Atlanta general manager John Schuerholz says he pursued Hampton without reservation because the late Darryl Kile was a 20-game winner the first year he escaped Colorado. "And Darryl Kile didn't have the same track record before going to Colorado as Mike did," Schuerholz says.
Further, Schuerholz says, the Braves foster great pitching because of four components: their trainers; their medical professionals; manager Bobby Cox, who "handles pitchers better than anybody I've ever seen in the game," says Schuerholz; and Mazzone, whose imprint on the organization is unmistakable. Atlanta's pitchers, for instance, throw twice between starts rather than once, as virtually every other staff in the majors does. They zealously adhere to Mazzone's first commandment: Master the down-and-away fastball. They also pitch with an ease of motion, cruising at about 80% to 90% of available effort.
Under Mazzone pitchers also get special attention. While many clubs, for example, have three, four or even five pitchers throwing off mounds at the same time during spring training, Mazzone has only one pitcher throwing at a time except for the first week of camp, when a second pitcher is within his sight. "How the hell can you watch five guys warm up?" Mazzone says. "And if I'm watching one guy, what are the other guys I'm not watching supposed to think?"
That's how Camp Leo ran too, with more than a dozen pitchers each day—many of them new to the Braves—waiting like acolytes for their mound time with Mazzone. Atlanta must replace eight pitchers who accounted for 66% of the team's wins and 64% of its innings last year, including Tom Glavine and Kevin Millwood. On Wednesday of last week, the third straight day Hampton threw, Mazzone showed him how he could change the location of a pitch by simply moving his position on the rubber by an inch or so. About an hour later on the same mound Mazzone was prodding Rule 5 draft pick Chris Spurling. "Lock in on his crotch!" he yelled, giving Spurling a target on the catcher for that down-and-away fastball.
Says Hampton, "I'm putting my faith in Leo." Each day after camp Hampton would return to his hotel room, stand before a mirror and repeat what he had learned that day. And when he looked into the glass, he saw something else newly gained: a smile. Here was one happy camper.
"You know what?" Hampton says. "I'm going to enjoy every win I have for the rest of my career. If I pitched a good game before, well, that's what I was supposed to do. You won? Big deal. I took everything for granted. Not anymore. I'm going to have fun. I'm going to enjoy this game."