DeKALB – At any moment, the call can arrive.
That’s the life of a relief pitcher.
You sit out in the bullpen for two hours, and when the time comes, you have to be ready to possibly come into a bases loaded jam and shut the door. Some relievers have certain routines or superstitions as they prepare to make the trip from the bullpen to the mound during the late innings.
In order to get pumped up, former major leaguer John Rocker would let the return throw from the catcher hit him in the chest when he was warming up in the bullpen. When Braves manager Bobby Cox signaled for him, he would sprint from the bullpen to the mound.
Former Cubs relief pitcher Turk Wendell would chew licorice on the mound and brush his teeth in the dugout between innings.
NIU closer Andy Deain has his routines as well. They aren’t as crazy as Rocker’s or quite as quirky like Wendell’s, but he has certain things he does every time he prepares for an appearance.
When Deain plays catch before the game, he always warms up with the same player, fellow reliever Tom Zelasko. And, no matter what, Zelasko is the one that stands on the foul line with Deain in the outfield.
“It never changes,” Deain said.
After playing catch, the Huskie relievers always run exactly six sprints.
When game time finally rolls around, NIU relievers stay in the dugout until the fifth inning, as it is a rule of coach Ed Mathey.
When the time comes to head out to the bullpen, Deain puts his spikes on, and the waiting game begins.
After he gets out to the bullpen, he’ll play some light catch to loosen up his arm.
When he’s ready to come into the game, he only needs 15 pitches to get ready, and from then he goes in and does the job he’s became accustomed to during his time at NIU, getting key outs in the late innings.
But there is one thing Deain always does while he’s warming up.
“I’m always pitching with a cough drop in my mouth,” he said. “I don’t know why. I always have a cough drop in my mouth.”
After sitting around for six, seven innings, Coming into a high-pressure situation can be challenging, especially since most of NIU’s relievers were predominately starters in high school.
“It’s tough, you have to stay strong mentally,” said NIU’s Kyle Glancy, who made 20 relief appearances last season. “You never really know when you’re getting in.”
While most pitchers do prefer starting, Deain is a reliever at heart. He spent his first three years as a Huskie in the bullpen before being put in the starting rotation last season.
He made four starts before an injury cut his season short, and after he was granted a medical redshirt and another year of eligibility, Mathey put him back in the bullpen this season.
“I love it. I couldn’t deal with starting,” Deain said. “I had to pitch on Saturday, then I had to wait a whole week to pitch. I like to be involved in every game.”