Moving on up
For the first part of his baseball career, Rutherford County native Ryan Arrowood preferred to stay close to home. But when the former R-S Central Hilltopper and Forest City Owls pitcher was selected in the 28th round of the 2012 MLB draft by the Colorado Rockies, he knew that there would be changes. He would have to go out of his comfort zone.
“As soon as I got drafted, I had to fly out to Pasco, WA for rookie ball and that’s a long way from Rutherford County,” Arrowood said in a recent interview. “It was different at first, but it is dry and high out there, perfect baseball weather. It is a beautiful part of the country and a wonderful experience.”
Arrowood also admits that his rookie ball experience was a unique one.
“Rookie ball is structured a little different than anything I’ve done before,” he said. “We have a season and play against other teams, but it’s more of an instructional league than anything else. I mean you still try to win games as a team and everything, but the main focus is to improve as a player and move up in the organization.”
The most important piece of instruction Arrowood gleaned for his time in rookie ball was how to pitch to professional hitters as opposed to those he faced in college or the Coastal Plain League.
“It’s like two totally different games,” Arrowood said. “You have to work pitch counts different, sometimes backwards. My pitching coach Dave Burba has really helped me with that. The biggest thing he taught me is that you can’t go out there on the mound and try to out think hitters. You just have to relax and pitch your game.”
That game has continued to develop over the years and it has only continued to improve since he was drafted. Arrowood still throws the same four pitches that he did as a Hilltopper, but now they are much sharper.
“My goal is not to learn new pitches. I already have a fastball, curveball, slider and change. That’s enough to get hitters out. I just concentrate on making the pitches I have better. I feel like my best pitch is my fastball. I can locate it pretty well, but my swing and miss pitch is the curve ball. That’s the pitch I go to when I need a strikeout," Arrowood said. "I’m still working on my slider and hopefully that will be a more effective pitch for me in the future.”
Arrowood certainly was effective for the Tri-City Dust Devils in 2012 where he made 20 appearances, including five starts. During that time, Arrowood posted a 4-3 record with a 2.26 ERA in 51.2 innings.
Thanks to Arrowood’s exploits in rookie ball, he earned an invitation to spring training for the Rockies in Scottsdale, AZ which includes minor and major league players
“I can’t wait to mingle with the major league guys,” he said. “That’s going to be key as my career develops. I want to watch them so I can pick up the little things, like how they carry themselves. I expect to ask a lot of questions.”
At least one major leaguer, fellow county native Todd Coffey, is quick to give Arrowood advice.
“I’ve been keeping up with Ryan’s career for awhile now,” said Coffey. “I’m very proud of him and I know the rest of the county is too. The most important thing I can tell him about spring training is to be himself and not try to do too much. Don’t get away from what got you to this point. In some ways, I really envy him because this is his first spring training. In other ways I don’t, because he has no idea what he is in for.”
Arrowood seems to have taken that advice to heart as he prepares for his first full season as a professional baseball player.
“No matter where I end up this year, whether it’s Single-A, Double-A or wherever, I won’t get there by being anybody else but myself,” he said. “I’m not going to be Greg Maddux or even Todd Coffey. I’m Ryan Arrowood and that’s good enough for me.”
Along with being himself, Arrowood has many other goals for the 2013 season.
“I want to keep my ERA low by throwing more quality pitches,” he said. “That doesn’t necessarily mean throwing strikes because pros can hit strikes a long way. A quality pitch can sometimes be outside the strike zone. If I can keep that in mind and continue to work hard, I think I can start out higher than I did last year, probably single A and go from there.”
The Rockies Single-A affiliate happens to be the Asheville Tourists.
“Who knows,” said Arrowood with a shrug and a laugh. “I could end up being close to home again and family and friends can come watch me play. At least I’m used to that by now.”