The Swarthmore baseball bullpen is comprised of 12 pitchers and serves as one of the strongest pitching staffs the program has had for the past four years. Despite having a predominantly young bullpen, the athletes have created a pitching-dominant team and have all played an important role this season. Alongside their only senior pitcher, Matthew Bertuch ’14, who became the first in program history to be named to the “D3baseball.com National Team of the Week,” the rest of the pitchers have also shown their worth with their great performance this season. In other words, the baseball bullpen is a pretty big deal.
“We’re coming out with a line of action figures with three catchphrases and a motion for each of us,” Brian Gibbs ’17 said casually, swagger radiating from the black shades that he seemed insistent about keeping on throughout the entire interview. After thinking for a moment, Gibbs concluded, “They’ll have some nice outfits too.”
With jokes like these and charisma like Gibbs, action figures with catchphrases wouldn’t be too absurd of an idea. “We’re pretty goofy normally,” Aidan Miller ’17, admitted. From creating inside jokes about every day being a particular bullpen member’s (Henry Cappel’s ‘17) birthday to planning pranks in the wee hours of the night for the next morning’s practice, the pitching staff knows how to keep their teammates loose.
“Every game there’s about three or four pitchers who know they’re not going to get in at all, so if that’s you, your job is to keep everyone else up. That’s where the bullpen comes in. When we’re not in the game, we’re always there to be loud and vocal to support the team,” Miller continued.
The bullpen and the hitters encompass the entire baseball team, but both groups have very different roles. “It’s almost like two different teams. We only practice together for a little bit so usually more than half of practice is separated,” Miller said.
The pitching staff and the hitters practice together by running defensive drills, rotations, and situations until they separate and do specialized work for their own positions. Because pitching is an unnatural motion in itself, the bullpen uses unconventional methods to enhance their pitching performance. By running and employing drills that work on building different spins on the ball, the athletes hone both their athletic and mental tenacity on the field.
“We rely a lot on mental concentration. We need to know every situation, how we’re going to get a hitter out effectively and what situations we’re going to use what pitches in,” Samer Nashed ’15 said.
But what man serves as the connection between the bullpen and the hitters? None other than the multi-talented catcher John Lim ’16. “I know we mentioned how pitching and the position players are kind of separate, but there’s one guy that’s the link between the two, and I like to consider that’s me,” he said. “It’s my job to decide which pitches the pitchers throw. It’s like a collaboration, but for the most part the pitchers place their trust in me,” he said.
Lim analyzes the best pitch to throw based on timing, the situation of the game, where people are standing in the batter’s box and even on the length of the hitters’ arms. “Lim needs to know our pitching staff, the opposing teams’ hitters, what we’ve done that’s worked during this game, how they’ve played all season…there’s just a lot going on that he needs to be aware of,” Bertuch added. “Lim really is the brains behind the operation.”
Despite the bridge between the two different worlds, a friendly rivalry between the bullpen and the hitters remains. “Each one of us thinks that we can do the other’s job better,” Lim explained in relation to the job of the hitters as opposed to the job of the pitchers.
“We draw up our own hitters line up of pitchers because the hitters always joke, ‘oh, pitchers aren’t athletes,’” Joseph Warren ’16 added. “But they only say that because we’re much better looking, and I think most of us think that we [the bullpen] would actually win,” he surmised.
Although this competition between the two sects of athletes exists, the entire team is always there to support each other, regardless of debates over the players’ aesthetics. “I think a lot of the bullpen’s role is being there for the hitters,” Bertuch admitted. “We know they have a lot on their plate, so we’re there to keep them focused and also keep them loose and have fun,” he said.
One way the team keeps angst at bay is through the art of chirping, a skill for which Gibbs has apparently written an entire document about. Chirping is used to get into the opposing team’s head and psych them out of their mojo. “There are all kinds of things you can chirp about, it all depends on the situation,” Gibbs said firmly. “We basically just take the short, sweet phrase of ‘you’re not doing well’ and just kind of expand on it, try a few different analogies and such.”
This chirping may seem rude to an ear unfamiliar with baseball tendencies, but like the name implies, it’s not meant to be taken too seriously. “It’s not like chirping is malicious. After the game you shake hands and everything’s fine; chirping is just part of the game,” Miller clarified.
Of course, in an environment where chirping is encouraged, the bullpen’s propensity for being goofy remains a large part of who they are. However, the bullpen doesn’t rely on all fun and games to get the job done.
“I think everyone understands that we goof around, but we set very high standards for ourselves out there. When we need to be on, we’re on,” Bertuch began. “We understand the responsibility if we don’t pitch well. We have a lot of accountability on the pitching staff, and if we don’t pitch well, we’ll be the first ones to admit it,” he said.
“I think the bullpen’s goofiness definitely fuels into their success,” Lim concluded. “Just being loose is important for the pitching staff because I think it’s one of the most mental positions on the field. If something goes wrong, you don’t have much margin of error to try to fix it, so I think staying calm and loose really does help their performance,” he noted.
By keeping the team loose while simultaneously “locking it up and shutting it down,” as Miller so aptly put, the bullpen establishes a charismatic, charming and incredibly talented component of our Swarthmore baseball team. Their season is only a few weeks away from ending, so don’t miss your chance to see these men in action before it’s too late!
Oh, and happy birthday Henry Cappel.