HERMON, Maine — Some of the biggest names in Major League Baseball were here early Thursday evening, sharing the secrets of their pitching deliveries with aspiring players at Hermon High School.
It didn’t matter that the likes of Zach Greinke, Tim Lincecum and Chris Carpenter were but pictures on a cellphone. The disseminator of this particular pitching lesson came from that same world.
And as Matt Kinney — now back in his home state coaching the Hermon baseball team, yet not long removed from his own 16-year professional baseball career — used those Cy Young Award-winning examples to display some of the fundamentals important to good pitching form, his new players were eager to learn.
“Mostly you look at it as when he tells you something, you have a lot of confidence that it’s right,” said Hawks’ senior pitcher Tyler Thayer. “And that gives you that much more confidence to be able to go out and do it instead of having it in your head that you don’t know if it’s going to work or not. He’s obviously been there and done that, so you’ve got to listen to him.”
The 37-year-old Kinney, a right-hander who pitched Bangor High School to a pair of Class A state championships before signing professionally as a sixth-round draft pick of the Boston Red Sox in 1995, is just as eager to share what he learned during a pro career that included more than 2,000 innings pitched.
And if his resume, which includes major-league stops with the Minnesota Twins, Milwaukee Brewers, Kansas City Royals and San Francisco Giants, helps his new students focus on what he’s saying, all the better.
“You hope it helps at least make them want to listen,” said Kinney, who moved back to Maine with his family last fall after living and coaching in Arizona since his retirement in 2010. “It’s not that I know everything about it but I’ve had unbelieveable coaches, guys who are still big-league coaches now working with Cy Young winners.
“It’s just accumulated knowledge I’ve gotten from the awesome coaches I’ve been around, and now it’s just a matter of relaying that information to these kids.”
Hermon senior Jeremy Beaulieu wasn’t quite sure what to think when he learned that a former major league pitcher had been hired in January to become his new baseball coach.
“I was almost a little worried because you never know what to expect,” he said, “but after a while I realized it was for the better because you can get a lot of knowledge by being in the sport. He has a lot more insight on pitching. He has a lot of tips on pitching, and as everything’s slowly being put together it’s clicking a lot more.”
Beaulieu and Thayer were among the maximum eight pitchers and two catchers participating at Hermon in the opening week of preseason practice statewide, which is focused on arm conditioning.
“The biggest thing right now is the education of the delivery,” said Kinney. “When I look around our group I see a lot of potential, and if we can just talk to them about being more consistent in doing the things the right way, I can see some great development. You just want to try and get to them before their ways are so set that they get hurt before they get a chance to change.”
The lessons being taught during the early stages of pitchers-and-catchers week were designed more for longer-term success and arm health than instant results.
“You wouldn’t imagine it, but just the tiniest little things can add speed for you,” said Beaulieu. “The fun thing is that he’s helping us with these things and he’s not worried about where the ball’s going right now. He’s worried about getting our mechanics right now and says the rest of it will come later.”
But before there can be physical adjustments, there must be cerebral acceptance.
“He’s planted quite a few new seeds,” said Thayer. “He’s talking mostly right now about our technique, to keep our shoulders closed and stretch out as far as we can, and he’s giving us tips on what to do and what not to do.
“He’s got quite a few tricks that we haven’t seen in the past or heard from other coaches.”
One of those “tricks,” Kinney’s use of still photos involving some of today’s top major-leaguers, had an additional motive — showing his young players what to watch for and what not to watch for as they watch the pros play on TV.
“I was talking to them about how different pitchers started their motions and where they landed,” said Kinney, who was a high school pitching coach in Arizona as well as head coach of the Vipers, a club baseball team for ages 12-14, before moving back to Maine.
“The kids see a lot of different things when they haven’t been trained in what to actually look for, and that worries me the most because I’ve seen kids go out and try to emulate a Lincecum and really not understand what he’s doing, knowing that if I went out there and tried to do what Lincecum’s doing, I’d get hurt.
“Right now the biggest thing is just trying to educate them on some of the things that can lessen their injuries. You can’t prevent all injuries, but you can improve your chances.”
And beyond the physical tools and technical skills required to advance in any sport is the self-confidence to overcome any adversity en route to personal improvement.
For the Hermon baseball players, Kinney stands before them not only as a coach, but an example of the ultimate possibility as a former professional player from Maine.
“It gives kids a lot to look forward to,” said Thayer. “They see that it’s happened before and anything can happen as long as you put the work in and try as hard as you can. It doesn’t matter where you’re from.”
That’s just one more lesson Kinney doesn’t mind teaching — without even uttering a word.
“I was from here, too, and it is possible,” said Kinney, who counts former University of Maine and big-league standouts Billy Swift of South Portland, Mike Bordick of Winterport and Massachusetts native Mark Sweeney among the players he admired as a youngster. “You just have to put the work in, you have to believe in yourself and you can’t worry about what other people think and concentrate on what you can control.
“I don’t know where these kids want to end up. All I know is I want to give them the best chance to do whatever they want to do in baseball.”