<
>

Josh Collmenter doesn't fit the mold

PHOENIX -- At an early age, Josh Collmenter came to the realization that he would never throw a 95 mph fastball. It was simply not in his genes. He never fretted, he never complained and he never doubted. Regardless of his body's limitations, Collmenter was going to work with what he had.

What his genes had given him was a marvelous delivery that hitters could not pick up, though Collmenter did not know it. Neither of Collmenter's parents were athletes, so they had no idea that their son's delivery was unique. The delivery began normally, but it ended with almost a flick of the wrist from the top, a trait that he later attributed to the ax-throwing he did as a child in Homer, Mich.


For her son's high school graduation's open house, Melissa Collmenter put together different bits of video from her son's childhood, including Little League games, to present to friends. In front of everyone, Collmenter came to a stunning revelation.

"That's how I throw?" he asked his mom after watching the video. "Well, that doesn't look quite like I pictured it in my head."

When you ask the Milwaukee Brewers how Collmenter has dominated them this year, including a seven-inning, two-hit outing in the Diamondbacks' 8-1 Game 3 win in the NLDS on Thursday, they will point to the delivery. In three starts against Milwaukee, Collmenter is 2-0 with a 0.43 ERA.

"It's just unorthodox," Brewers center fielder Nyjer Morgan said. "It's tricky. He's herky-jerky and over the top."

It has never bothered Collmenter that he was different, and he is different than anyone in almost every way.

Though he's a right-handed pitcher, Collmenter shoots a basketball left-handed. While playing football in high school, he punted with his left foot, but kicked off from a tee with his right foot.

Collmenter has spent most of his career trying to prove to everyone that it's OK to be different. If he accepted it, why couldn't everyone else?

"When I try to throw as hard as I can, it usually doesn't go where I want," said Collmenter, who throws from 86-91 mph but has the ability to spot his fastball almost anywhere.

While in high school, Collmenter had participated in several showcases because most schools were not willing to offer him a scholarship. After a showcase at Stanford, his family received a letter from a scout who told them that Collmenter was not a Division I player. But Collmenter refused to believe it. He was not going to try to throw hard to impress scouts, because he knew he couldn't do it.

"He had it in his mind that he would never get to the majors trying to throw like that," Melissa Collmenter said.

Eventually, Central Michigan took a chance on him.

"When I first saw him in college, it looked weird," former Central Michigan teammate Chris Kupillas said. "We kind of made fun of it."

Almost immediately, Collmenter's teammates nicknamed him the "Snake Charmer," a moniker that seems so fitting now. Collmenter thrived at the small school. It was at Central Michigan where he met pitching coach Mike Villano, who shaped his career.

"[Villano] took [Collmenter's delivery] and embraced it," Kupillas said. "He let him go with his natural arm slot. Together they built this. He taught him that "Bugs Bunny" changeup and never looked back. They took [his delivery] and developed a game plan with a changeup."

For Collmenter's college debut, several of the team's freshman pitchers who were being redshirted, including Kupillas, gathered to follow the game on a computer through Game Tracker. They cheered every strikeout and every out as if they were in the dugout. Collmenter had made such an impression on them in short time they had known him that they considered him a close friend. When the game finished with Collmenter getting a complete-game victory, the pitchers jumped up and down in celebration. They couldn't wait for him to arrive.

When he walked through the door, they ran to him.

"That was amazing!" Kupillas remembered telling him.

A nonplussed Collmenter responded, "I felt pretty good."

But that was Josh. Always even-tempered. Even on the phone Collmenter could be methodical. Often friends have to make sure he's still on the line because he will pause for several moments before speaking. Friends rarely see him get angry or too excited, and when he does, he simply pauses for a moment to breathe, a trait that helped him during the first inning Tuesday when Ryan Braun reached base on a walk and Prince Fielder was hit with a pitch. Collmenter took several minutes to compose himself, and he eventually struck out Rickie Weeks to end the inning. Other than a Corey Hart home run, the first-inning rally was the only threat.

"If you can slow things down in your head, you're going to have success," Collmenter said. "You're not going to let the game speed up on you. I just wanted to make sure I took my time. As a pitcher, that's the beauty of the game. Nothing happens until you're ready to throw the ball."

On the first day of school at Central Michigan, Collmenter's parents drove him to the baseball dorm to help move him in. When they arrived, several of the team's pitchers were heading out to go on a run.

"Oh, I'm not running," Collmenter told them.

Eventually, he did. Now postgame workouts are a regular part of his routine. After every start, Collmenter spends at least a half-hour in the gym working on cardio and weights.

Even on a night when he recorded his first postseason win, Collmenter stayed in the training room to finish his routine. When he finished and walked out to an empty clubhouse, he asked a clubhouse attendant, "Where is everybody?"

But Collmenter, who was 10-10 with a 3.38 ERA in his surprising rookie year, realizes that this is who he is because this is who he has to be. Long ago he realized he's the guy who can't throw 95 mph, who has a weird delivery, who has to work out at odd hours of the day when everyone else is home, but who can win a lot of games.

Jorge Arangure Jr. is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine.