The Withrows- Baseball Is Their Business

Baseball long has been a family enterprise for the Withrows of Odessa, Tex. Perhaps they should print business cards printed on "Withrow & Son - We're all in the game" or some similar slogan.

It began with father Mike, who was a standout pitcher for the University of Texas whose teams have produced, among so many others, the legendary Roger Clemens and stars like Burt Hooton. Mike certainly seemed on his way to the big leagues, too, but after reaching Double A, he blew out his shoulder and that was it as far as his playing the game was concerned.

But certainly not his participation. He went back to Odessa, a job and family, but as soon son Chris was old enough to toddle, he was out tossing a ball around with his dad. And Mike has remained his mentor as well as to countless other kids in the area.

Not that Chris was always a pitcher. No, he was for a time, a catcher among other positions. He's always been able to swing a bat quite well- well enough that more than one scout talked about drafting him as a position player because they thought he could hit his way to the big leagues.

Chris even abandoned pitching for one summer around his sophomore year in high school but as his arm strength increased, he got back to it earnest with Dad coaching. Not that Mike was benign Santa Claus of a coach. No, Chris admits he was stern and demanding- and successful.

Chris was playing on a summer team when the head coach was offered the job at Midland Christian in the nearby town. He asked Mike, who had been helping out, to join him as his pitching coach. In turn they asked Chris to consider transferring there.

"It was a very tough decision to make, "Chris recalls, "because it meant leaving all my friends. I finally decided to do it and it turned out to be the best decision I ever made."

So, began a ritual of rising around five each morning for the 20-minute drive across the plains of West Texas to Midland. (and if you want to know what the area looks like, catch the movie not the TV version, of "Friday Night Lights." It was filmed in Odessa. And, no, Chris isn't in it although some of his friends are in the crowd scenes at football games and the Odessa cheerleaders were used.)

On the diamond, he rose in stature to become the best pitcher in the area, then one of the best in the state and finally one of the best in the nation. The scouts were out in force but he had no idea, he says, that the Dodgers would be the team that would ultimately select him. "I talked to a number of team but don't recall talking to the Dodgers before the draft. Maybe they talked to my agent but not to me."

Before the draft he had accepted a scholarship to Baylor, which he said was no ploy. "It was a very real option. We set our sights high. I value the college experience and I'm sorry I'll miss it."

But first-round money lured him away from that to the Gulf Coast League. "Pro ball was just about what I expected. It's very demanding.

"I think learning to pitch every five days is one of the toughest parts because we didn't do that. And you learn in a hurry that you just can't throw your fast ball up there because everybody here can hit a fast ball. You have to keep it low and learn to hit spots."

In other words, the basic experience that all go through when they move from the high school ranks to the pros.

It was, he says, an overall great experience. "It';s an organization full of good people and my teammates have been great. I didn't enjoy the Florida humidity and that I didn't pitch more but I only have myself to blame for that."

The Dodgers were certainly cautious with him for he wound up throwing only eight innings (including the playoffs). He still doesn't have a "W" or an "L" and his ERA was an unprepossessing 6.00, the latter because there was one outing early on when he was banged around a bit.

Then he dropped out of the rotation for awhile to do some adjusting and when he came back he was just fine. He only worked two innings in the playoffs but in those he threw 98 and was unhittable.

At his best he threw easily but with authority, looking every inch how a first-rounder should. He's not as refined as Kershaw was at this stage but he reminds one of how Billingsley threw early in his career. "Maybe even better," commented one scout.

Right now he's in Arizona for the Instructional League. "Another experience I like," he says. "Meeting a new set of teammates, playing in a different part of the country."

And working to move to the next level. For that I'd like to thank all my coaches." And, of course, there's always Dad for advice. You never get too old for that.