GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. -- San Jacinto's biggest weapon in its run to the JUCO World Series title game wasn't on the mound, in the box or in the field. It's most valuable asset was arguably one enriched with 15 years of MLB experience in the form of assistant coach Woody
GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. -- San Jacinto's biggest weapon in its run to the JUCO World Series title game wasn't on the mound, in the box or in the field. It's most valuable asset was arguably one enriched with 15 years of MLB experience in the form of assistant coach Woody Williams.
Williams, the former big league pitcher, joined the San Jacinto staff on a voluntary basis last offseason to spend more time with his son, Caden, the team's starting first baseman. Williams had played in what he called "40- to 50-year-old" baseball leagues with San Jacinto head coach Tom Arrington, an old friend. Once Caden enrolled, Arrington invited him to join his staff.
"I started out and my thinking was one or two days a week, and then the more I got invested in the kids, it was hard for me to step away," Williams told MLB.com. "So I've been out here every day since. It's been a good ride."
After joining on what he thought would be a part-time basis, Williams went from providing part-time insight to essentially becoming the full-time pitching coach.
Perched on the ledge of the dugout, Williams called pitches for each game with what may be perceived an unorthodox approach. He works backwards, calling for offspeed pitches early to fool hitters, then jams them with heat once they're behind in the count.
This year, Williams oversaw three no-hitters, one each from standouts Montana Parsons, Colton Schmidt and Devin Smeltzer, who also threw a 20-strikeout game on Friday under Williams' guidance, falling one shy of tying the tournament record in San Jacinto's 8-1 win in the JUCO semifinal.
"It's like a video game," Smeltzer said. "He calls the pitches and if I execute it, I'm going to get the outs … He gets hitters' heads all kinds of screwed up, and it's a lot of fun.
"Just by calling my pitches, I've learned a ton on how to attack hitters, how to keep guys off balance. When it comes to mechanical stuff, he's always there for my bullpens and helping me out and making sure I keep my body in check and everything. Just every part of the game, on and off the field, he's helped me out."
What players say has been most rewarding is the individual attention Williams dedicates.
Schmidt moved from the bullpen into a starting role this year and wasn't comfortable with his pitching arsenal as he made the transition. The lefty sophomore, who didn't have Williams at his disposal the year prior, has always been a fastball-changeup pitcher with a slider he used sparingly and an admittedly weak curve.
But after a few weeks, Williams, corrected a mechanical flaw in Schmidt's delivery, which created a tighter spin and went from being what Schmidt called a "loopy curveball" to one with a sharp increase in velocity.
"Having more pitches, I think, makes me a little bit more successful on the mound," Schmidt said. "Having more pitches, you'll go a longer way."
Parsons is the prototypical right-handed flamethrower that clocks upwards of 95 mph, but he hasn't drawn the national attention due to his limited mobility with his offspeed pitches. Williams said Parsons' delivery still needs a consistent and balanced release point, though Parsons said Williams has noticed his improvement by shifting more weight to his back leg as he winds up, which has produced more explosion on his fastball delivery.
His biggest takeaway from Williams was developing a 'slurve' -- a slider-curveball mix specifically tailored to his arm delivery.
"Coming in, I always tried to throw a 12-6 [curveball], but it never really worked out for me, I think because I have a low three-quarter arm slot," Parsons said. "So me trying to come over the top never worked out. I tried the slider, but [had] a little bit of pain, so went [to] a slurve. Everything [Williams] says, you soak in and listen to."
Williams, a 2003 All-Star who spent 15 seasons with the Blue Jays, Padres, Cardinals and Astros, retired in 2007, at which point, Caden was already 12 years old. With the rigors of a few moves during his career and the consistent grind of a 162-game season, Williams hoped to devote more time to his son, who naturally burgeoned into a ballplayer.
"There's no better bonding place than on the baseball field, especially when your dad played for that long," Caden said. "He's the one who taught me the game ever since I could walk. He's just been great. I couldn't ask for anything more, honestly."
Following San Jacinto's 5-2 loss to Yavapai in the JUCO championship game, Caden Williams is headed to Division I Wesleyan next year in Tennessee, and his father will likely follow. Arrington, who just finished his 15th season, said his one season coaching alongside Williams has had an added significance.
"I'll cherish this time being able to coach with him," Arrington said. "He's a very, very good man and a good friend and he will be for a long time. This year will be special in that respect because of the time I've been able to spend with him."
Daniel Kramer is a reporter for MLB.com based in Denver. Follow him on Twitter at @DKramer_.