Washington Sunday: Peters steps in as Point Park pitching coach
"A baseball marriage made in heaven" is how Point Park University coach Al Liberi describes his relationship with new pitching coach Chris Peters.
Liberi, 57, of Mt. Lebanon, has long been considered one of the top hitting instructors in the area and now his Point Park Pioneers will have a true pro to teach the dynamics of pitching.
Peters, 36, a Peters Township High School graduate who spent parts of six seasons (1996-2001) in the major leagues as a left-handed pitcher, took the part-time, paying job in the fall and is now gearing his hurlers for the Pioneers' season opener, Feb. 28.
Peters, who compiled a 19-25 record with a 4.81 ERA during five years with the Pirates and a brief stint with the Montreal Expos, has his work cut out for him at Point Park, where last season's Pioneers were 10-30 -- the worst record in the 41-year history of the baseball program.
Poor pitching contributed mightily to Point Park's woes in 2008, the team ERA balooning to 9.37 and opponents compiling a .356 batting average.
Liberi does not see that happening this season. In fact, he's looking for a big, big turnaround.
"We have a lot of young, live arms and to have Chris develop them is a big thing," said Liberi, who is 94-149 in six seasons as Point Park's head coach.
"I've always been an upbeat, positive guy, but I feel really good this year. I'm flying. I think we finally got the whole picture together. Chris was the missing piece of the puzzle. We needed a pitching coach."
Point Park was a small college power in baseball in the 1970s, '80s and '90s, making 10 trips to the 10-team NAIA World Series, twice finishing third. Point Park's fifth-place team in 1978 featured hard-throwing John Stuper, who spent four seasons in the major leagues (1982-85 with St. Louis and Cincinnati), compiling a 32-28 record.
The Pioneers' last big run of success came from 1998-2001, when it went 140-43-1 under coach Mark Jackson, including a seventh-place finish at the 1998 NAIA World Series.
During that four-year period, Liberi served as Jackson's hitting instructor and the Pioneers consistently maintained a team batting average better than .300.
So, the goal is to return to glory. There are some positive signs.
Peters believes Point Park has two pitchers with pro potential in junior right-handers Seth Martin (6-foot, 175 pounds) and Jordan Tuschak (6-2, 170). Martin is a Penn Hills grad, Tuschak a Central Catholic grad. According to Liberi, both can reach 90 mph with their fastballs.
Peters, who played collegiately at Indiana University of the Big Ten, said one of his goals is to bring more discipline to the program and he is seeing improvement in that area.
"Just because I played in the big leagues, immediately I gain a little respect from the kids," he said.
Peters said his philosophy on pitching is the same as former Pirates pitching coach Ray Miller.
"Keep it as simple as you can, work fast, change speeds and throw strikes," Peters said. "I want our pitchers to be very aggressive in controlling the hitter, to keep on the offensive. But you can't do that unless you throw strikes."
Peters, who lives in Mount Washington and has three children, 10, 9 and three weeks, manages a couple of Downtown parking lots when he's not working with the Point Park baseball program.
Liberi said from what he's seen so far, Peters may have a strong future in the college coaching ranks or beyond.
"Some of our pitchers had great potential, but didn't work real hard. He's getting them to do that," said Liberi. "Everyone can teach, but Chris adds the experience factor. He pitched in the major leagues.
"You can see Chris loves baseball, loves being around the kids. He loves the challenge of coaching college ball."
First Published January 25, 2009 12:00 am