Lapsing into profane muttering, the ol' perfessor signals another Johnson City pitcher to take the bullpen mound.
"Pick up your target," Kittle commands. "Separate your feet! Don't lift your leg!"
The pitcher, John Ericks, a tall righthander out of the University of Illinois, sets up with his back to a teammate posing as a base runner. He brings his hands up in a truncated stretch, leans back and pauses, staring at a point midway between catcher and base runner.
Kittle is suddenly in his face. "That's wrong!" the old man shouts with unconcealed glee. "That is wrong!"
The kid's mistake? Arching his back. Being tall, Ericks has a slow delivery already; if he has to straighten up before throwing, big league runners will steal him blind. The old man goes into a prizefighter's crouch, throwing punches in the air left and right, shouting, "Pow! Pow! Bang! Bang!" His point: A pitcher must finish the stretch poised for action, his weight balanced. "Do it!" he barks.
Ericks tries again, this time with his back straight as a Marine's. He freezes the runner with a glance and fires home.
"Good! Do it again." This time Kittle calls for a higher stretch: "Way up! Can you reach up to the sky? Way up! No more ducking and looking at the ground." Ericks, stretching high, pauses, checks the runner and throws.
"Good! Beautiful!" The old man pushes his hat back on his head. He is not a drill instructor now; he's the gruff but lovable grandpa. "I want you to think about that tonight when you go to sleep," he tells Ericks. "You aren't pitching tonight, but you can be learning tonight." Kittle slaps his student on the butt, turns away and roars, "Someone else get in there!"
A slender youngster from Puerto Rico steps up and digs his feet into the red clay. The old man starts barking orders again—but this time in Spanish.
"I spent 17 years in Latin ball," Kittle explains later as he pads about the Johnson City locker room in undershirt and bare feet. "I pitched for Hermosillo in Mexico. Had to learn the language. At one time I had all the Alou brothers and Juan Marichal playing for me in the Dominican Republic. Can you believe that? Damn!"