If I ever get the opportunity to throw out a first pitch for the Royals, I’m going to seek out Paul Evans for help in advance. Paul is the pitching coach for Missouri State University and has worked with thirteen pitchers on their way to the major leagues.
“Bart Evans was the first with the Royals. Matt Hall is the most recent with the Tigers.”
Paul is entering his 31st year of working at MSU, his 38th total of coaching. He started coaching at the age of 22, immediately after earning his degree in marketing with a minor in finance.
He just laughed when I asked him the last time he’d played catch. He borrowed Nick’s distinctive glove (Day #341) for today’s catch.
“I don’t have a glove anymore.”
Which isn’t entirely true. He had a brand new Rawlings given to him and passed it along to his son. “This is for my first grandson,” he said. When his grandson was born, they took pictures of the baby in the glove.
When you give your life to the game of baseball, you get amazing stories in return. I was privileged to hear just a few of Paul’s stories.
The story of when MSU beat Ohio State and knew they were headed to Omaha for the College World Series in 2003 and the charter flight to get there.
The story of when he tried to recruit Jim Thome to come play ball for him.
“I got his friend Todd and thought Thome would follow. He stayed at home so he could play ball in front of his dad. Thirty years later, Thome came here to help scout and recruit Jake Burger.”
With a daughter in her senior year, I greatly respect Thome’s decision.
The story of when he knew baseball was his thing.
“I was kind of big for my age and remember playing right field and second base. The coach just threw me on the mound to see what I could do. And the bulb went off in my head. This is what I’m here to do. Back then, we only had games once a week and I became the team pitcher.”
Paul was a dominant pitcher. Each of his junior and senior years in high school, he threw close to 200 innings between school and summer ball. His stories as a pitcher, from back-to-back seasons pitching for the state championships to throwing a no-hitter in college, are noteworthy on their own.
He taught me what he looks for when evaluating his pitchers on game day and what statistics he finds most useful.
“WHIP, I pay attention to. Before it was officially a statistic with a title, I was keeping track of it, counting total baserunners and innings. Strikeout-to-walk ratio is important. So is the ability to strike someone out when it’s necessary.”
Like me, Paul is a big fan of Bob Gibson and Nolan Ryan, admiring their ability and competitiveness.
“I don’t think we’ll ever see another year like Gibson’s 1968 with his complete games and shutouts. And Nolan Ryan, being a power pitcher and throwing until he was 46 years old, that’s just amazing.”
We not only shared a love for the game and pitchers in particular, but also have a common love of baseball cards.
“I used to collect them, memorizing the statistics off the back.”
I loved learning new pitches from Paul, watching his explanations of how to manipulate the ball.
On a beautiful day, we walked out into the bullpen, stayed off the grass, and played catch. Cutters and knuckleballs and sliders. He even complimented the movement on a couple of my pitches. After 346 days of practice, I’ll take it.
“Like anything in life, baseball is ultimately about relationships. It’s the people on your team, the coaches and players you’re around, even the other opponents.”
Simply put, Paul is a brilliant coach. If I ever get the opportunity to throw out a first pitch, about the only thing he has yet to do, I’m definitely getting his advice on what to throw.