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CODY & VINNIE: 2014
By Plain Dealer Writer Terry Pluto
GOODYEAR, ARIZONA -- It was a about a year ago that Cody Allen was told to see the manager.
Two weeks left in spring training, and he was being cut already? Allen tried not to believe that. But he had a rocky spring in the Arizona desert. In March of 2013, Allen had been a pro for only two years, and his big-league experience was 29 innings.
"I was pressing," remembered Allen. "Tito saw it." How manager Terry "Tito" Francona handled Allen last March was one of the many signs that the Tribe had someone special in the dugout. "Tito told me that I had made the team," said Allen. "Hearing that with two weeks left in spring training -- it was awesome. I mean, just awesome!"
Thinking back, Francona smiled. "Cody was throwing the ball 97 mph," said the manager. "He just needed to relax. I knew what he could do, and he needed to know he made the club."
To be exact, Allen was trying to throw every pitch through the Great Wall of China. The baseball term is "over-throwing." The real explanation is a combination of fear, adrenaline and perhaps a bit of panic. "I didn't want to go back to the minors," said Allen.
Allen had a terrific 2013 season, appearing in 77 games -- second most in the American League. Only Bobby Howry (79 appearances in 2005) has pitched in more games for the Tribe than Allen did last season.
Obviously, Francona was able to read Allen's personality. Even though Francona was in his first season as the Tribe's manager, he realized that Allen was a 23rd-round pick in 2011. He was never a hot prospect. He knew that Allen had the stuff to dominate in the bullpen. But Allen needed to know his manager had faith in him.
"So much of this game is confidence," said Allen. "I remember being so amped up last spring, thinking about what I had to do to make the team. That's why knowing you're on the team -- it's so hard waiting until the end of spring training to find out." The 25-year-old Allen's average fastball last season was 95.4 mph. He lit up the radar gun at 98 mph several times. About one of every four pitches is a devastating overhand curveball that drops straight down -- and is effective against lefty and righty hitters
This spring, Allen has no concerns other than making sure he is healthy and ready for the season. He was 6-1 with a 2.43 ERA, including a 2.05 ERA after Aug. 1 during the playoff race. Instead, it's Vinnie Pestano's uncertain spring.
A year ago while Allen was fretting, Pestano's roster spot was secure. He owned the eighth inning. He had two strong seasons behind him, a combined 2.44 ERA in 2011-12. But then came some elbow problems, a trip to the minors and he was left off the 2013 playoff roster.
Now, the eighth inning belongs to Allen.
"I have to prove myself," said Pestano. Rather than talk about his role in the bullpen, Pestano discusses making the team. He has allowed only one run in six spring innings, fanning five. His velocity is a modest 89-92, but his slider seems sharper than in 2013. "And my natural movement is back," he said.
A year ago, that wasn't the case. His pitches were flat. Then again, at one point, his elbow was so cranky, it hurt to turn a doorknob. "I was just trying to find a way to get guys out," he said. "The pain was shooting on the outside of my elbow…" And pitchers often try to "throw through it," hoping it would go away. But it never did … at least, not completely.
"Not until now," he said. "I feel confident and comfortable. I'm happy how I'm throwing the ball, but there are still more bricks to be laid." In other words, he's still rebuilding his career.
Allen and Pestano have much in common. Both are 6-foot right-handers. Most scouts prefer right-handers to be at least 6-3. As Allen said, "They like big guys who throw hard like Justin (Masterson)."
Allen and Pestano are both college pitchers. Both had Tommy John surgeries on their elbows while in school. Pestano's was in 2006. Allen had it in 2009. Allen was the 698th pick in the 2011 draft, Pestano went 611 in the 2006.
Neither was a phenom. Both were immediately put in the bullpen by the Tribe, and both had to make quick impressions. They did just that, flying up the minor-league ladders to Cleveland. But both know how things change, especially because both have had elbow issues. Relievers often burn out, smolder for a while, then a year or so later regain the old flame in their arms.
Just look at what has happened to Allen and Pestano in the last 12 months, how things can drastically change.
Bob Steps In to Help
Tom Mulhern May 19, 2011
He might be known as a former major league ballplayer to most people, but to the members of the River Valley high school baseball team, Bob Wickman is the person who stepped up to help out after their coach was fired.
Wickman, a two-time All-Star relief pitcher who spent 5 years with the Milwaukee Brewers, has been coaching the Blackhawks for the past two weeks after Andy Cowley was abruptly fired at the Spring Green school.
River Valley athletic director Eric Briehl said he could not talk about anything surrounding the firing of Cowley. “Our head baseball coach two weeks ago was dismissed, which I can’t go into, “ Briehl said on Wednesday.
Wickman was serving as an unpaid assistant for the Blackhawks and agreed to take over the team.
Reached by phone, Wickman declined an interview, saying the job was temporary for now. Wickman was named coach for the remainder of the season, although there is a chance he could return in the same capacity next season.
“As Bob mentioned to me, he said this is a good period of time for a month where he can get his feet wet and see if it’s something he’d be interested in in the future,” Briehl said.
“Bob wants to remain in the baseball program in one capacity or another. I think we’ll see how he feels about running the show for the rest of this year and see what his thoughts are.”
Wickman did say briefly that he never expected to be in this position.
“On the whole, I definitely did not have intentions of doing this,” he said. I have three children I enjoy watching sports with and I didn’t retire from baseball to take a head coaching job this quick.”
Wickman retired after the 2007 season, following a 15 year career during which he played for the New York Yankees, the Brewers, the Cleveland Indians, the Atlanta Braves and the Arizona Diamondbacks. He appeared in 835 games with a 63-61 record and a 3.57 ERA. He posted 267 career saves, including a club record 139 with the Indians. He saved a career high 45 games in 2005 with the Tribe.
Wickman played at UW-Whitewater for three seasons and was the schools first major leaguer, and the school retired his #20 jersey in 2003. Bob attended Oconto Falls high school.
So how did he wind up at River Valley? Bob’s wife Sue is from the Dodgeville area. The couple built a home in the River Valley school district and moved there after Bob’s baseball career ended. He had younger kids coming up through the grade school and wanted to be involved in the program.
“He’s been around the community for two or three years,” Briehl said. “The kids were quite familiar with Bob and who he was, so it wasn’t like somebody came in and it’s the first time you’re meeting a former major leaguer. He knows the families, knows the kids and has become part of our school district and our community.”
Briehl described Wickman as “down to earth” and said his motivation for taking the coaching job was simply to help the players salvage the final month of the season. “For the benefit of the kids is the reason he stepped in.”
A career defined by durability
Diamondbacks carry on, Bob Wickman and his 267 career saves quietly moved on
Monday, perhaps for good.
Wickman retired the only batter he faced on a comebacker Sunday in Colorado, stranding a runner at third base, and said later it might be a fitting way to retire.
“This gives me a chance to walk off on my own terms if I do walk off,” he said.
“I got the last out that I faced and ended up being pretty successful. Hopefully, I helped this ball club and took some pressure off some of the guys. All I wanted was a chance to pitch, and to show to myself that I still could pitch.”
Wickman admitted to doubts after being waived by Atlanta before signing here Sept. 8, but he proved a valuable stretch-run addition, giving up one earned run with a 1.35 ERA in eight appearances.
He is ineligible for the playoff roster because he was not with the D-Backs at the Aug. 31 deadline.
“I thank Bob Melvin and the whole Diamondbacks organization for giving me an opportunity,” Wickman said.
Wickman has three children — ages 10, 8 and 4 — and said it might be time to save a few pitches for them.
“I’m 38. I’ve got a wonderful wife and three wonderful kids that I want to be able to throw ‘bp’ to,” he said.
The Wickmans have taken their children to spring training every year, and the family has spent summers in New York, Milwaukee, Cleveland and Atlanta, wherever he was playing.
“It’s getting to the point right now where maybe it’s about time to get settled and let them meet some friends that they are going to have every day. Whatever decision it is going to be, it is going to be a good one,” he said.
“If I don’t play, I’m going to be happier than heck being with my family every single day. If I do play, I’m going to be happy doing the thing I love to do.”
A Farewell to Arm
Two days after the August 24th meltdown against Adam Dunn in Cincinnati, Bob Wickman was at home in Wisconsin hangin’ around the pool with the family. They all knew something wasn’t quite right. The Atlanta train wreck just wasn’t the way a 14-year MLB career should end. His reputation was mangled, and he couldn’t even finish the season he struggled so hard with starting in the first place.
The closer needed closure.
He was unofficially retired, having been unceremoniously dumped by the imploding Braves, with every sports media writer that covered the story dragging his name through the mud.
He was called a selfish, brooding and aloof player that only cared about his own stats. He was said to be a clubhouse cancer that complained every time he was given the ball in a non-save situation. He was said to have openly bad-mouthed his teammates and actually refused to pitch in a 6-2 game against the Mets.
Bob made a few phone calls and reached out to some of the many baseball people he had known throughout his time in the Bigs, letting it be known that he was available to pitch if someone wanted him for the September stretch run. When his old friend and teammate Bob Melvin of the Arizona Diamondbacks said, “Come on down, we’d love to have you,” Bob saw it as a chance to repair his slandered reputation, prove that he could still get guys out and contribute to a playoff contending team. Choosing to join a bullpen that had the #1 closer in all of baseball in Jose Valverede made the accusations against Bobby seem even more ridiculous to me. He had virtually no chance to take the ball for a save opportunity with this team.
So when I heard that Arizona picked Bob up, naturally I went directly to their schedule like any fine upstanding Wickman Warrior would do.
They’re in Pittsburgh the last week of the season! “Thank You, Lord!”
I dashed off a quick note to Bob that the whole gang was coming down, and he responded with tickets for everyone and plans to meet up at their hotel.
It seemed like a perfect night for baseball when we took our fantastic seats right off the first base side of the field. That all changed in a hurry when a freak storm blew in like a tornado in the 3rd inning and drenched the field before the grounds crew could even get the infield tarp unrolled. Luckily, our seats were well protected under the overhang of the upper deck, and we kicked back and laughed as everyone else ran for their lives. They showed a Styx concert recorded in August at PNC on the big screen during the delay as we talked with Pirates fans while they worked on the field.
Everything just seemed right about the trip. I’ve always been big on setting things right before moving on, and was really glad that my friend’s career wasn’t going to end in that pile of dust and ashes in Atlanta.
Bob came into the game in the fifth with a guy on second with the Snakes down 5-1, and promptly plunked his first batter in the side with his first pitch. A ground ball double play and a strikeout quickly followed as Bobby got out of his mini-jam. Just like old times.
We high-tailed it back to the Westin immediately after the game, pulled 3 tables together to set up the retirement party and waited for the Guest of Honor. Bob introduced us as his “Warrior faithful” to his teammates as they got off the bus and entered the lobby, and after a few autographs we all sat down to catch up with our favorite ballplayer. The “Guest of Honor” made sure none of us paid for a drink the rest of the evening.
Like a bunch of kids that just got the keys to the candy store, we took turns peppering the Big Guy with baseball questions. He told us the circumstances that led to his trade from the Tribe, and that he held no animosity toward anyone in Cleveland. He vigorously defended Eric Wedge and said he always felt he was the right man to lead the young Indians team to the Promised Land. He told me again, as he did in this same park a year ago, that he was concerned about Wedge taking all the heat for the Fausto Carmona closer disaster and the demise of the 2006 Indians team. Bob said that would be totally unfair to him, and felt genuinely sorry if he had added to his troubles last year.
He told us that he had just called Mark Shapiro to congratulate him for winning the division. They had discussed his possible return to the Tribe after the Braves released him, but they both agreed that it would more likely disrupt the bullpen rather than strengthen it. The media and sports blabbers would turn the situation into a circus the first time closer Joe Borowski struggled, and they didn’t need that fiasco heading into the playoffs.
He said the Braves ordeal was largely overblown. He felt that because he only signed a one-year deal with Atlanta that they were going to use him up until his back broke or his arm fell off, whichever came first. When I pointed to Cox using him 5 times in one week back in April and landing him on the DL as the start of his injury problems, he nodded in agreement. He indicated that unless you were in a select group of players on the Braves, anyone with any injuries on that team was deemed a goldbricker that didn’t want to carry his load. We noted for the record that a squabble that spilled over into the press at mid-season between two of the “big-boys” over the seriousness of injuries was quickly hushed up.
He said his daily routine, which he followed religiously since his 2004 comeback from Tommy John surgery, was misinterpreted as him being a selfish and aloof loner. He said he never once refused to take the ball in a non-save situation as was falsely reported by the Atlanta media, and that Andruw Jones seemed to have a personal axe to grind with him. His demeanor was never a problem to them last year when he saved 18 of 19 games after giving up one earned run in the final 2 months of 2006.
As the evening went on, Bob gave us the good, the bad and the ugly as we ran the gamut of major league players that he had known through the years. There was no bitterness or regret as he spoke about his career, and he refused to dwell on the negatives as he smiled and patted little Garrett on the head and greeted Dback players and coaches that came over to see what all the fun was about. We finally closed the place down at about 2 o’clock after they started flashing the lights to get us up and out.
The clubhouse-cancer jerk tag that was hung around his neck when he was railroaded out of Atlanta was nowhere to be found. That guy with the sour attitude never did exist. This was the same Bob Wickman that I’ve known for the past 7 years. My personal guess is that he just didn’t fit in on a clannish team that should have been torn down and rebuilt a couple of years ago, starting with their out of touch manager.
He caught me off guard when he turned to me and said, "Joe, I think the game has passed me by." Sadly enough, I couldn't disagree with him. Not knowing quite how to answer, I think I told him that his leaving would be baseball's loss. I always felt that Bob belonged more to my father's era of ballplayers rather than this modern group of distant millionaires. It felt like we were all catching up over beers at a family reunion.Looking back to how sick I felt when he was released, I was relieved and grateful that he was given this second chance to repair his slandered reputation. Another chance to help a young team make it to the postseason even though he wouldn’t be there with them. His assignment here was to help spell the bullpen so they’ll be fresh for October. To prove he’ll take the ball whenever his team will give it to him, and to finish the season that he started. To finish it his way: on Bob Wickman’s terms. J. Ladd 9-28-07
Click here for more final road trip photos
Cleveland fans click here for in-depth coverage of Bob's years with the Indians as well as his entire MLB career