Anderson, a baseball lifer, a perfect fit on A's
Lefty hopes to take step forward in '13, starting with Opening Night assignment
OAKLAND -- Frank Anderson really only had his son's best interests in mind. Such a young arm toying with a breaking ball could be detrimental. This he learned not only as a father of a budding pitcher but as a respected college pitching coach.
So he kept Brett away from a breaking ball as long as he could, before he decided it was time. It was a summer day, not much more than a month before Brett would enter high school, and father and son went out into the yard, just as they'd done so many times before, for a game of catch.
W: Hernandez L: Anderson SV: Wilhelmsen
"That was our deal, our time to talk about everything," Frank said. "School, life, whatever was going on. I told him, 'I guess you're old enough now. I can teach you how to throw a breaking ball.'
"I asked him, 'You got any idea how to throw one?'"
Brett told his dad he'd try one out. You know, just to see. So he did -- and it broke perfectly.
"It's basically the same slider that he's throwing right now," Frank said.
Turns out that 14-year-old kid, who turned 25 in March, had been messing around with a slider for awhile. Brett Anderson now features some of the best breaking stuff in the Majors, along with a mid-90s fastball, and it'll be back on display at 7:05 p.m. PT on Monday, when the A's southpaw takes the mound for his first career Opening Night start against the Mariners.
On a recent weekday evening, Frank is in his car, not too far from the drive-through where he picked up some fast food to help him through the final hours of another day of recruiting. The sound of that familiar female GPS voice is faintly heard through the phone, guiding him to his next destination somewhere in Texas.
"Always on the go," he says.
Frank is the new pitching coach at the University of Houston, after nine seasons as the head coach at Oklahoma State. He also served as pitching coach at the University of Texas from 2000-03, helping develop a staff that led the Longhorns to three straight College World Series, including the 2002 national title. Before that, he was at Texas Tech.
Frank's résumé keeps growing. It's a timeline that spans more than 30 years of coaching experience at the college level, and perhaps no one has learned more from him during that time than his son, who also happens to be his best friend.
"I was a field rat," Brett said. "It seems like a coach's kid can go one of two ways. They can embrace that life or despise it. I was all in. I was climbing on batting cages, pestering college kids. I was playing catch with anyone that would play catch with me. I'm just a baseball nerd. That's all I knew, probably all I'll ever know, which I'm fine with."
Brett was an only child for more than a decade before his sister, Katelyn, was born. But he always had plenty of company at the ballpark, which doubled as daycare. Frank and his wife, Sandra, hired a student-athlete at Texas Tech to babysit Brett, which simply meant taking him to the field every day and locking the gate behind her as he raced off to the diamond during practices.
|Projected Opening Day lineup|
Frank formed a deal with each of his employers before he took a job. It was non-negotiable. Brett would be in the dugout during every game.
It was in one of those dugouts where Brett watched A's draftee Huston Street, now with the Padres, close out the national championship game for the Longhorns. He watched Street closely, pitcher J.P. Howell, too. And that's how he learned how to throw a baseball.
At Stillwater (Okla.) High School, Brett made the varsity team as a freshman. He remembers his first game well, pitching six shutout innings while also going 3-for-4 with a home run. Frank and Sandra were there, right behind home plate -- but not for long.
"The first pitch he threw, it was right there for a strike, and the ump calls it a ball," Frank recalled. "My wife looked and me and told me not to say a word and said, 'We've got to move.' From that time on, we watched every game from the right-field foul pole."
The closest Frank got to watching Brett pitch was at Fenway Park in 2009, when he sat right next to the A's dugout. Then a rookie, Brett didn't need forgiveness from the umpires that night. He pitched a shutout, his first one, and allowed the Red Sox to reach base just four times.
Brett had clearly been blessed with a strong arm, which allowed him to put away hitters with ease during his freshman year of high school. After his three-hit night, he began running into good pitching -- pitchers like John Danks, a senior at the time, who were throwing breaking balls he'd never faced. He proceeded to go hitless in his next 42 at-bats.
Pitching was perfect for Brett, who didn't carry the athletic prowess that so many of his relatives did.
"He was a lineman in football; our family, we're not used to having linemen," Frank said, laughing. "Most of them are skilled athletes."
Brett did OK for himself, though, thriving both on and off the mound -- he carried a 4.0 GPA and finished eighth in his high school class -- en route to scholarship offers from Stanford and Oklahoma State, where Frank was coaching at the time. But the Arizona Diamondbacks had a different plan for him, and they took him in the second round of the 2006 First-Year Player Draft. Brett signed soon after.
A year later, as part of a trade involving Dan Haren, Carlos Gonzalez, Chris Carter and others, he was in the A's organization, where he ripped through the Minor Leagues and made the big league club out of Spring Training in 2009. As a 21-year-old with little experience above Class A, Brett made 30 starts that season, posting a 4.06 ERA in 175 1/3 innings.
Four stints on the disabled list limited the left-hander to 38 starts over the next three seasons. His first outing of 2012 didn't come until August, following Tommy John surgery, but that proved to be plenty of time for Anderson to remind the league that he's still one of the best in the game, plenty of time for manager Bob Melvin to decide that this year's Opening Night nod deservingly belonged to Brett.
"He's very confident in his abilities, and he knows what he wants to do when he's on the mound, maybe more so than most guys that just go along more with the game plan," Melvin said. "If he has a pitch in his head and he doesn't see it from the catcher, he will shake it off. He has full conviction of what he wants to throw all the time.
"What we saw last year, once he came back, was that guy. And we knew coming into camp that there was an excellent chance, even before we got out on the field, that he was going to be our Opening Day guy. We're looking forward to seeing him healthy for a full year and pitching up to the expectations not only that he has for himself but we have for him. "
"My wife always makes fun of it, says, 'It's really corny that you guys talk every day,'" Frank said.
Sandra, a former All-America softball player, is the most competitive person Brett has met. The two get at it in foosball, but Brett is otherwise passive, and many are convinced that's what makes him so effective on the mound.
"He doesn't show a lot of emotions," Frank said. "This is a tough game -- it's an unforgiving game -- so you've got to take it the way it is to be able to handle it. Most of the time, you can't tell if he's up by five or down by five."
"His focus is unbelievable," said A's starter Jarrod Parker. "There could be a circus going on out in left field, and there's zero chance he's going to pay attention to it. I think he knows himself really well, so he's able to pitch to his strengths. He knows his strengths are going to outweigh the hitters' strengths."
Brett may be the veteran of such a young A's staff, but in many ways, he still feels like a rookie, like the kid who was just in the yard with his dad, showing off those breaking balls.
"It's not like I have to prove myself again, but more prove myself for a full season and make 30-plus starts, like I did in my first season," Brett said. "It really feels like a monkey on my back.
"When I've been out there and been healthy, I feel like I've pitched well and put up good numbers. But I haven't been able to do it consistently for a full season in awhile. It'll be good to do that."