How Tiny Tim Became a Pitching Giant (cont.)
The last part of turning Tim into a major league pitcher was the hardest part for Chris: He had to let go. Lincecum 2.0 belongs to the world now, to the big cities and the fancy hotels and the media and everything else that comes with the spectacle of big league life. In Bellevue, where Chris still gets up each day for work at 5:30 a.m., the phone doesn't ring quite as often with the happy promise of his son's voice. "I used to hear from him every night, even when he played in the Cape Cod League," Chris says. "As soon as he got to the majors, I hear from him about once a week. But I understand. It's his life. I'm here for him.
"You know, I'm built almost identical to Timmy. He's kind of like my soul mate. I pray for only one thing, and it's for my sons, and it's not about the most wins or getting rich. It's one little prayer. I pray my kids are safe and healthy."
And suddenly Chris, who is to elocution what Tim is to velocity, actually pauses. There is silence for one beat. When he resumes talking, his voice is much softer, as if now he were speaking only to himself.
"I miss the hell out of him."
At liberty high, Tim pitched as a freshman at 4' 11" and 85 pounds. As a sophomore he was 5' 2", 100 pounds. He hit a growth spurt in his junior year, all the way to 5' 8", 125. By the time he entered college, fresh off a senior season in which he was named Washington's 2003 Gatorade High School Player of the Year and drafted by the Chicago Cubs in the 48th round (he turned down their offer), Lincecum stood all of 5' 9", 135 pounds.
And he threw a baseball 94 mph.
Such velocity was possible only because Lincecum's delivery is an engineering marvel, and he has the athleticism and fine-gauge musculature to pull it off time after time after time. Most pitchers are taught a delivery in segments, such as a step back, a gathering of the limbs while balanced over the rubber, the loading of the ball in a cocked position behind the head and then a fast uncoiling of the body as the arm comes forward. Hall of Fame righthander Robin Roberts used to say, "If you're going to hurry, hurry late," a reference to accelerated arm speed at the end of the more measured movements to keep the body balanced.
Lincecum, by contrast, pitches with the intentions of a drag racer: It's go time from the start. His delivery gives the illusion of being one movement rather than the cobbling of several separate ones. Righetti calls this apparent seamlessness "flow."
"The hardest thing to do is slow down, gather yourself, then throw a ball," says the pitching coach. "Greg Maddux, Bob Gibson, Rich Gossage -- they all flowed through their delivery. They keep their momentum going. Those flow guys are the ones who can sustain the grind of pitching. I think [Tim's] a longevity guy, I really do."
The quickness of Lincecum's small body is what scared off most scouts -- that and what has become something of a trademark, a tilting of his head toward first base in the early phase of his delivery. The scouts equated his body speed with violence. That assessment, however, is akin to watching the Blue Angels air-show team and not seeing the precision because of a fixation with the implicit danger. Lincecum generates outrageous rotational power -- the key element to velocity -- only because his legs, hips and torso work in such harmony.
"When the scouts started looking at him," says Chris, "size was 80 percent of their problem [with Tim] and style about 20 percent. I think one guy said his mechanics were unorthodox, and people ran with it. His mechanics are very efficient. Extremely efficient. You don't see wasted energy. When he's done, he's not exhausted."
One key to Lincecum's delivery is to keep his left side, especially his left shoulder, aimed toward his target for as long as possible. "Don't open up too soon because then you lose leverage," Tim says. "If you twist a rubber band against itself, the recoil is bigger. The more torque I can come up with, the better."
Where Lincecum truly separates himself from most pitchers is the length of his stride. It is ridiculously long as it relates to his height. And just as his left foot, the landing foot, appears to be nearing the ground at the end of his stride, he lifts it as if stepping over a banana peel -- extending his stride even more. The normal stride length for a pitcher is 77% to 87% of his height. Lincecum's stride is 129%, or roughly 7 1/2 feet.
"That just came naturally," Tim says. "My dad always told me to sit down on my back leg as long as I could and push off as much as I could. I'm trying to get as much out of my body as possible. I've got to use my ankles, my legs, my hips, my back. . . . That's why I'm so contorted and it looks like I'm giving it full effort when it's not exactly full effort."
As for the "step-over" move near the end of his stride, Lincecum explains, "That's from my hips. I'm getting everything toward the target, and my hips want to go. My hips can't just go and open up. I'm trying to create torque. That's when everything kind of explodes. My body comes, and [my arm] is just kind of along for the ride."