When the temperature rounds 90 and heads toward 100, when college campuses empty out and snowball stands pop up on every corner, hundreds of young men pack their bags and head off to faraway cities, trying to hone their skills in one of many summer baseball leagues.
These leagues offer the perfect chance for pitchers to work on their command, to gain experience, maybe add another pitch to their arsenal.
Unless they play for Roger Cador. These days, Southern University pitchers are more likely to be seen on a milk carton than in a summer league.
“Really, what I would rather do is shut down all my pitchers,” Cador said. “What we’ve found is that when they go off to these summer leagues and come back, they’re not the same.”
That’s why only one SU pitcher, Daniel Garcia, is working on something other than an Xbox.
Garcia missed 2010 after he underwent Tommy John surgery, and though he was a key piece of the 2011 staff, he missed more than a month with elbow tendinitis and pitched only 41 innings.
This summer, he’s playing for 3S Swing, part of the Baton Rouge-based Red Stick League.
“Garcia’s different,” Cador said. “He only threw once a week, and he got better as the season went on. So this is a situation where you don’t worry about him wearing out his arm.”
As for the rest of the pitchers, they’ll take it easy, Cador said.
“What I would rather do is have them long-throw and do bullpen (sessions) once a week or so,” Cador said. “That keeps them in shape, and they’re still working. But the difference is, they’re not in a competitive situation, so you don’t worry about them trying to overdo it.”
Cador has learned this lesson over the years.
Jarrett Maloy might have been a good example.
In 2009, when Southern won its most recent SWAC title, Maloy was a nine-game winner and unquestionably the ace of the staff. In fact, his effort in the conference tournament was legendary. Maloy threw 142 pitches in a complete-game win over Grambling, then, on two days’ rest, threw another 80 pitches in the championship game.
He spent that summer on a wooden-bat team in Compton, Calif., and returned to Southern with designs on a blockbuster senior year.
Instead, Maloy struggled with location and command, and for a time, Cador knocked him out of the weekend rotation. That year, Maloy finished 2-1 with a 7.81 ERA.
Of course, while most of Southern’s pitchers stay inside, position players are doing just the opposite.
“We need those guys to be doing something,” Cador said. “When you have kids going off to summer leagues, that helps because it gets some of the rust off. They’re playing and doing something, so that by the time they come back for the fall, they’re ready to go.”
Summer-league baseball, in fact, has made Cador feel better about next year’s offense.
Southern lost first baseman Frazier Hall, the two-time Southwestern Athletic Conference player of the year, but Cador said he believes next year’s offense can be just as good.
All he has to do is point at Derrick Hopkins’ numbers in the Coastal Plain League.
“I think he (Hopkins) can really make a difference for us,” Cador said.
Hopkins, a first baseman/outfielder, started his college career at UNC-Asheville, but after a coaching change, he transferred to Southern and sat out last season.
This summer, he’s playing baseball again, this time in a wooden-bat league. In fact, Hopkins’ time off may have made him a better hitter.
He’s one of six position players in summer-league ball. Four of them — infielders Thomas Willis, Al McCormick and Dominic Foster and outfielder Vince Coleman — are in the Red Stick League.
Hopkins, for his part, is swinging a blazing-hot bat for the Martinsville (Va.) Mustangs. He ranks second in the Coastal Plain League with a .388 batting average.
“When I was at Southern sitting out this past year, I actually didn’t hit with an aluminum bat at all,” Hopkins told the Martinsville Bulletin. “I hit with wood the whole time because I knew I obviously wasn’t going to play this spring. ...
“The first time I ever played with a wooden bat ... was a huge adjustment, because you’ve really got to square the ball up to get hits versus the aluminum bats, where you can mis-hit the ball and still get pretty decent hits out of it.”