The new pitching coach for the Miami Marlins showed up to the first day of spring training with fresh ideas and a strong desire to turn a young pitching staff into a great one.
Mel Stottlemyre Jr. has his work cut out. The Marlins had the worst team ERA in the National League last season.
But Stottlemyre brought something else with him to Jupiter when pitchers and catchers took part in their first workouts, which were conducted inside the batting cage due to a steady drizzle that fell outside.
He brought personal grief.
On Jan. 13, a month after the Marlins hired him to become their pitching coach, Stottlemyre’s father -- former Yankees pitching standout Mel Stottlemyre -- died from bone marrow cancer.
“It’s obviously still fresh and crushing,” Stottlemyre said. “It tears my heart out. He was my brother, mentor and best friend.”
Stottlemyre Sr. won 164 games, all with the Yankees, from 1964-74 before becoming a successful pitching coach for the Mets and Yankees.
“I was raised in Yankee Stadium,” said Stottlemyre., who spent much of childhood hanging around Mickey Mantle and Thurman Munson when his father, a five-time All-Star, was in his pitching prime. “I was in that clubhouse. You pinch yourself now. As a young kid, you just think every kid does that. Then, later on in life, you find out how special it is.”
While his own major league career didn’t come close to matching either his father’s or younger brother Todd’s -- Stottlemyre Jr. went 0-1 in a 13-game career for the Kansas City Royals in 1990 -- he learned valuable lessons by watching his father once he started coaching.
“The thing that I probably admired the most, and later on in my career as I got into coaching, was probably the respect his pitchers had for him,” Stottlemyre said. “That takes time. But he cared. He paid attention to details. He worked his (butt) off for players. He gave them the same love and care that he gave Todd and I.”
Stottlemyre remembers his father returning home after spending the day at the ballpark and continuing his work.
“There were times in spring training, at the end of the day, that he went home and looked at films on a player, just trying to figure out ways to get them better, get them over the hump, get them moving along,” Stottlemyre said.
Stottlemyre has continued that family tradition in his two previous coaching stints with the Diamondbacks and Mariners, and now with the Marlins. He spent part of the winter offseason watching videos of Marlins pitchers.
“I spent hundreds of hours watching video of these guys,” he said. “I did that because, at some point, I’m going to have to have some serious conversations with the players and ask them to do some things that might be uncomfortable. It’s not fair to have a stranger come in that doesn’t have any background on a player to be able to do that. So I wanted to learn as much as I could, and I got that from my Dad.”
Stottlemyre also asked the Marlins’ analytics department for data he could use to evaluate each individual pitcher. Stottlemyre said he put in so many requests that “I probably drove them nuts.”
So far, Stottlemyre likes what he’s seen.
“The common theme with this club is that these guys have ceiling and talent,” he said.
But Stottlemyre had to put work aside when his father became ill. He left his home in Idaho to be with his father in Seattle.
“I was with him the entire time, right to the end,” he said. “He was a great father. Later in life, he became my fishing partner and my business partner. We became inseparable -- like brothers -- a special bond. It’s still tough.”
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