A meeting of two members of a small baseball fraternity, one that is only getting smaller, was held last week at Camden Yards.
There was no secret underhanded handshake between submarining right-handed relievers Darren O’Day, formerly of the Texas Rangers, and Ben Rowen, then of the Texas Rangers before a Friday demotion back to Triple A.
In fact, the two had never met. Rowen was in A ball during O’Day’s final two years in the organization. But with so few of their kind left roaming baseball, they knew plenty about each other.
They talked about their craft. They shared trade secrets. They were both glad to do it and would do it again.
After all, they are two of only three submariners, along with fellow right-hander Brad Ziegler in Arizona, who have pitched in the majors this season. They’ve got to look out for each other.
“There are a handful of sidearm and submarine guys in the majors,” O’Day said. “Some of them you have a lot in common with. I watch a lot of video of them. You feel like you know the way they pitch.
“Because I’ve been doing it for a while now, guys reach out to me for some tips or pointers. I’ve worked with a few different guys. You develop a relationship that way. Going through it for so long, you can kind of speed up the learning curve for other guys.”
There are some serious sidearmers, such as Steve Cishek in Miami, Sergio Romo and Javier Lopez in San Francisco and Pat Neshek in St. Louis, yet they don’t go as low as O’Day, Rowen and Ziegler.
But even O’Day occasionally gets cast with the sidearm group, though his Twitter bio tells the world, “I’m a submarine pitcher for the Orioles.”
Rowen, though, gets lower than O’Day and Ziegler, evoking memories of Chad Bradford. Bradford spent parts of 12 seasons in the majors, most famously with Oakland, and nearly scraped his knuckles in the dirt with every pitch.
In 2003, he held right-handed hitters to a .190 average and induced 12 double-play grounders. In his career, he allowed only 28 homers in 515 2/3 innings and finished with a 1.76 groundball-to-flyball ratio.
Rangers manager Ron Washington saw Bradford first-hand during the Moneyball years in Oakland.
“He had more than just a slider and whatever velocity he could get from under there,” Washington said. “He could do a few things, and he knew how to pitch.”
There might be some Bradford, now a coach at Hinds Community College in Mississippi, in what Rowen does. The two spoke earlier this year, a legacy of the fraternity passing along his wisdom to a current member.
“Bradford was as low as can be, so I try to watch as much video of him as is out there,” Rowen said.
Rowen has topped out at 81 mph this season with an average fastball velocity of 78.3 mph and a whopping 72.6 on his slider. Bradford averaged 79.9 mph and 73.2 mph. O’Day’s average fastball velocity of 85.6 mph is a tick higher than Ziegler’s 85.3.
“Usually, you don’t put my name and the word ‘velocity’ together, but I’ll take it,” O’Day said.
The one thing Rowen, O’Day and Ziegler have in common is that they didn’t come out of the womb throwing from down under.
O’Day converted from throwing overhand in college. Ziegler’s transformation began in the A’s minor-league system. Rowen, though, dropped to sidearm at 14 and then kept going lower in college at Virginia Tech.
“It’s been a while,” Rowen said. “My high school coach brought the idea to me. I guess he saw something in my delivery that could make it work, or I don’t know if I was good enough overhand.”
Submariners provide a change of pace, a different look, and deception in their deliveries makes it tough for right-handed hitters to pick up the ball. Getting out lefty hitters is a stigma submariners have to overcome, but, as O’Day did for the Rangers in 2010 before a hip injury scuttled him in 2011, they can serve a useful purpose.
“It helps being a unique commodity,” Rowen said. “It’s something hitters don’t see very often. Hopefully I get in there and get my stuff done really quick before they see too much of it.”
No one sees much of submariners these days, including those in the small baseball fraternity. But they know who each other is.
“It’s fun to get a different viewpoint from a guy who pitches similarly,” Rowen said. “It was nice to talk to him finally. I’ve been waiting for that for a long time.”