By Bruce W. Biesenthal

Some baseball prospects explode upon the scene. Their arrival is trumpeted to faithful fans awaiting the next great hope for the franchise. They streak across the organization’s horizon like blazing comets.

Other prospects simply appear. There are no comparisons to Hall-of-Famers, or to legends of the past. There are no hyperbolic projections of their achievements. They simply arrive and take their place on the field.

Mike Maroth, rookie pitcher for the Detroit Tigers, falls in the second category. He finished the year with a 6-10 record and a very respectable 4.48 ERA, good numbers considering the Tigers season.

Maroth’s progress has been sure and steady. He has not leap-frogged minor leagues or been rushed beyond his development. And no one has ballyhooed him as the next Sandy Koufax, Warren Spahn, Mickey Lolich, Frank Tanana or Jim Kaat, all left-handers like Maroth. And yet, in every situation, and at every level, he has met success.

Mike came out of Boone High School in Florida, a slight 145 pound kid who didn’t throw hard. He played at the University of Central Florida, where his freshman scholarship consisted of the school buying his books.

….at every level he has met success

Throughout his college career he got bigger and better, and threw harder, culminating with his junior year, when, despite contracting mononucleosis early in the season, Maroth came back and pitched well. His last start was the conference championship and he carried a perfect game into the 8th inning.

Drafted in the 3rd round by the Boston Red Sox following his junior year at UCF, Maroth went through the Red Sox system until he was traded to the Tigers for Bryce Florie.

In 2000, Maroth was pitching for the Tigers AA team. He started the year 0-9. “I knew I was getting ready to be sent to the bullpen, or even sent down,” he states. “I had a co
uple good outings, but when you’re 0-9, those good outings get lost in your record.”

Then his season turned around.

“My 12th start I pitched a nine inning shutout. And there really wasn’t that much difference between my 11th start and my 12th. I knew what was going on. But I told myself ‘I’m just going to go out there and pitch.’ Instead of pressing, I just pitched.”

“Instead of pressing, I just pitched”
Maroth’s record the rest of that year was 9-5, and he was placed on the Tiger’s 40 man roster.

The next year, he pitched at Toledo, the Tiger’s AAA farm club. “I didn’t do bad. I didn’t do well. I was 7-10, with a 4.65 ERA.

“I knew that in the offseason I’d continue to work hard. I didn’t want to press, but I wanted to keep working. I knew I was close. I worked on strengthening my shoulder.

“I started out the year (2002) good. I continued to do well. And then I got the call in June.”

The call, as Mike refers to it, brought him to Detroit to face the Philadelphia Phillies in front of 33,000 fans at Comerica Park in Detroit. “That day was so long,” he says.
“That day was so long”
“It was definitely the longest day as I sat in the hotel room, waiting. Finally, it came.

“I was praying for the peace only God can give. I asked God to help me focus on pitching. I had been pitching all my life. I was just going to be doing the same thing I’d always done, only the surroundings were different. I didn’t want to get caught up in who I was facing.

“The first inning was rough. I threw a lot of balls. I definitely had a little case of the jitters. I threw a double play ball with the bases loaded to get me out of that first inning.

“I got through the second inning, still with a little of the jitters, and then the next five innings were fine.”

Fine, indeed. Mike came out of his first major league game after seven innings with a 1-0 lead. Not bad for his first start.

His next game was perhaps even better. Facing the World Champion Arizona Diamondbacks and Curt Schilling, one of the premier pitchers in the league, at Arizona, Mike outpitched Schilling, carrying a perfect game into the fifth inning, won his first major league game, and got his first major league hit.

The Diamondbacks acknowledged his performance. “He pitched a great game,” said Schilling. “I got outpitched – that was the long and short of it.” And manager Bob Brenly added, “He kept the ball from the middle of the plate all night long, had terrific command, and didn’t make any mistakes.”

That is Maroth’s strength. He throws an average major league fastball, and relies on changing speeds. He uses movement on his pitches to get batters to hit the ball into the dirt, often coming up with ground ball outs at just the right time. “I can’t rely on velocity, I have to rely on location. I know what pitches will result in a ground ball.

“I also know when I’ve made a mistake. I can usually tell when I’ve made a bad pitch. I can tell by the release point.
“This is a dream come true”
It happens. We’re human. You can’t always throw the ball exactly where you want it. You leave the ball over the plate from time to time. And you just try to limit how often you do that.”

With his first major league season under his belt, Mike looks forward to next year. “This is a dream come true – a dream I’ve had since I was a kid. I’m satisfied with the year I’ve had. It wasn’t a great year, but I know I can pitch at this level. I’m not satisfied with the numbers. I want to do better.”

Steady progress. Continual development. Mike Maroth’s career has been a rise to the top. That includes his spiritual growth. “I look to God for answers, guidance. I’m continuing to learn about God and His love and forgiveness. The more I learn, the more I grow, and the more I grow, the more I want to learn.”

Steady growth. In baseball. And in faith.