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Faith Rewarded

by Joshua Rose, for Diamondbacks Magazine

We all know that Diamondbacks pitcher Brian Anderson enjoys a good conversation.  Listening to him during a post game interview, it's no wonder he is currently darling of the local media.  One simple question can evolve into a lengthy rebuttal that could take in not just baseball but also popular culture, politics, the existence of aliens and generally life itself.

And if you want to get a good laugh out of the team's Public Relations department, just let one of it's members know that you need to conduct an interview with the 28-year old.  "Oh, that will be really hard," he or she will say in mock seriousness. "I don't really know if he will be up to it" (nudge, nudge).

Despite this, Anderson did something last year that few in contemporary sports have either done or are required to do-he put his money where his mouth is and proved his worth to the team, no through extended contact negotiations but through good, old-fashioned hard work.

"Last year was difficult at times," says Anderson, who during Spring Training was a difficult one to keep up with.  After practice while most players were getting dressed and heading for the links, he was running to the weight room for an additional one hour-plus of working out.  "But I resigned myself to do things differently and figure out how I could help the team instead of just myself, and by doing this I knew it would work out one way or another"

In an era where sports figures are decried for signing large contracts before proving their worth on the field, Anderson sets this ideal completely on it's head.  Continually, while he was sent to the bullpen, to Triple-A and back to the pen, he did the only think he could do in such a situation-pitch himself out of trouble.

"I won't lie, last year was really difficult for me," Anderson says.  "I thought for sure that I was going to be traded during Spring Training.  It got to where I would look in the paper, see which pitchers in the league were injured, which teams needed another starter.  But it never happened.  I have a strong faith in the Lord and I was put in a situation that tried my faith, but I just remembered to stay patient and control only what I could."

Anderson wasn't traded during Spring Training, but simple math let him know something was up.  Counting the new starting pitchers signed as free agents would tell him something; three new ones, six total starters-someone had to be the odd man out.

"Everyone talks about being a team player, so I decided that I needed to not just pay lip service to this and actually act like a team player by going where the team needed me," he says.  "When I'm done playing I want to be remembered as the guy who put the team first, the way I feel it should be."

So Anderson began the season in the bullpen and the results were not good-an 0-1 record and 11 earned runs in 10 1/3 innings.  So he was sent to the minors, where he started two games, then was called back up to the big leagues after Todd Stottlemyre went down with his shoulder injury.

After a rough start getting acclimated to another new situation, Anderson hit the stride that had helped him post double-digit wins in 1998 for a squad that only won 65 games.  Over his next 11 starts, taking Stottlemyre's place in the rotation, he went 5-1 with a 3.84 ERA, including only 28 earned runs in 65 innings.  Included in this streak were two memorable performances-one June 26, when he gave up only one unearned run in eight innings against the Cardinals, and the other on July 24th, when he shut out the Dodgers 3-0, giving up only five hits while striking out a career best eight.

"I enjoy being in do-or-die situations," Anderson says.  "I like to rise to the occasion.  I think you either enjoy those situations or you don't and I like to be know as the kind of pitcher who does.  I think I'm best suited for performing when the stage is set in front of me and I enjoy performing under pressure."

When Stottlemyre returned in mid-August, Anderson was moved back to the bullpen for a brief time before returning to the starting rotation after Armando Reynoso started having arm trouble.  And if you thought his starting numbers were good before, things only got better during the last month of the season-four starts, a mere six earned runs over 27 innings and a minute 1.98 ERA.  Anderson even pitched the last game of the season, throwing five innings of shutout ball against the Padres.

And while the knock on Anderson during 1998 and the first half of 1999 was that he had a tendency to give up the long ball, this changed as well.  Only two dingers were hit off him during his last 12 starts of the season, a space of almost 60 innings.

He's a different type of pitcher than what's ordinarily found in the big leagues.  He's not a power pitcher, doesn't rely on speed to strike people out and doesn't have a large bag of tricky pitches that dance around the plate, just out of reach of the opposing batter.  For him, it's all about control and placement.

"I'm different than guys like Randy (Johnson) or Matt (Mantei), where I can't just throw by people," Anderson says.  "For me, what has always come the easiest is control.  I can place a pitch on a dime.  Other pitchers talk about having control problems, but for me it is something that has always been part of my game."

Control is something that has marked Anderson's four-year career.  In 1998, he was the top control pitcher in the majors, walking only a single man every nine innings-a grand total of 24 for the entire season.  Last year, over 31 games and 130 innings, Anderson managed to walk only 28 batters while striking out 75.

This year, Spring Training for Anderson was completely different than the year before.  Gone were the anxieties about being traded, the pressures of being in the bullpen and the general fear of the "unknown."  After proving his worth to the team last year, he was part of the rotation from the get-go, and the confidence was easy to spot.  In the looker room and on the field, he was frequently surrounded by a group of prospects seeking his advice.  During batting practice, he was discussing his stroke, which, incidentally, let to a homerun last year off mark Gardner.  After batting he was off and running, this time to another part of the practice field, where he was later seen giving more pointers and exhibiting more skills.  Even after practice he was again teaching the ropes to more young pitchers (this time reliever Erik Sabel), getting them to work out after practice, rest quickly, then perhaps meet him later for dinner.

"It's different when you know that you are needed and wanted," Anderson says.  "Everyone wants to feel like they are special in some way or another, so it's nice coming in like this and being able to put your mind at ease."

After a stellar career at Wright State University (he was named first-team All-American by Mizuno, Baseball America and GTE, and a finalist for the Golden Spikes Award), Anderson was teh California Angels first-round pick in 1993, the third overall selection in the draft.  He started out in Double-A, advanced to Triple-A, and was called up to the Major Leagues that September.  Though he didn't win or lose a game, he did pitch 11 innings and showed signs of his great control, walking only two batters.  Not bad for a 21-year-old prospect who only one year before was pitching in the Mid-Continent Conference.  

Though he recently singed a new contract with the Diamondbacks, for the meantime Anderson is keeping his home in Ohio (he was born in North Olmstead, Ohio) because he "enjoys the fall season."  But a move to Phoenix may soon be in the cards.  "With how things are going , moving to Phoenix is becoming more of an option," He says.

That is, if he stops talking long enough to look for a house.

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