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Last Offseason Yankees Reliever Adam Ottavino Saved His Career By Throwing in an Abandoned NYC Shoe Store

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Between West 124th and 125th Streets on St. Nicholas Ave. in Harlem rests a street-level commercial space situated between a Dollar Tree and a Chuck E. Cheese’s, and it is where Adam Ottavino might have saved his career last winter.

Moreover, Ottavino’s previous throwing partner, Steven Matz, had left the city and moved Nashville, Tenn., after becoming engaged. Finding a throwing partner and facility in Manhattan, the most prized real estate in the country, wasn’t easy. He knew Matt Harvey was one of a few major-league pitchers living in the city in the offseason, so he asked Harvey if he was interested in finding a place to throw, but Harvey declined.

His father-in-law, a real-estate developer, had an idea. He had a vacated commercial property, a former Nine West shoe store, that rented at $22,000 per month. He would allow Ottavino to use the space for four months for free that winter as a high-tech, makeshift throwing facility. It was a block from the “A” and “C” trains that would allow for him to have a short commute back into the city.

This story is from last year but given that Ottavino just joined the Yankees I thought most of you who didn’t know about it, should.

Adam Ottavino was coming off the worst season of his baseball career after 2017 came to an end. He had a 5.06 ERA in 53.1 innings with a WHIP somehow of 1.63. He had a walk per nine innings of 6.6 which is a number you simply do not see in Major League Baseball. So what do you do in that spot in your career at the age of 31? You go back to the drawing board and reteach yourself how to pitch because if you don’t you’re going to be out of the sport.

Ottavino has lived in New York his entire life and used to always throw with Mets lefty Steven Matz in the offseason. Matz moved to Nashville that year so Otto was left without a throwing partner, in maybe the worst possible time. According to the article he asked Matt Harvey to be his guy but Harvey declined. You mean to tell me Matt Harvey didn’t want to put in the extra work in the offseason? Well, I for one am shocked!

Who came to the rescue? Ottavino’s father-in-law.

Well, it appears they have a better relationship than De Niro and Stiller in ‘Meet The Parents’ because Ottavino’s father-in-law, a real estate developer in the city, gave him a $22,000 a month vacant shoe store to use as his pitching facility, free of charge. All he wanted in return was a Nolan Arenado signed bat. An uneven trade if you ask me, but I guess he’s a great son-in-law and that’s what love is all about. Ottavino blacked out the windows so no one walking by could see what was actually going on in there. He bought all sorts of fancy expensive cameras that could break down each of his throws and tell him what he was doing wrong. You probably can’t find a single place like this in New York City.

His father-in-law’s narrow commercial space, at 80 feet deep, was perfect for a pitching mound. Ottavino outfitted it with a store-bought mound, a strip of artificial turf, netting, and, of course, his cameras. It was the ultimate urban throwing space. How many indoor pitching facilities were there in Manhattan? There certainly couldn’t be many. Were there any with high-speed cameras? Ottavino added something else, a pitching pad, signage designed to improve his mental focus. The pad had four color-coded quadrants over-laying a strike zone, which was also assigned with numbers. When training, a throwing partner could call out a color and or number as Ottavino went into his motion and he would try and hit the target. 

I think this is all so cool. The man’s career was pretty much on the line. He was left off Colorado’s Wild Card roster at the end of 2017 and had no answers for why he couldn’t throw strikes anymore. At the age of 31, that very well could have been it for him if this continued into spring and the beginning of the regular season. Instead of letting that happen, he put in a massive amount of work and churned out the best year of his career.

His biggest issue was control and having hitters lay off his slider for a ball. From 2017 to 2018 his ball % on sliders dropped from 42% to 25%. His WHIP dropped below 1.00 after being at 1.63 the year before. That’s an insane difference for a pitcher in just one year. He went over the 100 strikeout number for the first time in his career (112) and posted the lowest ERA of his eight seasons at 2.43. The walks are still there at 4.2 per 9 which definitely could go down some more, but he transformed himself last season into one of the more dangerous weapons out of the pen in the whole league. All because he made his own pitching mancave in a former shoe store in Manhattan. That’s fucking awesome.

When you throw pitches like these and actually know where they’re going you’re going to be unfuckinghittable. I’m excited to see this man in pinstripes alongside Chad Green, Dellin Betances, Aroldis Chapman, Zach Britton, Johnny Holder, and Tommy Kahnle.

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Ottavino did a Q&A in the car with his wife yesterday. I really like this guy.