By STEVE KRAH
“I think there’s a 90 mph arm in every school in the country. I’m not sure there’s not one in every class.” — Tom Held, head baseball coach, Defiance (Ohio) High School
In the northwest corner of Ohio, they are developing hard throwers and a Buckeye (Held) and a native Hoosier (Kevin “Scoop” Miller) are playing a big part.
Sometimes known as the “Defiance Way,” a system of throwing progressions and long toss has added 17 members to the 90 mph club since 1999.
Among DHS products are big leaguers Jon Niese (now with the Mets) and Chad Billingsley (most recently with the Phillies). A four-county area (Defiance, Fulton, Henry, Williams) of small schools typically has eight to 12 pro pitchers active each year.
“We throw a lot — more than most people throw,” Held, who has spoken at the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association State Clinic and many other seminars and camps in his Ohio High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame career. “We don’t baby the arms. We throw three days a week all winter.”
That off-season program has players throw into a net with tennis balls, softballs and baseballs. They go two sets with each and throw as hard as they can for 72 pitches.
“It seems to have a big impact,” Miller, who is entering his ninth season as pitching coach at Defiance College after a successful baseball and basketball coaching career at Archbold (Ohio) High School (leading the Blue Streaks to the Division 2 state baseball crown in 2005), said. “If guys will invest the time and effort and use the proper mechanics, the sky’s the limit.
“It motivates the kids when they see their (velocity) numbers go up. We also teach them a great 12-6 curve ball, too. That’s the safest pitch you can throw if you do it correctly and it reduces injuries.”
Athleticism has a lot to do with throwing hard, but proper technique and putting in the work is also key.
Much of the program does not involve getting on a mound.
“You must learn how to throw before you learn how to pitch,” Held said. “Throwing is a science and pitching is an art.
Held, whose teams have won 670 games and three Ohio High School Athletic Association Division 2 state titles (2013, 2015 and 2016) in 29 seasons, said a player must spend 4-6 weeks throwing everyday to get their arm into great shape.
“That does not mean you can pitch everyday,” Held said. “Kids don’t throw enough and they pitch too much.”
Held and Miller teach private lessons and run camps in the fall, Christmas break and on Sundays in January and February.
“We don’t label it as a pitching camp, but a throwing camp,” Miller said.
The desire is to get players at the younger ages before they get a chance to develop bad habits.
Held said that throwing — when done properly — does not hurt the arm.
A pitcher from 1983-86 in the Detroit Tigers system, Tom Held learned much of his baseball wisdom from father Mel “Country” Held, a veteran of 13 pro seasons with a “cup of coffee” for the 1956 Baltimore Orioles.
“All they did back then was throw,” Tom Held said.
The younger Held said his Bulldogs — pitchers and position players — will do long toss after a throwing progression every single day once the team gets outdoors.
“We want them in the best shape possible,” Miller said. “We do proper warm-up (of at least 20 minutes) with dynamic and static stretching. We make sure all core muscles are warmed up before we ever pick up baseball.”
Then were are towel drills and throwing progressions, isolating upper and lower body. There are specific drills to isolate every movement.
Long toss is emphasized for Defiance College pitchers, who work their way up throwing the length of a football field (300 feet). These Yellow Jackets will long toss the day before and after they pitch.
And their arms are stronger for it.
Tom Held (Defiance High School)
Scoop Miller (Defiance College)