Remembering 2011: DeMark Hoping a Few More Lessons Will Lead to the Majors
In case you missed an issue of the “York Revolutionary Times” this past season, we’ll be re-running columns by staff writer Ron Gardner here on the blog on Tuesdays. In our second installment, Ron takes a look at pitcher Mike DeMark and his pitching mentor, Matt DeSalvo. The two were college teammates at Marietta College in Ohio, only to be reunited years later with the Revolution.
True trivia buffs may have at least some limited interest in the fact that Revolution pitchers Mike DeMark and Matt DeSalvo were college teammates at tiny Marietta College (Ohio), a small liberal arts school and a perennial Division III baseball powerhouse located along the northern banks of the Ohio River.
Looking for something more interesting? Back in 2003, when DeMark was just a year out of high school and DeSalvo was a dominant fifth-year senior pitcher, the pair shared the exhilarating experience of Marietta winning the D-III College World Series.
But for DeMark, his memories of that fateful season, or that fact that 2011 is his sixth season in professional baseball, would likely be something very different, maybe even life-altering, if it weren’t for the fact that fate had made him teammates with DeSalvo.
In those days, DeSalvo was in the process of setting NCAA pitching records with the Pioneers, establishing Division III bests in career wins (53), strikeouts in a season (205) and career strikeouts (603). In fact, DeSalvo’s career wins and strikeouts marks are still records to this day among all divisions of college baseball.
In 2003, DeMark was a fretful freshman infielder who was struggling mightily as a hitter – a guy whose coach had brought up that the possibility that DeMark’s baseball career might just be over.
“I was the third guy off the bench and really couldn’t hit,” DeMark said. “It was kind of ‘We’re going to make a decision – you either give up hitting and give up baseball or try changing to something else. How’s pitching sound?’ I didn’t want to be cut from the team. That’s basically why I went there (to play baseball). So that’s how it all came about.”
The notion that maybe DeMark would be better off as a pitcher ironically came to light after an injury to another player caused him to be inserted into the lineup to play in the outfield. With a runner on second, DeMark remembers badly misplaying a fly ball to centerfield.
“I picked it up and threw it to home on the fly and got the runner out,” DeMark said. “I guess I must have thrown it pretty good from the outfield so that’s when (the coaches said) ‘All right – maybe he’ll throw pretty hard off the bump.’”
While DeMark’s arm may have been pitching-ready, his mind certainly wasn’t. He told his father, a successful left-handed pitcher in college at West Liberty (WV) before a back injury ended his playing career, that he wasn’t keen on the whole idea.
“I definitely wasn’t big on pitching,” DeMark said. “I kind of shied away from it for a long time. I really didn’t like it. When they told me I was going to have to do that, I was kind of shocked. It was going to be a huge difference. I was kind of apprehensive about the whole situation.”
Having never pitched previously, there was an awful lot that DeMark needed to learn. Sure, he could throw a ball hard – but he had never worked on essential pitching fundamentals, like a consistent pitching motion and he had never learned how to throw a curve, a change or a slider. He needed a crash course on pitching and he needed it fast – which got him thinking about the intimidating season DeSalvo was having. In his fifth season at Marietta after sustaining a knee injury the year before, DeSalvo was en route to going 13-2 with 1.31 ERA, striking out 157 in 96 innings.
“I kind of just sat back and watched him dominate everybody,” DeMark said. “When I was little, I would always try to copy a hitter – I want to look like (Ken) Griffey Jr. or I want to look like Barry Bonds. Matt was having such great success and I was like ‘Why wouldn’t this work for pitching? I’m just going to try to copy his mechanics as best as I could and maybe the outcome will be the same.’”
So DeMark, the freshman who couldn’t hit, got busy working on developing his impersonation of DeSalvo, who would soon be signed as an undrafted free agent by the New York Yankees.
“There was a lot of watching, because he was doing most of the pitching there,” DeMark said. “So, I would watch him. But we would sit down every single day – he took me under his wing. He walked me through this is how you throw a slider, this is where you want to be (with his delivery), this how you want to finish, these are the pitches you want to throw in these situations. The whole mental side of baseball pretty much came from DeSalvo, plus mechanics. It was awesome. Once I got the copycat effect of what he was doing, it started giving me success.”
For DeSalvo, the situation where a freshman was clearly attempting to replicate everything he did on the mound was more humorous than memorable to him.
“I know he mimicked my mechanics, which was kind of fun at the time, people were joking around about it,” DeSalvo said. “To tell you the truth, I really don’t remember much about college. It’s a long time ago – my memory is pretty bad about that.”
But while DeSalvo may not have thought his interaction about pitching with DeMark was nothing more than the simple friendship that teammates share, it was something far more valuable to DeMark.
“He’s modest,” the 6-0, 205-pound DeMark said of DeSalvo’s influence on his early development as a pitcher. “He was a fifth-year senior whenever I was just starting out to pitch, so he might not even remember me. He might not remember, it might have been insignificant to him, but it meant a lot to me.”
After signing with the Yankees, DeSalvo began his professional career. Working his way up through the minor leagues, DeSalvo made his big-league debut for New York against the Seattle Mariners on May 7, 2007, allowing just three hits and one run in a seven-inning, no-decision outing. Six days later, again facing the Mariners, DeSalvo got his first major-league win after pitching 6.2 innings and giving up just two runs.
DeSalvo signed as a minor-league free agent with the Atlanta Braves in 2008, appearing in two Major League games for Atlanta late that season, his most recent big-league service. After minor-league stints with the Florida Marlins and Tampa Bay Rays, DeSalvo joined the Revolution last August, posting a 5-2 record with 4.67 ERA in 12 games to help pitch York to the 2010 Atlantic League title.
After DeSalvo left Marietta, DeMark went on to enjoy his own great success on the mound. In his first varsity start the next spring against the University of Dallas, he struck out 13 en route to a two-hit shutout. He struck out 11 in his following start, pitched a no-hitter against Thiel, and compiled a 12-2 record with a team-low 1.79 ERA his sophomore year and was named a Division III Second-Team All-American. He posted a 10-0 record with 3.13 ERA as a junior and followed that with a 9-1 mark and 2.81 ERA his senior year.
He pitched in the independent Frontier League when he went undrafted and unsigned after college, before signing with the San Diego Padres for 2007. DeMark spent the last two seasons working his way up through the minors, twice reaching the Triple-A level in 2009 and 2010. In five minor league seasons, DeMark compiled a 7-10 record with 2.89 ERA. This year, on the last day of spring training, he was released by the Padres and subsequently signed with York, where DeMark looks forward to the opportunity to be teammates and learn once again from DeSalvo.
“Being here and being able to work with Matt again is huge for me,” DeMark said. “I get to watch him throw. Like I said, I mimic a lot of what I do off of what he does, and so to see him throw again, it’s an awesome experience for me.
“I’m always trying to learn and he’s a great mind in baseball and obviously, a really good pitcher. He’s been to the big leagues, and that’s something I never got to experience. Being able to talk to him about what it takes to get there and what I need to do to get there is what I need right now.”
DeMark and DeSalvo have kept in touch over the years since college, talking a couple times each month by phone. While the conversations often focused on the ins-and-outs of pitching, DeSalvo also was happy to share what he had learned during his three-year head start as a professional.
“In baseball, no one comes up and says this is the information you need to know,” the 6-0, 170-poind DeSalvo said. “It’s ‘Oh – I was supposed to know that” and you make mistakes and you realize I should not have taken that turn. Whenever (DeMark) came to those crossroads in his baseball career, when a big decision needed to be made or if there was a question that needed to be answered, I’d help him out. I was able to say “watch out for this when this happens.”
“The intricacies of how baseball is – the 40-man roster, getting an agent, dealing with agents, dealing with a coach – just dealing with all kinds of different things. The longer you stay in the game you realize a lot of things and how a lot of information can be hidden from you and you have to be a detective sometimes and do your research and talk to players. If you ask the wrong players, you get the wrong perspective. He knew that he could trust me.”
While DeSalvo turns 31 this September and is preparing to be a science, not baseball teacher when his career ends, DeMark will be 28 on May 20 and is still hopeful of returning to a Major League organization and one more chance to make it to the big leagues. While being out of affiliated baseball can be a scary thing for many players, DeSalvo said he feels pitching for the Revolution in the Atlantic League might have a big positive impact on DeMark’s baseball future, and not simply because DeSalvo, the teacher, can once again mentor his former understudy.
“This league is Triple-A level – this league can humble you but it also can propel you,” DeSalvo said. “His decision to come play here could actually be a boost compared to him actually staying where he was – a new set of eyes seeing him, the situation with him facing ex-big-leaguers and how they may react to his pitches.
“It also gives him a chance to refine his pitches. If he reacts well and makes adjustments, and when he faces a big-league hitter, he doesn’t get intimidated and tries to go at him and he gets the guy out, then I’d say he’s a good student. But if he sits back and he resorts to old tendencies, then I’d say he could still be a better student.”
NOTE: On June 3, 2011 DeMark has his Atlantic League contract purchased by the Arizona Diamondbacks, after allowing just a 2.61 ERA in 13 relief appearances for the Revolution, striking out 17 and walking only four. At Double-A Mobile in the Southern League, DeMark continued to pitch well, posting a 1.85 ERA in 32 appearances and 34 innings with 15 saves, striking out 48 and walking only nine. DeMark was promoted to Triple-A Reno for two appearances to end the season, where he did not allow a run in two innings. Opponents hit just. 213 off DeMark with the Diamondbacks organization this season.