Dirk Hayhurst a rare breed

Adding a pitch to your repertoire is supposed to make each one slightly harder to perfect. But Dirk Hayhurst doesn't work like the rest.

One thing a catcher said to me is "Dirk Hayhurst is throwing great – one of the best I saw in Spring Training." When you hear that kind of thing, how does it make you feel?

Dirk Hayhurst: The bribe worked. That is the immediate thing that comes to my mind. Or that I owe him something.

It is good to hear that kind of stuff but I know from years of experience that I never put too much stock on what comes out of my arm on day one. I hope that I can live up to the whatever prophecy was made over me in that interview. I really do but I also know that the proof is in the pudding so to speak. I know speculation is fun and get people excited about the ‘would-be' but I won't know until I am testing it out day in and day out.

Last year, did you call the 2007 season a successful one?

Dirk Hayhurst: I did, but I probably called it a successful season for other reasons than other people would think of. I had a lot of fun, and I was able to separate baseball from who I am and made it what I do, which was a huge burden off my shoulders.

That was probably the biggest success for me; being able to look at baseball as a job and not as a lifestyle. I think it is real easy to make it who you are – period. I am a baseball player. It is what I am, and I live and die on it. The unfortunate thing with that mentality is when you fail at baseball – well, you are a failure.

After a while, I stopped being afraid of failing at it because I realized it is just a job and what I do. That allowed me to relax a lot. That was the biggest success because it translated into a higher quality of living both on and off the field.

What is a higher quality of living off the field – not taking what you did the previous day back to the field with you the next?

Dirk Hayhurst: I think that is a concise and admirable way of putting it – your ability to let it go. It happened on the field and when you are off the field you are still you. You have your life to live and things to do. You don't let it eat at you or affect your mind if it is bad or give you false confidence if it is good. Keep it as a different part of your life and move forward.

I think a lot of these guys, to their credit, the best parts of them are not what is out there on the ball field. The best parts may not even manifest in their life yet. When you can look at baseball as something you enjoy doing – a job, and if you don't make it that is all right. It does not make you more or less as a person for winning or losing. You give it your best and that is all you can. When you can honestly say to yourself that it is ok, that is when you say, ‘You know, I can enjoy my life a lot better.' I am not going to go home in shame and feel like a loser for the next month. Those string of numbers don't mean anything. They are just numbers.

‘I was doing my best and I put in everything I had to put it. I put it all on the table. If I bust it and make it – great. If I don't, than I have the satisfaction of knowing I tried my hardest, and that is all I can give, I can't control anything more than that.' If I can look at myself honestly and say that, I have succeeded – regardless of the result.

Now that you have learned that lesson, how do you go into 2008 and say, ‘These are my goals and my values and what I am setting to accomplish in 2008' when you have already hit one of the biggest plateaus?

Dirk Hayhurst: I think that being able to look at your career that way is not always something that is going to be a part of your life. There will be times when you lapse in that judgment – where it swallows you up. You are worried, ‘What is so and so thinking about me? Is the coach going to give me my shot? Am I going to get promoted? Am I going to succeed?' You are always going to be fighting that thought process.

I know this may sound way out there because it is not the clear cut and dry – I was focused, I was positive, I hit the zone, I got the outs – life is not that focused. I don't think it is that clean cut. A lot of times we set goals and a couple of months into it the goals change, or we change, or life changes.

I think the best thing I can do coming into this year is try and hold on to what I did last year and improve upon it as I learn about myself and my abilities in this game.

How do you go through life being named ‘Dirk'?

Dirk Hayhurst: I was Dirk the jerk when I was a kid. We have graduated to porn star status or Dirk Pitt or Derka Derka from team America – I get that the most.

I used to resent my name but now I like it.

You throw a curveball – you see a guys knees buckle. What is that sensation like?

Dirk Hayhurst: It is like a freshman in high school.

I don't know if I have that kind of curveball - the big loopy one that goes right at someone and then ends up in the strike zone. I think the batters have seen enough curveballs to not wet themselves when I throw mine.

To be honest, I started throwing a slider and it helped tighten up my curveball a lot. That is a baseball answer for you. Because the slider rotation is much tighter, it has helped me tighten up the curveball so the break is not as huge. It is not a big, sweeping hook. Because of that, I can throw it more in the strike zone and get the bottom out effect I want and get the swing down.

I would say I still have a curveball but I am not buckling or scaring anyone with it. But it is a useful tool and the shorter, more accurate break has helped me use it more effectively. One pitch has inadvertently helped the other pitch. That is the best evaluation of my curveball.

Can you explain how you hold it without a baseball as a prop?

Dirk Hayhurst: Take a two-seam fastball, grip it on both seams and turn it one way or the other. It is a cross-seam grip on the curveball.

How often do you change grips or tinker with your pitches during the course of a season?

Dirk Hayhurst: I think that if you are not tinkering with your stuff – you should always be tinkering with your stuff.

The best thing about having four pitches is not everyday does all of your pitches work. It is nice to have a backup – one pitch you can go to. My last outing the only thing I had was my slider – and that is the one I usually don't have.

If you are tinkering, you might find out something that day. And a really good pitcher – and I am not saying I am a really good pitcher – have the ability to tinker and discover things that works that day and discard them to go back to what always works if they have to. The constant experimentation is a fantastic thing.

I could tell you from backing up the big league team a little bit, those balls are like cue balls. It is a completely different baseball in some respects. The seams aren't there and the grip doesn't feel proper. You are trained for the ball. Six years in the minors, I am embarrassed to say, but six years in the minors and my hand is built for this minor league ball and you have to relearn it a bit too.

You said backing up the big league team – do you view yourself as a "backup"?

Dirk Hayhurst: I don't think it is what I feel I am but I think it is what I am right now. I am ok with that. The great thing about going over there is – and not to take anything away from them – it is not like some night and day ability there. A lot of these (minor leaguers) have as much talent as those guys do. They may not be using it to peak efficiency or getting everything out of themselves. Those guys obviously have an experience level – or something is there that lets them walk on that field and dominate, but I don't think that we are that far behind. I think a lot of us – even the younger guys – are a lot closer than we think we are. The best thing about going over there is seeing for yourself firsthand, ‘I can do this.' And believing that. Again, I am not taking away from them. But, I am saying that a lot of us can easily make that jump if we believe we could. We are not that far away and they preach that to us, ‘You have a jersey on your back, you are not that far away. You are closer than you think.' And we really are closer than we think. That is more of a confidence boost to everybody here.

I wish everybody could go over there and watch them throw. They do the little things consistently. It is the polish factor. It gives you something to chase.

The coaches have done a great job of breaking everything down. There can be this ambiguity between players and what they think they have to do to get to the next level. When coaches come out and say, ‘Hey, if you want to succeed, these things have to be in place.' That gives you a concrete definition of what you are working for. There is no better icon to chase for when you see it firsthand and say, ‘I can reproduce this. If that is what it takes to be up here, I think I can do that.'

To be able to carry that to the laboratory of baseball in the minor leagues and figure it out.

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