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Guidance program

Suns' Baldwin uses advice of college coach Bailey to find path

May 27, 2007|By BOB PARASILITI

Young baseball players usually have a veteran player they idolize.

They follow that famous someone that they would like to be when they grow up. Shortstops want to be like Cal Ripken, Jr. Most pitchers could choose from Nolan Ryan or even Roger Clemens.

Hagerstown Suns pitcher Zach Baldwin breaks the mold a little. If he could, Baldwin would like to be Cal Bailey.

Cal Bailey is an obscure name in many circles. Baseball fans in this area might know the name if they follow Shepherd University's team - Bailey is the coach of the Rams' arch-nemisis West Virginia State, an ultra-successful team in the NCAA Division II ranks.

For Baldwin, Bailey represents the compass which points him in the right direction in his baseball career.

"If it weren't for Cal Bailey, there wouldn't be a Zach Baldwin in minor league baseball," Baldwin said. "From him, he taught me how to win. How to act. How to carry myself and interact with people. When it's connected to baseball, I don't respect anyone more than Cal."

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Bailey has been a central figure in Baldwin's baseball life since his high school days in Barboursville, W.Va. After an unhappy three-year experience at Coastal Carolina University, Baldwin transferred home to play for two seasons for Bailey at West Virginia State.

And now, after becoming the Washington Nationals' 31st selection in the 2006 amateur draft, Baldwin still looks to Bailey for guidance and knowledge to get through the rigors of the minor leagues.

"I talk to Cal two, three times a week," Baldwin said. "He's the guy I turn to when I have a problem. Basically he gives me advice and I run with it. I'll take what he says and listen to our coach, (Suns pitching coach) Paul Menhart, and work things out."

Bailey has much knowledge to draw from. He just completed his 28th year at West Virginia State and has a career record of 805-187-3, ranking him among the nation's all-time winningest active collegiate coaches.

Baldwin started drawing from that knowledge in high school. Then, he returned, which turned his career around.

"At Coastal Carolina, I wasn't getting the innings I thought I should, "Baldwin said. "Then, they changed my delivery, trying to get me to be a submarine pitcher. I didn't feel very comfortable and thought I needed a change."

The change was noticeable for Baldwin, who moved from Division I to Division II baseball. At Coastal Carolina, he looked like every other player as a 6-foot-5, 225-pound left-hander. At West Virginia State, he was a specimen.

"It was very different at State compared to Division I," Baldwin said. "Most Division I programs, there are a lot of pro scouts watching. At Division II, they look down at it. It's not that they look down at it as much as they don't take it as serious. Division II players don't fill out the uniforms as well as the ones in Division I."

Cal Bailey knew Alex Bailey, a scout with the Nationals, who came to see some of the Yellow Jackets' games.

"When I was a junior, he saw me pitch a lot," Baldwin said. "Every time he was there, I pitched well."

It opened the door for Baldwin, but he slammed it shut during the summer.

"I played for Front Royal (Va.) in the Valley League in the summer," Baldwin said. "I had a good summer and a good year and people started to ask who I was."

Some of Baldwin's success came from playing near home.

"I think that's some of it," he said. "I love the Maryland, West Virginia and Virginia area. I love the mountains and fresh air and I love to hunt, fish and play golf."

Getting back to Bailey's influence was a plus too.

After his selection by the Nationals, Baldwin was sent to Vermont in the New York-Penn League, where he was 1-5 with a 3.81 ERA in 14 games, including eight starts. He began the 2007 season in extended spring training before joining the Suns.

He is 1-0 with a 4.15 ERA in five games with Hagerstown since joining the Suns at the beginning of the month.

Success may be just a matter of Baldwin keeping his feet under him.

"I've been battling to stay consistent," he said. "I'll be lights out with the first two batters of an inning and then I'll be all over the place on the third batter. I'm not a power pitcher for my size. I pride myself on being able to throw five pitches over the plate for strikes. Right now, I'm struggling because my command has left me."

Once Baldwin finds that command, he hopes he could be able to find a spot with the Nationals someday.

"I hope so," he said. "That's the dream of anybody who plays in the minors. I'm going out there and listening to what Paul says and trying to work on it. It's all about throwing strikes and putting zeroes on the scoreboard."

Zach Baldwin - and Cal Bailey - wouldn't want it any other way.

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