ants reformation, it is probably safe to conclude, will remain unfulfilled. That said, two of my dreams have come to fruition, having a wife that makes Chex Mix with bacon, and a son that loves playing baseball as much as I love watching it.
I have thoroughly enjoyed playing catch with my son these last few summers, and also teaching him the force of nature that is the FtJ home run swing. Hitting came very natural and easy for my son, without a lot of coaching he has been able to hit for contact and power quite successfully. Throwing on the other hand, was something my son has really had to struggle with mechanically. Never having been able to throw very well myself, I was at a loss on how to teach my son how to throw. My first and only strategy was to find video of Juan Pierre throwing, and yelling at the boy, "This is how you throw, look at how bad you are, BOOOOO!".
In all seriousness, I knew my son's mechanics were bad, but I also was certain that he had a good arm in him somewhere, and I noticed that his throwing was beginning to affect his approach at the plate. Being very familiar with my limitations, I decided to waddle out of my comfort zone, and try to find someone who could help my son throw, without the humiliation of watching Juan Pierre videos.
A few months ago I crossed paths with Brad Woodall, and I took the opportunity to ask him to help my son both improve his throwing and also help my son's approach to practice and preparation. Brad has done a masterful job in teaching my son not only how to throw better, but how to practice better, hit better, and has really helped the boy get better in all aspects of all his games, not just baseball.
One side benefit to the lessons my son has received, has been talking baseball with Brad. I have found a lot of his views, outlooks and stories very refreshing and not cliche at all. I thought I would share some of our discussions with you this weekend -- touching on topics such as Doug Davis, Rick Peterson, catchers, and certainly Ned Yost.
I realize that not all of us were Brewer fans in 1998, and some of us may not have been lucid in the late 90s, so it is probably a good idea at this point to reintroduce Brad Woodall to the reader.
Brad Woodall is a left-handed pitcher who played his High School baseball for Spring Valley in Columbia South Carolina. After a distinguished HS career, Brad played for the UNC Tarheels, enrolling shortly after the departure of future Brewer stalwart BJ Surhoff. Brad helped the Tarheels win ACC conference and tourney championships, and helped get the 'Heels back to the College World Series in 1989, being a force on the mound, and at the plate.
After going undrafted, Brad signed with the Atlanta Braves, who had a tough nut to crack in a rotation with future HOFers Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, John Smoltz; young studs Steve Avery and Kent Mercker in the wings and Ned Yost in command of the bullpen. After four seasons bouncing between Richmond and Atlanta, Brad was given a chance to pitch in the Brewers rotation in 1998, the year the Brewers moved to the NL, under the guidance of Phil Garner. Brad then pitched for the Cubs, and coached for the Rays before retiring. Currently Brad is running Woodall Training, located in the Madison area with his wife (former and current kickass swimmer athlete).
Without further ado, let's get to the interview:
What was your role on your HS team?
I played OF, 1B and P on my high school and American Legion team. Depending on the pitcher that day, I bounced around from OF to 1B. I was very fortunate to have a coach that took care of my arm. I only pitched once a week or with ample rest. I always wanted to be a shortstop, but I was left handed.
Did you have any expectations of playing in MLB at this point in your life?
Of course, it was a far off dream of mine to play baseball in the major leagues. However, it was not a stated goal. I was very competitive and because of this my main concern was winning the next game...whether it was little league, high school, or college. I had a very short term view of what I wanted to accomplish. While many have a tangible goal of playing in the major leagues, what motivated me to work hard and get better was to win games and compete in the now. I believe this helped me take the appropriate steps in my development as a baseball player. I had a great coach once tell us "how can your head be in the big leagues when your ass is in the minor leagues"!! This is great advice to remind players to compete and be successful where you are instead of where you want to be.
In 1989 UNC went to the College WS. What was your role on that team? Were you exclusively pitching as a Tarheel? How had your HS expectations changed after college?
My role on the team in 1989 was very similar to that of my high school team. I played nearly every game as a DH, OF, 1B or as a relief pitcher. This was my breakout year as a college pitcher. Our pitching coach taught me the change up and it changed my pitching career. That year I was 6-0 with a 1.19 ERA by using the simple formula of throwing fastballs away and change ups. I learned then that executing a simple game plan is more important than a complex strategy that is a struggle to execute. Coach Halverson was one of the best pitching coaches I ever had, professional baseball included.
In your promotional material, you note that you have worked with many different HOFers, and future HOFers. One name stands out to me more so than others is Willie Stargell. What impact did Willie Stargell have on your career?
I was very fortunate to be around so many great baseball players and coaches in my career. Willie Stargell was one of those people who was so genuine, thoughtful, intelligent. He was one of the best story tellers that I have ever been around. He taught me a lot about hitting, how to pitch against good hitters, having fun, and keeping everything loose. I teach many of the things he taught me to the players that I coach today. The advice that he gave me was very important to my baseball career and how I try to handle myself in daily life.
Recently on MLB Network, they rebroadcast a game in which recently retired Randy Johnson fanned 13 Brewers. You were the starting pitcher for the Brewers in that game. Was Johnson's "stuff" that night the most filthy pitching you had ever faced professionally?
In short, yes. At that time he was as "unhittable" as any pitcher in the league. Many fans focus on how hard he threw but what made him tough to hit was the combination of his height, angle, and movement on the ball. There are many pitchers that throw in the mid 90’s, but it seemed like he was releasing the ball about 15 feet away from me out of the 1st base dugout! He struck me out on a slider that almost hit me in the shin.
How does a young pitcher on a staff with 3 future HOFers, and guys like Steve Avery and Kent Merker, get noticed by his coaches?
This is an interesting question, and my answer may be relevant to Brewers fans as well. When I was with the Braves, I was groomed to be a starting pitcher but we had Glavine, Maddux, Smoltz, Avery, and Merker as our starting rotation. There was not much of a chance for anyone else to crack into that starting rotation. When I was in the big leagues with Atlanta, I was primarily relegated to the bullpen in long relief. Even though I was on the team, it was easy to get lost and not get much attention from the coaches.
Ned Yost was our bullpen coach at the time. Of course, he had his main guys in the bullpen that he had to take care of and I was not one of them. As with most rookies, I did not get much attention and I was hoping that I could get recognized through my results on the field.
Well, one day we are playing against the Dodgers in L.A. and I pitched the last 3 innings of an 18 inning game and got the win. I show up at the field the next day Ned approached me to let me know that his good friend Dale Earnhardt was watching the game (from a hospital room after a crash in a race) and told Ned that he liked "that Woodall kid’s style". Ned then took care of me the rest of the year. The "Intimidator" had influence in many ways.
Part 2 of 3 will be posted tomorrow, with questions on pitching coaches, catchers and Doug Davis.