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Mudville: June 12, 2024 7:54 pm PDT

Tilting at Windmills

BY KEVIN KERNAN

Step One is complete and what a step it is for right-handed reliever Rob Semerano.

In mid-December you’ll remember, I wrote at BallNine about Semerano’s Don Quixote-like quest of getting a major league team interested in looking at him pitch at the age of 42.

Turns out that Semerano was not just tilting at windmills.

Semerano, because he has hit 100 on the radar gun, is ready to take the next step. Two major league teams have expressed an interest in watching Semerano throw a bullpen. At the age of 42, he is going to get another look and those workouts should come soon as spring training is just around the corner.

Hey, we all love underdog stories, that’s why we love sports. Semerano is the ultimate underdog in the young man’s game, but as I pointed out in the December column, people still love to watch Justin Verlander pitch and are paying him $43 million this year and Verlander was in the same 2004 draft class as Semerano.

Granted, Verlander was the second overall pick and Semerano was the 607th pick, but all of that is relative if Semerano impresses enough in his workout to be given a deeper look in spring training.

Semerano is not your typical 42-year-old in any way, shape or form. He is in tremendous shape and has a “smooth, clean delivery,’’ according to scouts that I have shown his backyard bullpen video to when I let them originally know about the story of Rookie II.

For now, the two teams are being kept under wraps and in no way is Semerano putting the cart before the horse. He knows there is still much work to do but he has come this far and he is not about to stop now.

This is not about creating an incredible major league pitching story, this is about reaching your full potential and doing what needs to be done to get there.

In that way, no matter how this turns out, faster than you can say Jim Morris, who went from high school baseball coach to major league pitcher at the age of 35, Rob Semerano has already won the race. Morris made his major league debut with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays back in September of 1999. In the 2002 movie, The Rookie, everyone learned about his amazing story. Jim Morris is 60 now, only 18 years older than Semerano.

“I’m excited,’’ Semerano said of getting a golden opportunity. “My arm feels great.’’

It’s more than just throwing a baseball for Rob Semerano. And this is more than a story about chasing a dream.

“I love competing, I hate losing, I’ve always said there is no greater gift you can give to people than the gift of inspiration,’’ Semerano said, offering a peek into his mental makeup. “With owning a baseball academy, I’ve become very accustomed to training younger players and helping them out as much as I can. I truly believe that God had me experience a lot of hardships during my career just so I could have the experience of overcoming them and persevering through them so I could share that wisdom with my players.’’

Hardships, like not one Tommy John surgery, but two Tommy John surgeries.

Look at the movement of the pitches, not the movement on the calendar.

Just listen to this approach to the game.

“If I were to be with a major league team again, I think it is pretty likely that every one of my teammates, and even some of my coaches will be younger than I am, so if there is anything I can do, anything I can share with them, as far as pitfalls, as far as successes, whatever, I’d be happy to do that,’’ Semerano said. “Anything to help the organization and help the team win.’’

And that is what it is all about in sports.

Semerano lives in Brick, NJ and has worked with Professor Don R. Mueller to get to this point to be the best he can be at this stage of the pitching game.

When you see the amount of money the millions upon millions of teams are shelling out on pitchers, it would be silly for teams not to take a serious look at Semerano. Take a look. Take a chance.

Look past the fact that Rob Semerano is 42 years old.

Look at the movement of the pitches, not the movement on the calendar.

In my conversations with Semerano, I am not only impressed with his focus on the art of pitching but his understanding of pitching. For decades, I have talked to pitchers and pitching coaches and I can easily say Semerano has a complete understanding of the job and perhaps that is because he is an instructor as well with his own baseball students at Big League Talent.

“We tell kids all the time at our academy that you have to be your own pitching instructor on the mound,’’ Semerano said. “We see it all the time with the kids. Today’s kids, because there is so much information out there, that the figuring-out ability of a lot of kids is not there anymore. If they want to fix something, it’s ‘Okay, let me YouTube it, this guy is going to take me through step by step, I’m going to do these steps and Boom! Done.’

“It doesn’t work like that with the human body,’’ Semerano explained. “There is understanding the concept of what you want to do but then there is getting your body to actually do what you want it to do.’’

Ain’t that the truth. I call it the GPS approach, getting from one place to another, Point A to Point B, and not really learning what direction to go, just following where the GPS tells you to go.

Here at Baseball or Bust we try to give reasons behind the success … or the failures of teams and there are plenty of failures out there, especially when it comes to building bullpens and building pitching rotations.

There is no doubt that young athletes need to figure it out themselves. They need to figure out how to get their body from Point A to Point B. All this is just another lost art like learning phone numbers, which used to be something everyone did.

Who knows anyone’s phone number anymore because the high tech phone remembers and dials the number for you, you don’t dial the number.

Yet, I still remember my childhood phone number, you know from the phone that actually hung on the kitchen wall, the phone you actually had to dial to call someone and your number had to be dialed for it to actually ring: Here is my childhood phone number from 1960: Bridge 6-6028.

And so it goes.

Semerano is dialing up a fastball consistently in the upper 90s. And yes he has hit 100 on the radar gun but it is not a wild 100 that you see in so many videos on social media, a chest-bumping bro 100.

No, this is velocity with command and that is what makes his story so intriguing.

“I’m a baseball guy,’’ Semerano said, “and I think that supersedes generations. Teams are going to see someone who passes the eye test of being a professional athlete. I’ve kept myself in very good shape. I’m actually in better shape now than when I played professionally.’’

That’s more than half the battle.

Semerano offered this scouting assessment of himself.

“The ball jumps out of my hand, I have a smooth delivery, fast arm action, I have a good slider,’’ he said. “I have a four-seam fastball, two-seam fastball. My command has always been good and I think they also will be able to read that there is a fire burning within me a lot longer than other guys. It’s one thing to have that fire burning in you at 18 years old or 22 years old, it’s another thing when it’s been burning in you for the past 15 years to be back with a major league organization. It’s roaring pretty good right now.’’

I’d say.

In 2009 Semerano was making steady progress up the minor leagues with the Astros but then suffered his second elbow injury. By the time he got back to 100 percent he was over 30 and the door shut behind him.

As it turns out, there is even more to the story, a mound more.

Semerano and his father, Bob, who once pitched in the Pirates organization, have patented a pitching mound called Semerano Mounds, a mound frame that is made of PVC and has a tartan top with the actual mound around the frame being major league clay. In this way consistent mounds can be built anywhere, in your backyard or at the ballfield. Semerano has one in his backyard.

“It’s a pliable mound frame with a tartan top to it that you can put right in the mound, which helps keep the perfect plateau and slope of the mound,’’ Semerano said. “The idea behind it is that it standardizes pitching mounds. You go to a basketball court, you don’t play on one court where the hoop is 11 feet and another court where the hoop is eight and a half feet, they are all the same size hoop.’’

Yep, just like in the classic movie Hoosiers, 10 feet high.

Rob Semerano

“The foul lines are the same distance, the three-point lines are the same distance,’’ Semerano said. “In baseball, you go to one mound and it’s 16 inches high and another one it is flat or it has a huge hole in front of it.’’

Anyone who has experienced travel baseball or high school baseball has experienced mounds that are totally different from one ballfield to the other. It can be maddening and so difficult on pitchers.

“We train kids at our academy all winter long on these perfect indoor mounds that have the perfect plateau and slope and then they go out and play on some of these crummy, unkept mounds and wonder why they can’t command the ball or wonder why their arm is hurting,’’ Semerano said. “For us, we are trying to standardize it so every mound has one of these frames to make sure that the mound is the same. This past summer we were invited down to Texas to Nolan Ryan’s company RS3 and they wanted us to put in one of these frames at St. Edwards University, and recently we were endorsed by Nolan Ryan’s company so that is pretty cool.’’

Pretty cool indeed.

You can see that Rob Semerano, who pitched at Fordham is all about baseball. With the help of Professor Mueller he grasped a better understanding of physics and inertia.

“My confidence has always been high,’’ Semerano said, sounding like a typical pitcher. “If anything my confidence has increased. So Professor Mueller believing in me was relieving to me really, to see someone who also saw what I knew I could do that was willing to put his neck out there and contact people and from an intellectual standpoint, he certainly challenged my brain, not only with teaching me the different things but also being able to understand what the heck he was talking about because, as he says himself, he is a pretty nutty professor.’’

Semerano has a code with the young players he instructs.

“We are never going to be the ones who tell you, ‘You can’t’ because we don’t know what you’ve got inside of you,’’ Semerano explained. “There are so many stories. There is the story of Phil Rizzuto being laughed at by Casey Stengel and being told to go get a shoeshine box. The guy became a Hall of Famer.

“But we also are not going to sugar coat it for you,’’ he said. “We are going to tell you that here is where you are and here is where you need to go and this is what you need to do to get there. Now it’s up to you to do that. A lot of players feed off that confidence and if that goal pulls you toward the highest possible goal you can get to, that is success. At the end of the day, all you can do is the best you can do, and all you can achieve is what your body is capable of doing, so why not have a high goal that pulls you in that direction.

“If God has put a desire in you, and a love in you to do something, I don’t regret one minute of  training I have done over the last 15 years since I’ve been out of the game. I do this because I love it. I love throwing a baseball and the challenge of all this. Follow your heart.’’

At 42, Rob Semerano has the highest possible baseball goal in sight. Let’s see where all this takes him.

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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