Rockies' pitching prospects learn lessons from Arabian horses
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Rockies right-hander Case Williams had no idea what to expect when he joined nine other pitching hopefuls Saturday night on a unique outing to the Scottsdale Arabian Horse Show. But when watching the horses exhibit impressive discipline while showing off their equine athleticism and grace, he saw characteristics to which he aspires.
“They know that they’re being controlled, but they know that they are in control,” said Williams, 21 and in his first Major League camp after being drafted in 2020 out of Douglas County (Colo.) High School. “They can do anything they want, but they know there are consequences for actions."
For Rockies director of pitching operations Steve Foster, Williams’ words show the beginning of an understanding about what’s needed to succeed in the Majors. Not to mention what's needed to succeed in Colorado, where it can be easy to wish you were on the mound in less-challenging pitching waters.
The genesis of using Arabian horses to impart lessons started in 2015, Foster's first season as the Rockies’ pitching coach under manager Walt Weiss (he moved into his current role last season). Foster is a one-time “The Tonight Show” guest and sustained (according to a possibly apocryphal legend) the beginning of a career-altering injury during a skit on the show. He has also worked as a youth pastor and done humanitarian work in Haiti.
Foster has brought forth a story that has many versions, but the main piece of it gets the same point across.
So imagine a theatre-style setup, as Foster explains how the Prophet Muhammad played a part in the history of a horse breed that has existed for more than 4,000 years.
“He sent 50 of his best men out to find 100 of the finest horses,” Foster said. “Every day for a year, he taught them one discipline ... He trained them every day.
“At the end of that year, he had the leader of his army and his men build a stable just big enough for the 100 horses, just about 100 feet short of what they said was a bubbling brook. For three days and three nights, he didn’t feed them or give them any water.
“On the fourth day, he and all his army were outside. He told the leader of his army to open the gate ...The horses were just plowing over one another to get to that babbling brook."
But, as a version of the story goes, when the first horses got near the water, Muhammad signaled for them to return to the men. Only a handful of horses ignored the water in favor of that call, and those were the horses bred as the foundation for Muhammad's group of Arabian horses.
Foster says, "For us in Colorado, our pitchers have to be that type of disciplined, that type of mentally tough.”
“I know the history,” Rockies right-hander Germán Márquez said. “I hear it every Spring Training. And when my son is old enough and wants to pitch, I’ll tell it to him.”
Williams was the only pitcher on Saturday’s trip who is in Major League camp. The others were 2022 first-round Draft pick Gabriel Hughes, ’22 second-rounder Jackson Cox, Luke Taggart, Austin Becker, Jacob Kostyshock, Austin Kitchen, Carlos Torres, Blake Adams and Brady Hill.
The story resonates with those who have made the Majors. Lefty Kyle Freeland has seen success in the Denver environment, but he's also been tested, so he remembers the story when he needs it.
“No matter what the circumstances are, you’re still able to think with a clear mind and execute what needs to be done in those situations,” Freeland said.