Thoughts on Johan, and the day he taught me his change-up

Matthew Cerrone, Lead Writer

In terms of wins and losses, I never expected much from Johan Santana in 2013. That said, I was looking forward to watching him pitch in a Mets uniform for a final season. And now, it seems that won’t happen; nor can he have a good first half and end up being traded for another team’s above-average hitting prospect, as I hoped. The whole thing is a bust. I know there is bound to be talk of when this happened. Was it the no-hitter? Was it his rogue bullpen session? I don’t think we can ever really know that. Right now, all I know is that I’m going to miss watching him stand center stage on a pitcher’s mound.

In total, he took the mound just over 100 times for the Mets. That’s it. Yet, I loved watching him work in every single one. Despite missing half of his potential starts, despite never getting to the playoffs, I’m still thankful for Johan’s hard work and fight, and I’m thankful I got to root for him on the Mets.

In the end, all we’re ever left with is what we remember, and I’ll always remember Johan for three things: The experience of finally getting to see a no hitter, his incredible one-man show on September 27, 2008 against the Marlins and the day he taught me how to throw his circle change.

Chicago Cubs  v New York MetsThe first two we all shared in together. The latter might be my favorite day of writing MetsBlog. The beat reporters all left St. Lucie for a random day game in March, during my first trip to Spring Training. It was Santana’s first year with the Mets. He stayed back and didn’t travel, and neither did I.

Here is what I wrote on MetsBlog that day March 4, 2008, which seems worth reposting today:

The locker room was quiet — a tired Carlos Beltran sat at his locker, Duaner Sanchez and a few other relief pitchers were whispering in a group, and the room was mostly quiet, except for Pedro Martinez, who was talking with a coach about his love for ice cream.

Also, sitting quietly at his locker, very unassuming, just messing with his cell phone, was Johan Santana. It’s his first camp, and he sort of looked like a kid without a spot at the lunch table. I had a baseball my hand, so I introduced myself and asked him how he holds his legendary circle change-up, which is a pitch I used to try and throw when I played baseball in high school. He told me to sit on the stool next to him. He spent the next 10 minutes positioning my fingers on the ball and breaking down the pitch movement by movement.

Duaner eventually left the room, Beltran followed, as did Pedro. However, Johan stayed and continued to talk with me about the circle change. He didn’t have to do it, either. This wasn’t arranged. He could have easily just gotten up and gone home, which was clearly his next step in the day. But, he didn’t. Instead, he sat there and walked me through the whole process.

“This is why I focus so much on my release point, because that’s what makes my change-up better,” he explained to me. “I want to make sure all of my pitches look the same, and so I get the same release point and same arm speed every pitch. And that takes time. That’s what I work on. Not just the grip, but everything from head to toe so that everything can look the same. We worked on all of that until we got it right. That’s how I approach my games, my batting practices, my bullpen sessions. I am very serious when I throw my bullpen. I’m not just throwing. I want to make sure that everything is in place, from location to mechanics to delivery to release point. Everything. It’s not just the grip. There are a lot of things involved in throwing a change-up.”

Done, I shook Johan’s hand and said, ‘Thank you for the lesson.” I asked if he wanted the ball back. He said, “Keep it.” So I did. It has no autograph on it. It looks like any other ball. However, I’ll always be able to point to it and say, “This is the ball Johan Santana used to teach me his circle change-up,” and that is something I will never forget.

Thanks for the memories, Johan. I’ll always be a fan…


To read my full post on Santana from 2008, click here

To see the ball, check out my Instagram page here

Also, check out today’s columns about Santana from from Ian O’Connor at ESPNNewYork.com, Bob Klapisch in the Record, Mike Vaccaro in the New York Post, David Lennon in Newsday and Mike Lupica in the Daily News.

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