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The life of a mo-cap pitcher


Don't wear skin-tight spandex the week after Thanksgiving.

That's the first lesson I learned squeezing into 2K Sports' motion-capture suit the morning Tim Lincecum agreed to teach me how to pitch.

We're talking video games at 2K's studio in Novato, California, and what started out with me hoping to get a behind-the-scenes look at the making of Major League Baseball 2K9 somehow twisted into a PR guy's genius/evil plan of me getting in the mo-cap suit while having my pitching style critiqued by the best pitcher in the National League.

It sounded fun until I looked in the mirror.

What a tradeoff. Learn the ways of the Cy Young winner and capture my windup on computer, but I have to do it in an outfit that makes me feel like a cross between Sid Fernandez in a Darth Vader costume and a wannabe super hero who prefers his meals super-sized. Oh yeah, and I have to wear this in front of about 100 people who all seem to be filming my every move.

Lincecum, of course, looks like a hero when he suits up, no wannabe about it. "My super power is bringing the heat," he laughs.

MLB 2K9 Mo-Cap Gallery

Hart Go behind the scenes as MLB 2K9 cover athlete Tim Lincecum gets motion-captured for this year's game. Gallery

No joke, the kid was once clocked throwing 103 miles per hour as a sophomore in college.

When I warm up, I'm lucky the radar gun hits 50.

Proving the point that if Lincecum looks and pitches like an ultra-ripped Flash in his costume of spandex and snow-beanie, I'm looking more like Flash's arch enemy Turtle Man. The criminal who fooled opponents with a devastating case of "the slow".

Before I can even throw a pitch, the tech guys at 2K stick 60 ping-pong ball-looking markers all over my body and three on my glove. The studio hosts 56 cameras that surround the mock playing field and capture movements at an astonishing 120 frames-per-second.

My biggest worry when I take the mound, though, aren't the cameras linked to the computers. It's all the cameras from the various media outlets that are pointed right at me. I'm not so worried about making the perfect pitch (on a field where the mound is only about 45 feet from the plate), my worry is that the people at 2K didn't have shoes my size available and gave me these enormous size 13s that I'm trying not to trip over. Last thing I want is a video of me face planting in front of Lincecum to become the latest YouTube sensation.

Luckily for me, four other members of the media also agreed to wear the goofy costumes and throw off the mock-mound, so at least I'm not the only one the cameras are stalking.

I seek out Lincecum before my first throw to go over the way he grips his four seam fastball, his two seamer, and his curve. He throws the two-seam fastball with his fingers on the seams but doesn't curl his thumb underneath the ball. He then teaches me how to throw it with my fingers inside the seams which for some reason feels more comfortable, but what do I know, I haven't thrown a baseball with intent for at least 20 years.

"That's alright," Lincecum says, "I've actually never tried to teach anyone how to pitch."

It's with that he gave me a slap on my spandex back and tells me to go first. Lincecum steps up to the mound and breaks down how he pitches offset from the left side of the rubber, but the mound 2K set up actually has a strange drop off if you stand too far to the left, so in fear of that YouTube fall, I stand in the middle and let loose a pitch that makes my arm instantly feel on fire.

"51!" The guy with the radar gun screams. Less than half of what Lincecum has been clocked at. I always realized that these guys threw hard, but getting on the mound next to a superstar like this and throwing your fastest, then actually having the math to prove that you're less than half as good is quite staggering.

"You actually have a pretty natural motion," Lincecum tells me.

He must not have heard that whole 51 business.

Linceum then reaches down to pick up one of the markers that flew off my body when I threw the ball. "You missed a spot," he says, smacking it on my butt.

Then he tells me to throw the two-seam fastball he showed me, with my fingers inside the seams.

"53!" I hear.

At least I'm going the right direction.

I throw a few more then decide to move to the stretch. Lincecum says he throws about the same speed from the windup and the stretch, so I figure I'll give it a try.

"50!"

I'm getting worse.

"You're not following through," he tells me. "And you need to yell a little when you let go of your pitch."

This time, I decide to line up my two-seam grip like Lincecum's, with my fingers running along the seams. I have so much running through my head, from not tripping on my shoes to where to place my thumb on the ball, but for the first time I actually block out all the people and camera flashes and just throw (even letting out a mini-yell).

"55!" I hear from behind the catcher.

With a few pointers and grip suggestions, Lincecum actually added four miles per hour to my fastball.

"The thing about pitching," he tells me, "is that your body is doing all the work and your arm is along for the ride."

About an hour later, I see the ride he's talking about as Lincecum takes the mound and unleashes his pitching motion for the cameras, a windup he refers to as a "pole vault with a whip at the end of it."

He throws the ball and it disappears into the backdrop in the high 90s. All I hear is the pop of the catcher's glove and the awed chatter of the producers grabbing the footage.

Lincecum captures everything for his MLB 2K9 character from the way he flips the ball while standing on the mound to his fantasy home run swing (and celebration) at the plate.

"They even have this sock on the mound and I need to pretend it's a rosin bag," he laughs.

As for my pitching technique?

"You were surprisingly pretty good," he tells me.

"You can be honest," I respond.

"Alright, you were pretty bad." He deadpans the line for what was only a few seconds, but to me, it seemed like a few hours, then he bursts out in laughter.

"Actually, you had good form," he says. "I don't know what it is that makes some people throw 90 and others throw 50. Nature just decides, and I guess some people are just a little more cut out to play baseball than others."

That's why I play baseball video games. At least I don't need to ice my thumbs after pitching.