Are those footballs? Brieske starts new staff tradition

June 2nd, 2022

This story was excerpted from Jason Beck’s Tigers Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

Hours before Tigers pitchers take the mound or file into the bullpen for a night game, they’re on the field, getting in their pregame routine. They’re playing catch. They’re long-tossing. They’re passing the pigskin.

Wait, they’re throwing footballs? In the Tigers’ case, yes.

From the press box, it can look like athletes living out their glory days from another sport. Pitchers will lightly run a post route from the outfield corner toward center for a teammate to hit them in the open. It’s a fun task, as Tigers pitchers readily admit, but there’s a reason for it.

“I use this every day,” rookie starter  said. “And I’m definitely going to keep it as part of my routine.”

Brieske is the one who brought the football to the Tigers clubhouse. It’s a beat-up, nearly bald pigskin that he bought on sale at a sporting goods store in Erie, Pa., when he was promoted to Double-A last summer. He got the idea from fellow Tigers pitching prospect Brendan White when they were teammates at High-A West Michigan early last season. Tom House, a former Major League pitcher and longtime pitching coach who found a second career working as a throwing coach for NFL quarterbacks such as Tom Brady, has espoused the idea as a way for pitchers to hone their throwing mechanics.

Once Brieske was promoted, he had to buy a football for himself. Since then, it has become a part of his daily routine, along with weighted balls.

“Except for the day that I pitch,” Brieske said. “The only ball I want to have a feel for is the baseball when I pitch. But I like to use other stuff because I think it helps you be a little bit more of an athlete when you’re throwing different balls, different weights. It helps you become a better thrower.

“Obviously pitching is not just about being a thrower, so you want to improve on the artistic pitching side of the game as well as the mechanics and the throwing part of the game. I like to throw that just to improve the mechanics and the physical aspect. If you spin it clean, that means everything was timed up and efficient. You get that instant feedback.”

Just as important, it’s not about throwing hard, Brieske said. A football thrown hard but poorly won’t go nearly as far as a football thrown softer but cleanly.

“Less is more,” Brieske said. “You have to be smooth with it and throw it with more efficiency, which I can take into baseball throws.”

Brieske said he was terrible at throwing a football when he began. He has gotten better. So have his teammates, which has made him a popular member of the staff.

“Everyone likes it,” Brieske said. “They’re all getting better. Will Vest can throw a good football. [Andrew] Chafin’s pretty good. [Jason] Foley’s getting better, for sure. [Michael] Fulmer’s getting better, for sure. But the best is probably Tim Remes, the bullpen catcher.”

Chafin says he plans on buying a new football with more tack. But either way, the football appears to be here to stay.