Home Run Derby thrill for McCutchen's coach
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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- It had been 19 hours since Jon Spradlin's last wink of sleep when he stood behind the L-screen Monday night at Kauffman Stadium.
With a crowd of 40,000 strong, and about 7 million more watching on television, Spradlin, head coach at Fort Meade High School in Florida, started warming up to pitch to his former student, Andrew McCutchen, in the Home Run Derby.
"It was all good when I did the warm-up pitches," Spradlin said. "Then all the sudden, they went live and he got in the box. I was like 'Oh God.'
"It was pretty overwhelming there for a few minutes."
It showed. Spradlin's first pitch bounced off the plate.
"At least he didn't hit me," McCutchen said.
Spradlin settled in -- as did McCutchen, who was battling his own nerves before stepping into the national spotlight. The derby did not end with a championship, but it will remain a fond memory for coach and player.
When McCutchen decided to accept Matt Kemp's invitation to compete in the derby, he initially thought about asking his dad to pitch.
"But his shoulder's all tore up," McCutchen said. "He can't go out there."
Spradlin was an obvious choice for McCutchen. Nobody had pitched him batting practice longer than Spradlin, who met McCutchen when he was an eighth-grader.
"He's been there with me since I was small, didn't really know much about myself," McCutchen said.
When school was out for the summer, McCutchen would work on his hitting at the high school with Spradlin. When he was a minor leaguer looking for extra cage work, he called Spradlin. When he wanted a head start on major league spring training, he tabbed Spradlin.
"He's been there for me whenever I needed anything," McCutchen said. "Even when I was in the minors, I'd say 'Hey, I need someone to throw me BP.' He'd say 'Hey, hey, I'm there.' He'd show up, bring some baseballs out and throw to me, regardless of when or where. He's been there for me.
"It was a no-brainer."
McCutchen phoned his coach at about 10:30 p.m. Saturday. It didn't take long to get a definitive answer.
"There was no way I was missing this for anything," Spradlin said. "It just had to happen."
McCutchen graduated from high school in 2005, but Spradlin said it does not seem that long ago because of how often they work together.
"Even though senior year's been a long time ago, I threw to him so much then that not a lot had changed," Spradlin said.
The idea of Spradlin throwing in the Home Run Derby started during one of those offseason workouts. He told McCutchen and former Pirates player Steve Pearce, who grew up in nearby Lakeland, Fla., that if either made it to the derby, he wanted to throw it.
Spradlin said the idea was a joke. He never figured McCutchen, known more for speed and gap power at the time, would earn an invite.
"Now he's turned into a pretty powerful kid," he said. "Did I ever think it would happen? Heck no."
In the hours before the derby, Spradlin took some advice from Los Angeles Dodgers bullpen catcher Rob Flippo, who had pitched in two previous derbies and would do it again Monday for Kemp. Flippo told him to instruct McCutchen to take some pitches at the plate, that way the experience lasted for the All-Star.
Spradlin wanted it to last, too. He bought a bunch of souvenirs for his children and had special plans for the No. 20 National League jersey he wore that night.
"This thing is going to hang up forever," he said.
First Published July 11, 2012 12:21 am