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Mick's All-Star moment

Funkstown native served up pitches in Home Run Derby

Funkstown native served up pitches in Home Run Derby

July 15, 2004|by BOB PARASILITI

bobp@herald-mail.com

If anyone ever asks, Mick Billmeyer can say he unofficially has a 10.80 ERA as an All-Star pitcher.

That number won't be found in any record book, nor will it be a trivia answer for Ken Jennings to question on Jeopardy! anytime soon, but those are Billmeyer's stats and he'll stand by them.

After all, how many guys get All-Star treatment just for walking out to the mound and serving up home run pitches before 50,000 fans?

Roger Clemens did it on Tuesday, but that wasn't by design. For Billmeyer, that was his job on Monday - to lay in some fat ones for Philadelphia Phillies first baseman Jim Thome during the annual Home Run Derby at Minute Maid Park in Houston.

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Billmeyer, a Funkstown native and former Hagerstown Sun, was Thome's personal choice and guest to pitch to him during the competition. Billmeyer occasionally pitches batting practice to Thome during the regular season as the Phillies' major league catching instructor.

"Thome asked me what I was going to do for the All-Star break," Billmeyer said. "I just said I was going to head home for a couple of days. Then he said 'Why don't you fly with me to Houston and be my pitcher for the Home Run Derby?' I said 'Sure. It might be my only chance to be (at an All-Star Game).'"

Billmeyer's stint was short. Thome hit only four homers and was one of the first four eliminated in the first round of the eight-man nationally televised competition, which was won by Baltimore shortstop Miguel Tejada. For the math whizzes, that's four runs in 10 outs (3 1/3 innings), which equates to the 10.80 earned run average.

Billmeyer said his job was to provide the perfect pitch for Thome.

"He told me he wanted me to pitch him middle (of the plate) and in," Billmeyer said. "He wanted to try and pull the ball because center field is so deep in that park, he didn't think he could hit it out consistently."

Thome got his pitches, but didn't make the perfect connection to be a factor in the contest. Thome, who leads the majors with 28 home runs this season, hit three mammoth shots that faded foul and were counted as outs.

"He said he had too much adrenaline going," Billmeyer said. "I was talking to (St. Louis third baseman and former Phillie) Scott Rolen and he said he was jumping at the ball. He wasn't waiting for it to come to him. He was reaching out and swinging early. He has been having that problem for the last couple of weeks during games."

Billmeyer had worked with Thome some to get him ready for the competition just before the All-Star break. The North Hagerstown graduate pitches batting practice daily, but usually does not pitch to Thome's group. Bullpen coach Ramon Henderson normally pitches to Thome's group, but didn't want to go the All-Star event, which gave Billmeyer the opportunity.

Once in Houston, the warmup was more nerve-wracking than the main event.

"I was more relaxed for the Derby than I thought I would be," Billmeyer said. "I was more nervous during the morning."

During the early practice, Billmeyer said Thome jumped in for his turn and took eight or nine swings and jumped out, proclaiming "I'm ready."

"He was hitting the ball real (well)," Billmeyer said. "I said, 'Hey, we got a chance at winning this thing.'"

During the practice, San Francisco's Barry Bonds - this generation's homer-hitting icon - was struggling with his stroke. He was using a member of the Florida Marlins' coaching staff as his pitcher, and wasn't connecting.

"Some guys bring their own pitcher, other's don't," Billmeyer said. "Bonds didn't and after he saw the way Thome was hitting, he asked me if I would pitch to him during the Derby. I asked Thome if he would mind."

The drama of the Billmeyer-Bonds matchup never materialized though, as right before Bonds went up for the first round, Florida bench coach Doug Davis took the mound. Bonds was eliminated in the second round.

For Billmeyer, the Derby became another milestone in his baseball career. After playing for North, Hagerstown Junior College, the Suns and the Hagerstown Braves in the Blue Ridge Adult League in the area and for North Carolina State collegiately, he became a career minor leaguer. He has since coached for Anaheim and now Philadelphia.

You wouldn't know it by his list of memories.

-- Billmeyer caught Nolan Ryan in a Double A spring training game in 1989 while in the Texas Rangers organization.

"He didn't travel with the team that day but needed to pitch and decided to work with one of the minor league teams at the complex," Billmeyer said. "He went five innings and never shook me off. He just threw right at me."

-- He caught former Los Angeles star Fernando Valenzuela during the pitcher's comeback attempt in 1991 in a Single A in Palm Beach while playing in the Anaheim organization.

"I caught him there and they moved me up to Double A and caught him again," Billmeyer said.

n-- Billmeyer came off the bench as a coach and played for Anaheim in the 1996 Hall of Fame game exhibition against the Montreal Expos. He homered in his only at-bat.

"I was sitting there and they told me to go up and hit," he said.

-- And now, he has pitched in the All-Star Game. And like most players, he would rather hit than play defense.

"The best probably was the Hall of Fame Game," Billmeyer said. "That was because I got to go in there and play ... but this, this ranks right behind it."

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