BY STEVE KRAH
Chris Marx prides himself on his versatility as a college baseball coach.
The Evansville, Ind., native has been in charge of hitters and — more recently — he has led pitchers.
“It was a seamless transition,” says Marx. “Hitting and pitching are extremely similar. Working from the ground up, you’re trying capture the most energy in your pitch or swing.”
The way Marx sees it, hitters and pitchers are both rotational athletes.
Marx, a graduate of Mater Dei High School (2003) and the University of Southern Indiana (bachelor’s degree in 2008 and master’s in 2010) in Evansville, was hired as the pitching coach at Purdue University in West Lafayette, bringing wife Niki (a Mater Dei graduate) and sons Clayton (5) and Maddox (3) back to Indiana. The Boilermakers were 7-7 when the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic brought the 2020 season to a premature end.
Marx presented “Pitching From the Ground Up” at the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association State Clinic in Indianapolis in January.
Marx asks his pitchers to establish some feel and command in the strike zone and develop an efficient delivery.
He also has them go through a physical assessment to see if the athletes can get into the necessary positions. They are checked for hip, ankle and T-Spine mobility as well as core stability.
When it comes to the motion, it’s important to “disassociate the hips from the shoulders.”
“We try to get the guys to feel the kinetic chain from the ground up,” says Marx. “We’re getting our lower half out of the way.
“We want to get to a hinge position (basic deadlift position where our butt is behind our heel). We want to sit back as opposed to sit down.”
The aim is for pitchers to get our hand to move toward the catcher’s glove and our target for as long as possible.
Marx shared a Tweet from New York Mets right-hander Marcus Stroman that sums up the desired approach: “For my young ones asking me about mechanics. This is the position I try to master. I feel unbelievably strong here. Ribs down, core engaged and glutes turned on. Upper body relaxed. Opposite of max effort. I want to be effortless. My arm is just along for the ride!”
Says Marx, “We say that just about everyday — ‘hips lead the hand’ or ‘arm just along for the ride.’
“This is what we want them to feel in their catch play and, ultimately, getting on the mound.”
Basic movements or check points that Marx stresses include getting to the top of the leg lift, the hinge position, getting the lower half to lead and staying closed on top.
When Purdue was in action, pitchers had two velocity days a week — one live and one bullpen. They threw medicine balls and work on creating a consistent delivery.
They were asked to go through their motion six or seven days a week to create muscle memory.
“We want to do it early,” says Marx. “We are dealing with rotational athletes that are sitting in class all day and not rotating. We want to wake up those muscles as soon as they get to the field. We want to set a really good movement pattern before we pick up a baseball.
“Hopefully we recognize when we’re outside that muscle memory and can make one-pitch adjustments to get back into the zone.”
On the mental side, pitchers were encouraged to find an aggressive, consistent thought process and to set their focus.
“We want to own our routines,” says Marx. “We use our breath to trigger our last thought. It helps us choose our last thought before we deliver our pitch.”
Positive self talk goes along with routines.
“Confidence is probably your most important thing when you’re out there standing on the mound,” says Marx. “We get into a lot of stressful situations. We want to get to the peak state of mind so our body is doing what it’s trained to do. We don’t have to think about anything, we can just compete and enjoy the moment.”
Before getting to Purdue, Marx was an assistant at Campbell University (2015) in Buis Creek, N.C., University of Arkansas-Little Rock (2012-14) and Southern Indiana (2008-11). As the necessity arose, Marx was both a pitching coach and hitting coach at Campbell and Little Rock as well as recruiting coordinator.
At USI, head coach Tracy Archuleta took over pitchers and let Marx lead Screaming Eagles hitters.
What is impressive about Arch is his ability to wear a bunch of different hats (and teach different) facets of the game,” says Marx. “He was extremely consistent. He was the same guy every single day.
“The moment was never seemingly too big because of that.”
Southern Indiana won an NCAA Division II national title with Marx on staff in 2010.
Middle infielder Marx played for Darin Knight at Mater Dei.
“He was an awesome guy,” says Marx of Knight, who guided the Wildcats to an IHSAA Class 2A state title in 1999 and is now MD’s principal. “He was a really good leader and extremely well-respected.
“He was a guy I really enjoyed playing for.”
Marx spent two seasons with head coach Dennis Conley at Olney (Ill.) Central College.
“He had the respect of everybody in the town,” says Marx of Conley. “It was like he was the mayor of Olney it seemed. I absolutely loved playing for him.”
One thing Marx appreciated about Conley was that he was steady.
“He was the same guy everyday,” says Marx.
He finished his eligibility with two seasons at Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia, Ark., where Scott Norwood was the Tigers head coach and Justin Haire was an assistant. Norwood hired Marx at Little Rock and Haire had Marx on his Campbell staff.
“Extremely passionate” is how Marx describes Norwood. “We were going to compete everyday. Practice was going to be difficult everyday. We knew he wanted to win.”
OBU won 50 games in 2007.
Playing for and coaching with Haire, who too to the diamond the University of Indianapolis for Gary Vaught, Marx got to experience his high energy.
Haire’s predecessor as Campbell head coach was Greg Goff, who is now head coach at Purdue.
What strikes Marx about Goff?
“His positive attitude is the biggest thing,” says Marx. “He has infectious energy around the office. Guys really enjoy going to field to work.
“He’s a lot of fun to be around.”
The Boilers staff also features pitching coach Cooper Fouts, volunteer Harry Shipley and director of player development John Madia.
Since the shutdown, coaches have been getting players to stay on top of their academics while also reflecting the season and looking ahead to the summer and fall. While there are no currently games to attend, Marx says coaches have been looking at potential recruits.
Chris Marx, an Evansville, Ind., native, was hired as an assistant baseball coach at Purdue University in the summer of 2019. He has been in charge of the Boilermakers pitchers. (Purdue University Photo)