By Jack Loder
If you’re ever prudent enough to get to Eldredge Park multiple hours before the first pitch of an Orleans Firebirds game, you’ll notice that not all game day routines are alike. Some players sit and chat, others do individual work with coaches. Ohio State right-handed pitcher Wyatt Loncar is always doing something. Whether it’s stretching, running, throwing or visualizing, his routine is meticulously recorded in his journal.
It’s rare to see an elite college baseball player walking around with a worn leather bound notebook, but in talking to Loncar about his devotion to routine, it makes perfect sense.
“Mastering the little things regarding preparation is so important to me,” Loncar said. “If your routine and preparation are good enough, you don’t have to worry about that stuff when you’re out on the mound. When you prepare the way I do you don’t have to worry about leaving any stones unturned.”
It’s apparent that no stones have been left unturned as soon as Loncar toes the rubber. Each pitch as he warms up in the bullpen is thrown with specific intent. His warm up pitches between innings are carefully thought out. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, Loncar emphasizes that everything in his control is a product of routine.
Although he plays a much more routine based role as a starter at Ohio State, Loncar’s role with Orleans has transitioned to the bullpen after the 6’6” hurler made two starts early in the summer. He prefers the consistency that comes with starting, but is fully invested in succeeding out of the bullpen for the remainder of the summer. He’s got a page or two for that.
“I prefer starting for sure, but adaptability is really important at this level. The preparation is different but you just have to find a way. The biggest difference between starting and bullpen is the mindset,” Loncar said. “Out of the bullpen you’re not pacing yourself, you’re not facing the order three times. You can go max effort and show everything you have immediately.”
Much of the journal is physically based, with instructions and logging of pre start workouts and recovery work in days following his outings. The first few pages he shared detailed a rigorous daily routine that emphasizes mobility. Being mobile and flexible on the mound is of vital importance to any pitcher. The ability to maximize rotational strength and get down the mound is something Loncar has dedicated himself to. This obsession stems from a surprisingly turbulent injury history.
“It goes back to about a year ago, I was struggling to stay healthy,” he said. “I went down to this guy in Cincinnati and basically got obsessed with my body and my mobility and got down to this routine that I do twice a day. It’s mixing mobility with the small muscles in order to do what I need to do to get ready.”
The journal is as much a mental doctrine as it is a physical one. As Loncar thumbed deeper into the depths of the diary, less of the verbiage was a cut and dry directive. It becomes a blank canvas for the pitcher’s thoughts about his outing. Taking care of the mental side of baseball is just as important as the care he puts into his physical routine.
Sticking to the routine is no easy task. Documenting each step of the arduous process makes things easier for Loncar, who has filled the journal nearly halfway with routines and related thoughts. It’s only a year old, but its exterior looks like a novel you would find buried in an untouched section of library. Half the pages are barely hanging on by a thread. A chunk of pages is almost fully detached, forcing Locar to open the journal with the same tender love and care with which he treats his body. As long as he does that, the journal has a lot of life ahead of it.
Pitching coach Jim Lawler has overseen hundreds of pitchers in his long career in collegiate and professional baseball. He knows Loncar’s meticulous preparation is a rarity, but relishes the opportunity to coach a player with this kind of work ethic and attention to detail.
“The biggest thing guys like Wyatt need is a little guidance on the time frame of their work. His time management is the biggest thing,” Lawler said. “He’s got such a detailed workout routine, and on game days sometimes it takes more than 90 minutes. You have to make sure he’s pacing himself.”
Sometimes the most routine based players can become mechanical and lose sight of the intangible aspect of the game. Pitchers are metric based beasts and the hard throwing right handers can become a dime a dozen. The way a guy competes on the bump, how much of a gamer he is, these are things that can be separators in a baseball world that has become chalk full of “throwers” and not necessarily “pitchers.” Loncar prides himself on finding that middle ground.
“It’s important to remember that it’s fun to go out there on the mound. It’s fun to compete,” he said. “I write down cues for that, when I’m going through my outings and putting it on the page I aspire to get better while making sure the process is positive.”
Nobody is more qualified to assess the benefits of routine and preparation than Lawler, who has been coaching since the early 1970’s. He cites players who have had bizarre and superstitious game day routines, those who meticulously log each pitch they throw, and a select few pitchers who hardly followed a routine at all. Every arm is different and there’s not necessarily a wrong way to go about things. With that being said, Lawler was quick to highlight the obvious benefits of tireless work, identifying a common denominator shared by his best pupils and Loncar.
“It’s always fun to work with someone who has that kind of dedication to their craft,” Lawler said. “The great ones all have that in common.”