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Mudville: February 23, 2024 3:16 am PDT

The Rookie II

BY KEVIN KERNAN

Every team in Major League Baseball is desperately looking for pitching.

Free agent Yoshinobu Yamamoto could wind up with a $300 million contract.

Velocity and hitting 100-mph continues to be the Holy Grail.

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What if I told you there is a healthy pitcher out there, unsigned, pro experience, too, and he even was in the Yankee organization at one point? This sturdy right-handed pitcher is now hitting 100 mph on a regular basis.

Interested?

This pitcher is sitting at home in New Jersey, and through diligence and hard work and the expert coaching of Professor Don R. Mueller has reached 101 on the radar gun. Mueller has unlocked some fascinating details about velocity through his studies of flamethrower Steve Dalkowski. Dalko, a left-handed pitcher, was signed by the Orioles in 1957 and threw harder than anyone in the game.

What if I told you teams have been contacted and this pitcher has received only lip service from one or two organizations? Baseball is searching for everything this pitcher has to offer, but no one has come calling.

That’s because baseball is scared to take a flyer on a pitcher who is throwing 100 mph, simply because of his age. The pitcher’s name is Rob Semerano and he is 42, seven years older than Rays pitcher Jim Morris was when Morris became “The Rookie’’ at the age of 35 back in 1999.

You can check out Semerano’s video below to see the speed, accuracy, and control of his body.

Here at BallNine we pride ourselves on great baseball stories and Rob Semerano has just such a story. Hopefully some team will take a chance on him.

Rob Semerano could be The Rookie II.

“All I need is a shot,’’ Semerano told BallNine. “That’s it. I’m not looking for money. I’m just looking for someone to say, ‘Rob, you know what, we have an open mind, we’re willing to give you a shot, come on down to spring training and throw the hell out of it for us and see what you can do.’

“That’s all I want.’’

That’s not too much to ask considering the state of pitching in the majors today and the quest to find velocity.

“I’ve been trying to hook him up with teams and basically they tell me to go to hell,’’ Professor Mueller told BallNine.

One team that has shown some interest is the White Sox, but we’ll see where that goes.

Mueller is not easily deterred and has kept his sense of humor even though doors have been slammed in his face. “As a physics professor, half the time I’m telling jokes, the other half of the time I’m trying to explain to the dean why I told them,’’ he said with a laugh.

When Mueller started working with Semerano, the pitcher was throwing around 90 mph but through Mueller’s work emphasizing the “Neutral Wrist’’ method that Dalkowski used, Semerano has reached pitching heights he never thought possible.

Semerano was the 607th pick of the 2004 draft, taken by the Moneyball A’s, a draft that was known as the “Verlander draft.’’

“Now,’’ Mueller said, “Rob is throwing harder than Justin Verlander, and is two years older.’’

If I am a major league team, especially a small market team trying to keep up with the Ohtanis, I’m racing to New Jersey to sign Semerano and I am also making Professor Mueller a consultant. What have you got to lose except the cost of a minimum contract? If you can’t afford that, cut back one of the many, many “analysts’’ you employ.

Get a scout out to Brick, N.J. ASAP.

At worse, Semerano washes out; but you may learn something from him and the professor that helps one of your younger pitchers go beyond what you thought was his potential.

At best, you might have The Baseball Story.

A 42-year-old pitcher who emerges from his New Jersey backyard bullpen, Semmy’s Bullpen, to go to the major leagues. This is not Sidd Finch, this is a real pitcher and person.

Could be a movie.

Over in the NFL right now the Giants are riding the wave of an undrafted Italian rookie quarterback in Tommy DeVito who still lives at home with his parents in New Jersey and loves chicken cutlets.

Semerano lives in NJ and is Italian and I betcha he loves chicken cutlets too.

 “For a pitcher to employ a neutral wrist fastball, they must have a good hip rotation as did Dalkowski and later Nolan Ryan.”

Here is some info on the Neutral Wrist that Mueller teaches.

“As I try to make clear in my presentations,’’ the professor explained, “the neutral wrist is not a wrist action, but instead the starting point for the six-actions of the wrist and forearm/wrist. Of the six, four are strictly wrist actions (1) radial deviation (2) ulnar deviation (3) dorsi-flexion (4) palmar-flexion. The remaining two are forearm/wrist actions (5) supination (6) pronation.’’

That sounds impressive.

Professor Mueller added, “My research into Steve Dalkowski, which began after his death in early 2020, pointed me in the direction of the neutral wrist as his means of firing his fastball at incredible speeds.’’

There usually is an AMBS connection, and there is one here too because I interviewed Steve Dalkowski and even visited his high school field with him in Connecticut back in 2013. Dalkowski was the fire baller of all fire ballers and his speed was legendary.

“Anatomically speaking, the neutral wrist is the fastest way to extend the forearm,’’ Mueller said of the Dalkowski method. “For a pitcher to employ a neutral wrist fastball, they must have a good hip rotation as did Dalkowski and later Nolan Ryan.’’

You can think of it as cracking the whip.

You know who else has good hip rotation, according to Mueller? Rob Semerano.

Not just anybody can do this action. Semerano has the pitching basics that enabled Mueller to substantially increase his velocity. Now I should mention that Semerano has had two Tommy John surgeries, but so has a guy named Shohei Ohtani who just got $700 million from the Dodgers.

“I’m just guiding these people with physics,’’ Mueller said of his work with Semerano and some others in sports. “I’m not doing the work for them, they have to do it. Steve Dalkowski used the neutral wrist, I’m the first guy to figure it out, it comes from my work in tennis. It’s the fastest way to extend the forearm and once you learn how to extend the forearm then you have to learn how to rotate your hips so the arm gets out in front. The neutral wrist is like the old style of shaking hands, when you extend your arm out with your thumb up and your pinky down. It takes no muscular contraction of the forearm itself, which is the fastest way to move your forearm. You have to turn your hips so that motion gets out in front of you, and that is what Dalkowski did. Dalkowski almost turned sideways to the catcher – and Nolan Ryan did the same thing.’’

Photo of Professor Don Mueller doing a Physics of Sports demonstration.

Dalkowski had terrible bouts of loss of control.

“My pitcher can throw strikes,’’ he said of Semerano.

Sounds like one of these highly publicized MLB pitching labs needs to get in touch with Professor Mueller.

Semerano said he is even amazing himself with his ability to command and throw the fastball at such dizzying speeds.

“By mid-February I’m hoping to go to spring training with somebody,’’ Semerano said of his baseball dream.

Semerano lives in Brick, NJ, and runs a baseball academy called Big League Talent. When his father was going through physical therapy for a knee replacement revision, he mentioned to the therapist that his son still throws on the side and that is how he was given Professor Mueller’s contact info.

So started The Great Comeback.

“If every team came to me and said, ‘Rob there is no chance of you being signed,’ I would still do what I’m doing because I love it,’’ Semerano said of his Joy of Pitching. “I love pitching and honestly I wasn’t even looking to do this until I started working with the professor. For me, most guys my age like to go out and play 18 holes of golf. I like going out and training and throwing a baseball hard, that’s what I like doing.’’

He loves teaching the game, too, and has teams ranging from 11 to 18 years old and gives instruction to players of all ages.

“For the academy, we have kids as young as four years old and we have had people come in as old as 64 years old who are getting ready to go to Fantasy Camps and are looking for lessons –  so that’s pretty cool,’’ Semerano said.

Age is just a number when it comes to the love of baseball.

Semerano is originally from Port Jervis, N.Y. He remembers playing against Todd Frazier when the two were in the Florida State League together. His son has also played against Frazier’s son; so there is that Jersey Shore connection as well.

Pitcher Rob Semerano with the Oakland A's, 2004.

Way back in 2008, AMBS had lunch with Semerano and Dellin Betances when they were with the Yankee organization; so again, there is an AMBS connection. A reliever, Semerano was 4-1 for the Tampa Yankees that season. One of the highlights of that season was conversations he had with Alex Rodriguez when A-Rod was on rehab assignment and how kind Rodriguez was to him. Semerano spent six years in the minors, rising as high as AA.

Semerano is throwing way better now than 15 years ago. Semerano’s father, Bob, was also a pitcher and pitched in the Pirates organization – so there you go, Pirates, take a flyer on Rob Semerano. You could use the help and the price is right. The Little League team that Semerano coaches is the Pirates, too.

Semerano pitched at Fordham. Semerano was his high school valedictorian and got a full ride to Fordham, so he is smart too.

“I always mention to my players because I am proud of that,’’ Semerano said. “I impress that on young kids, the importance of keeping your grades up because honestly it opened a lot of doors for me. It made me that much more marketable to colleges because they knew they did not have to give me all baseball money, we can give him academic money too, which allows us to go out and get more players.’’

At a youthful 42, all Semerano wants is another shot.

“It’s funny how you hear about ageism,’’ Semerano said. “I don’t fight it. It is what it is and I tell myself the same thing I tell my players. At the end of the day you have to do what they want you to do. So, the fact that I am now 42 and I have to throw 100 whereas somebody who is 25 can throw 94, that’s what I got to do. I can’t sit there and complain and say this or that. If that’s what they want, that is what you have to do.’’

Semerano has a great attitude to go with a great fastball.

What a Christmas story this would be for some team.

“I go big at my house with all the Christmas lights,’’ Semerano said with a laugh. “There are two seasons for me: There is baseball season and there is Christmas season.’’

He looks fondly back on his career even though there were major struggles.

“I did get a call-up to one big league spring training game in 2009 with the Astros,’’ Semerano said. “I tore my elbow that year and that kind of derailed everything. It took a while to get the velocity back. I was going on 29 so by the time I was throwing 100 percent I was over 30. You know how it is in baseball. Once you hit 30 it’s like you’re a dinosaur.’’

His first Tommy John surgery occurred in 2001.

When you hit 40, it is beyond dinosaur but with the guidance of Professor Mueller, Semerano is hitting 100 mph heights and enjoying the ride no matter where it takes him. Professor Mueller, 61, is not one to give up easily. He has been teaching for 31 years and last taught at New Jersey Institute of Technology. His degree is in chemical physics. In 2006 at Ramapo College he taught a physics of basketball class and was still able to dunk.

Mueller has done much work in tennis and that is where he was able to put some of his practices to work, including power pronating. Mueller first met with Semerano about a year ago and began working with him at West Orange Tennis.

“I see him throw and I say, I think I can work with you because you have a nice smooth delivery,’’ Mueller explained. “He was at 86 and had one pitch at 91. So he went from 91 to 101 within six months. We also did a lot of stuff online, he would send me videos. We talked about Vida Blue, who had the good leg swing. You have to understand, my work is about analyzing people, but then suggesting why they were doing this via the physics. First you figure out where the forces are going then you decide where you want the magnitude of the forces to be. A lot of people waste energy and put the forces in the wrong direction.’’

You can see that every major league game. “Mechanics means physics,’’ said Mueller, who jokes that he is the Nutty Professor of Sports.

Justin Orenduff of @DVSbaseball has spoken with Mueller and Semerano and is interested in the work that has been done. Orenduff is a former minor league pitcher and was taken by the Dodgers in the same draft as Semerano. He was a first round pick, No. 33, 574 spots ahead of Semerano.

“It’s very rare that someone has that scope of how some of the guys used to do it and explain it that way,’’ Orenduff said of Mueller and his ability to communicate the art of pitching physics.

Semerano admitted that when he first started, he did not know what Professor Mueller was talking about, “but I learned.’’

“That’s the whole point,’’ Mueller told me. “Rob is a smart guy. I don’t care if people know what I’m talking about, eventually they will if only they give me the chance.’’

Some team needs to give Rob Semerano one more chance.

45+ years, columnist at NY Post for the last 23 years prior to joining BallNine. Elected to the NY Baseball Hall of Fame. Former SportsTalk Host (KFMB), ESPN’s First Take and Cold Pizza contributor. Frequent guest on radio shows and podcasts nationwide. Author of seven books. Seen in episode 10 of ESPN’s “The Last Dance” (the one with Dennis Rodman). First baseball interview he conducted was with Thurman Munson. Now you know why he is America’s Most Beloved Sportswriter.

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