Cubs Prospect Interview: Thomas Atlee

Daytona Cubs closer Thomas Atlee has put together a remarkable 2004 season when you consider what all he has gone through these past two years. We recently caught up with the Daytona closer on the subject of his success this year, past arm injuries, the closer's mentality and, Emeril Lagasse?

Steve Holley: Tell us a little about yourself, where you came from, etc.

Thomas Atlee: I was born and raised in Houston, Texas. I went to Texas A&M for my first year of college and didn't end up playing there because I had some knee problems. So I went to Lamar University. It's a small Division-I school down in Beaumont, Texas. I played there for three seasons and was drafted in the 19th round as a Junior. I started off the first year in Boise and moved up to Lansing, which is where I got hurt. So I spent the last year and a half getting up to this point just doing rehab for my arm.

Steve Holley: You suffered more than just one injury that year, correct?

Thomas Atlee: I had two surgeries in 2002. At the end of August, I injured the ligament in my elbow, so I was out all of last year. I had Tommy John surgery on October 30 of '02, and going through the rehab process, I started feeling some more pain in my shoulder, which I again had surgery on in February. So I spent all of last year in Mesa, Arizona just doing rehab, working out every day, and trying to get my arm back in shape. With the help of all those guys down there, they did an excellent job getting me back to where I am. I owe those guys a lot of credit, and also to Dr. Michael Schaefer, the doctor that did my surgery.

Steve Holley: So how does the arm feel right now? If your stats are any indication, you seem to be feeling great.

Thomas Atlee: Well my arm feels awesome. I have no complaints. Going from the situation of being told "You may never come back to where you were before," to being in the situation I am in now, where I'm throwing well and my velocity is up and my pitches are doing what they're supposed to be doing, I couldn't feel any better. And to top it off, to have a team like we have down here where everybody's playing together and we're winning, it is going as good as it possibly could. My arm feels great and as a whole, I have no complaints. It's going really, really well. I'm just pleased to be in uniform again. I'm really thankful for that.

Steve Holley: Did you always want to be a closer or setup man?

Thomas Atlee: In college, I did everything. I started, I did long relief, etc. Then in my sophomore year, I ended up closing. Closing just kind of fits into my game plan by being able to come in and get all pumped up with the crowd into it and the pressure on me. I seem to perform better in pressure situations. When you come in as a starter, you have to pace yourself and carry a certain amount of energy throughout seven innings, whereas with a closer, you're able to come out and put everything you have into hopefully 13-15 pitches to get the job done before coming back the next day and doing it all again. I have started before, and I have also done long relief for 4-5 innings at a time out of the bullpen, but I enjoy closing. It's fun having that pressure on you, and I love getting out there when the game is on the line.

Steve Holley: You won Rolaids Relief Award honors for the month of May, in which you nailed down eight saves. How exciting was it to earn your first professional award?

Thomas Atlee: I was kind of surprised actually. I came into the clubhouse one day and was very, very surprised. But it was certainly a good feeling. Like I said before, the sheer fact that I was able to play this year was good enough for me. Then getting an honor like that, it makes it that much more rewarding. It's definitely a good feeling to get that, but at the same time you can't let that outweigh the overall goals of carrying your success all throughout the season. Hopefully I can continue that success through the next couple of months and get a championship down here at Daytona.

Steve Holley: You briefly touched on this a little earlier, but I wanted to ask you directly. How would characterize a closer's mentality?

Thomas Atlee: Well, for pretty much all pitchers, you have to be 100 percent confident in your abilities on the mound. And even more so when you're coming in and the game's definitely on the line. For myself, I look at it like "that's my plate, and you better be ready because here it comes." So it's really just a "go get ‘em" attitude you have to have. You can't be afraid of anyone, or be worried about any one of those hitters. Coming in and facing the 3-4-5 hitters is definitely the best that they're going to offer you. If you're worried about any one of them, that one little feeling of timidness can be the cause of you being defeated out there. You definitely have to have a pretty solid head on your shoulders as far as taking all the outside influences and shutting them out so you can focus on the target, and what the job is that you're out there to do.

Steve Holley: That was actually my next question. How aggressive are you with hitters?

Thomas Atlee: You can't just throw it right down the middle. Once you start getting into the higher levels, everybody can hit a fastball. If they couldn't hit a fastball, they wouldn't be here. I definitely have an attitude like "I'm coming after you and I'm not going to be afraid to throw inside on you." Somebody that's up there like a Brandon Sing, he wants that inside fastball and is pretty much content that you're not going to give it to him. So if you come in real hard - and not necessarily right on top of the plate - it helps open up some room on the outside. It also puts into the back of his head, "Hey, this guy isn't afraid to come after me." And that's a big thing, too. The hitters a lot of times feel like they have the intimidation factor, especially if it's a hot hitter. So if you can flip that around and let him know that you're not intimidated by him one bit, and that you're in there to get him out, it kind of puts a little fear in their eyes, which is definitely an advantage for you.

Steve Holley: You mentioned your velocity since the operation earlier. How fast are you able to throw right now?

Thomas Atlee: My fastball is usually in the 91-94 mph range. I've hit 95 once or twice. I've also hit 97 once. Usually, though, I'm working 93-94. I also throw a slider, which is somewhat of a velocity pitch of around 82-85 mph. I've had several games where it has been 85-86. It's my goal to throw it at 84-86. My development pitch, the one I'm working on right now, is a changeup, which you need once you get into the upper levels. I've been working on that lately. It's more of a feel pitch. You need real good touch on that pitch to be successful with it, so that's what I've been working on a lot lately. I like to come after hitters, so I'm going to come at them with a fastball/slider most of the time. But I'm working to where I'll be able to drop the changeup in there just to give them something to think about.

Steve Holley: Just for fun—what type of music, TV, or entertainment do you enjoy?

Thomas Atlee: I pretty much listen to everything. Coming from Texas, I grew up listening to country music, and I can actually two-step a little so that's kind of fun. I like classic rock; not really into heavy metal, though. I like a little R&B and some rap. Honestly, if it's good, I'll listen to it. I really like listening to stuff with some really good guitar in it. As for TV, this is kind of childish but I'm a big fan of South Park. I think that show is pretty funny. The characters don't really walk; they just kind of float. The animation is definitely not the reason you watch the show. What's also funny is sometimes they put political stuff in the background as to what their show is about. It's just funny to see how these goofballs can mix in legitimate issues into the shows, and make jokes out of it and stuff like that. But my favorite is definitely the Sopranos. I have every Sopranos DVD set and I love the show. I've let friends borrow season one and give them two discs at a time. They'll come back like a day and a half later having watched all eight shows. It's an addicting show. It's definitely up there on my list.

Steve Holley: You seem to be having fun in Daytona and rightfully so. How would you describe the fan base there?

Thomas Atlee: It's a fun city for sure. The other day we had off so myself, Ryan Theriot, Andy Sisco, Tom Pratt and Adam Greenberg chartered a boat and went deep sea fishing. We didn't catch as many fish as we wanted, but just getting out and getting away was so relaxing. On another off-day, we went to Disney World. I hadn't been there since I was a little kid so I kind of felt like I was a kid again.

Steve Holley: What do you for hobbies?

Thomas Atlee: I definitely like hunting and fishing. Growing up in Texas, that's about what everybody I know does. I also like to bird hunt. I've never been dear hunting, but I like to hunt duck and dove, and do some fishing. One of my biggest hobbies is actually cooking. I watch Emeril and the Food Network all the time. I love to cook, and I have quite a bit of fun cooking for family and friends. I really love watching college football games in the off-season.

Steve Holley: What school are you most loyal to?

Thomas Atlee: Definitely Texas A&M because my whole family have been Aggies since 1901. So we all have maroon blood in the family. Then of course there's Lamar in baseball. Coach Jim Gilligan did a great job of turning me from a mediocre pitcher in to what I am now. Granted I've also gotten a lot of help since I've been drafted, but I wouldn't have even been drafted period without Coach Gilligan. I still keep up with Lamar. We had a great year and made it to the regional. I think we got knocked out by Rice and A&M, but those are definitely two schools worthy of getting knocked out by. My first appearance as a closer was actually against Rice, when they were No. 2 in the nation and we ended up beating them. That was a good time. Other than that, just hanging out with family and friends and seeing the people I don't get to see all that often.

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