TigsTown Q&A: Pitching Coach Mike Caldwell

As one of the most respected coaches in the organization, Erie pitching coach Mike Caldwell has an opinion that carries some weight. What's more is the fact that Caldwell had the opportunity to tutor a number of the Tigers' top pitching prospects in 2005.

TigsTown: What made you want to be a pitching coach?

Mike Caldwell: I grew up playing baseball, loved the game and when I got through being a player, I went back, graduated from college and found out that the best degree I had was in baseball so now I've been coaching for 19 years.

TT: How do you handle the new guys when they come in?

MC: Just like any new guy, I try to get to know them as well as I can. I feel like the more I understand what they're thinking about, the better I can help them with what they do physically on the mound and in the bullpens. Just trying to get to know them and not trying to be their friends nor their enemies. Just letting them know that when I yell at them, I'm doing it for a purpose and when I pat them on the back, I'm doing it for a purpose.

TT: Do you tend to give the new guys a hard time?

MC: Yeah – I do. I have a very dry sense of humor and I let them know up front. I try to tell them that when I'm kidding you about things you didn't do so well, I'm trying to make you understand that it's just one game, one situation and baseball is a game. You have to move forward and move beyond the good times and the bad times to be prepared for the next time.

TT: Do you come across many large egos?

MC: Absolutely. To be quite honest, I think baseball players and probably professional athletes in general – I think they have to have a certain amount of arrogance and ego. I think there is a very good way to carry and handle that ego and then there are some guys who get a little too carried away with their egos. They need to understand that sometimes this game will get even with you - no matter how good you are.

TT: For the minor leagues, is it more important to win the game or to teach the players?

MC: I think baseball is a big circle. I think development is extremely important and our number one goal in the minor leagues is to develop our players and our pitchers, but I think winning is a large part of development. I think when you win, the guys come to the ball park with a little better attitude, a little more life to them. Losing isn't any fun and we don't want them to understand and believe that losing is fun. But, at the same time, baseball is a game where you're not suppose to win every game – but you don't want to lose, you want to get beat. If you win, you have fun and if you have fun, you win and through that comes development.

TT: How do you handle a pitcher after he has a really tough game?

MC: It really goes back to the type of personality and how I understand this player's personality to be. Some guys need a little more pat on the back and a little more sympathy at times and then some guys need to be pushed along. It depends on the individual. The one thing as a coach I've tried to learn over the years is don't let the mood that I'm in dictate to me how I'm going to respond to a good or bad situation that a pitcher has been involved in.

TT: That's got to be hard to do.

MC: It is, but I think that's one part to being a successful coach is learning how to deal with each individual, but yet not singling out an individual, nor treating one individual over another individual.

TT: How did you learn to be a pitching coach?

MC: I was a pitcher so I learned an awful lot by participating as a pitcher and I had the fortunate opportunity to play for several good major league pitching coaches when I play. I learned a lot of things from them and I've also learned that the simpler you keep it – the better it is. I think pitchers develop more when you take little bitty small steps rather than trying to take large giant steps or make big changes at once.

TT: How do you feel when you see one of your pitchers make it to Detroit?

MC: I feel proud. Any pitcher who, number one, doesn't get hurt on my watch and continues to move forward in his development and move forward in the competition levels he plays in – I think every coach has some sense of pride. It also brings the game that I watch on TV a lot closer. It's always an honor to have kids like Justin Verlander and several other guys. I really enjoy watching the guys that have average ability somehow find their way to the big leagues.

TT: What difference do you see in the minor leagues from when you first started to today?

MC: There are always changes. Sports are always evolving. There's obviously a lot more emphasis on weight and off- the- field work-out routines. Pitch counts are becoming a lot more prevalent then they use to be. There's an awful lot of money involved in this game now and what we pay these kids to come into our organization and the organization certainly wants to protect its assets and we're extremely careful with a lot of these kids. At the same time, we need to push them forward to prepare them to go to the big leagues and pitch where they're suppose to pitch.

TT: How have you handled the change?

MC: I think the thing I've learned over the years, 14 years in minor league ball and 5 years as a college coach, is I think the biggest key as a coach is I have to learn to change with the game, rather than thinking the game is going to change to the ways that I felt like it was 20 years ago. The game changes so I have to make the adjustments more than the game will make adjustments to me.

Tomorrow, part two will finish up with Caldwell about his views on a pitching coach's role, and what exactly he's seen in some of the pitchers he had in Erie.

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