Southpaw Looking for Big Year
About the time September rolled around, Thomas Oldham thought he needed a break from the game. In fact, he knew he needed one. The Mariners' left-handed farmhand, undoubtedly one of the top young arms in the system, felt like his body needed a little rest, some time to recover from the six-month grind of the baseball season.
Then he got his break, and all it took was, oh, a matter of weeks for his mind to wander back to the pitcher's mound.
"Physically and mentally after a long season you need a break to recover, but the itch comes back quick," said Oldham, who spent the offseason in Omaha, Neb. "Being out on the mound and competing is what I miss the most because you can't really match that with anything in the offseason."
Away from the game this winter, Oldham has filled his days by working an office job; not exactly the same type of thrill one gets from being out on the mound. But with Spring Training right around the corner, the southpaw knows his days in front of a copy machine are numbered.
His sights are set on Peoria, where he plans to arrive in a couple of weeks in order to get some early work in before the rest of the minor leaguers arrive. In the mean time, Oldham is making sure not to cut any corners on his throwing routine, which he started after the new year and been doing religiously at an indoor soccer center five-to-six times a week ever since.
Keeping his arm fresh, Oldham believes the key for him this spring will be developing a new pitch that ideally will make him more effective on the mound.
"This Spring Training I am really going to focus on getting my slider where I want it to be," said Oldham, who doesn't blow hitters away with his high 80's fastball but keeps them off-balance with an advanced curveball and change-up. "The slider is going to give me an out-pitch on lefties and also help keep right-handers from diving out over the plate on my fastball."
Oldham burst on the scene last season, his second as a pro, in stops at Mid-A Wisconsin and High-A Inland Empire. While going a mediocre 6-6 and 4-3 in 19 decisions, the win-loss record didn't prove to be a fair indicator of his dominating season. The 22-year-old baffled Midwest League hitters while with the Timber Rattlers, racking up 132 strikeouts in 116.2 innings and finished his time there with a 2.93 ERA.
Promoted to the 66ers at the end of the season, he accumulated 56 strikeouts in 42.0 innings and finished with a 3.21 ERA. Both outstanding marks, to say the least.
Like it or not, the success of 2004 will mean there will be more pressure on Oldham this season. The pitcher welcomes it.
"I think that is the whole idea behind being in baseball, you want to make it and getting to that higher level is your goal," said Oldham. "So, I don't think there is any added pressure or any difference because you still have a job to do, otherwise someone else is going to take it from you."
Oldham also feels confident that the success he had last season will carry over.
"You remember your mindset going into games rather than the physical aspects of the games," he said. "Over the winter, the physical parts of pitching need rest, but mentally you can stay just as fresh as the last day of the season."
As it stands now, in the first week of February, feeling rested is no longer an issue. That happened long ago. The challenge now is turning heads down in Peoria and making a positive impression on the coaching staff.
While Oldham spent the bulk of '04 at Wisconsin and only pitched in seven games in High-A, a strong spring could elevate the left-hander to Double-A San Antonio by the start of the season. That's the hope, anyway, for Oldham, who will be 22-years-old heading into his third season in Mariners' organization.
A successful showing this spring, a spot in Double-A, and who knows what the year will bring for the young pitcher. All he hopes to do is control what he can, and remember to smile when he steps back on the field. Knowing Oldham, as big a fan of the game as anyone, that won't be a problem.
"You have to enjoy Spring Training if you love baseball," he said. "The fans and the atmosphere are crazy to be around day in and day out. Baseball is everywhere and that is all anyone is thinking about.
"Last year was the first time I've ever been around big leaguers and I think that's what I remember the most, arriving to the field with fans waving you into the parking lot."
How long now ‘till pitchers and catchers report?
No, seriously, HOW LONG?!
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