The college baseball season is fast approaching. The Miami Hurricanes annual Alumni Game is Saturday, February 8th at Alex Rodriguez Park at Mark Light Field. Miami’s first real game is a weekend series at home against Rutgers on Valentine’s Day weekend. Miami is in the top 5 of many of the college baseball pre-season polls under second year head coach Gino DiMare. DiMare played for the ‘Canes from 1989-1992 under “The Wizard” Ron Fraser, and served as a long-time assistant to Jim Morris from 1997-2008 and 2012-2018 before getting the nod in 2019.
The Miami Hurricanes baseball team has dabbled with a drop down or “submarine” style pitcher since the first time I walked into Mark Light in the early 1980’s. Back in 1985, Ron Fraser ran out Rick Raether as his closer to win the College World Series. Jim Morris deployed Jay Tessmer during his first two seasons in Coral Gables, FL and then again Kyle Bellamy in the late 2000’s. The head coaches and pitching coaches might have changed but the consistent message has been that the submarine, drop down style pitcher works at Miami.
Through some of the change, one of the consistent threads there would be Lazaro “Lazer” Collazo. Collazo was a reliever on the 1985 CWS squad, and the pitching coach for the 1999 and 2001 CWS Championship teams, too. In a Kevin Bacon style connection Collazo coached J.D. Arteaga, the ‘Canes current pitching coach, who worked with and discovered Bellamy and his drop down style in 2007.
As a kid, I was enamored with the variety of styles pitchers would use both in delivery and approach to get the same job done. There are arm slot changes like the drop down style, but also overhand pitchers, and even three-quarters deliveries. There are delayed deliveries like Hideo Nomo, Dontrelle Willis and former Miami CWS winning closer Mike Neu. Styles on the mound vary, too. I was enamored by the knuckle ball of Tim Wakefield and Charlie Hough, the finesse frustrations of Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux, and the aggressive power pitching of Randy Johnson and Nolan Ryan.
The two styles that remained consistent in my love of baseball were the knuckler and the drop down. When Bellamy became the Hurricanes All-American closer in 2009, I was completely on board for another sidearm style reliever in the Hurricanes bullpen. The ‘Canes have had other drop down sidearm style pitchers but none were more dominant than Rick Raether, Jay Tessmer, Kyle Bellamy and more recently Cooper Hammond.
It all started, to my recollection, with Rick Raether in 1984. “Spiderman” served as the ‘Canes closer under Ron Fraser for two seasons including the ‘85 CWS championship team. Over those three seasons at Miami, Raether logged 37 career saves, including 20 in 1985 and 17 in 1986. A member of the Miami Sports Hall of Fame, Raether logged a 2.52 career ERA along with All-American and CWS Championship honors.
Raether pitched around the minor leagues or a number of years after his career at Miami, picking up 49 saves in 158 appearances.
Jim Morris arrived in Coral Gables from Georgia Tech in 1994. Morris replaced Brad Kelly as the head coach of the Hurricanes baseball team. His first closer in ‘94 was Danny Graves, and Morris used the drop down style pitcher Jay Tessmer as his set-up man. Tessmer then served as the team’s closer in 1995 and picked up 20 of his 23 career saves. Tessmer, also a Miami Hall of Fame pitcher, put up a career ERA of 1.24 after posting ERA’s of 1.16 in 1994, and 1.31 in 1995. Tessmer became an All-American after not even making the team his first two seasons on campus.
Tessmer strung together a solid minor league career which even saw him strike out two Los Angeles Angels on the mound at Yankee Stadium.
Kyle Bellamy also struggled to make the ‘Canes roster as a relief pitcher. When J.D. Arteaga saw Bellamy playing around with a drop down style during camp, he immediately started to work with Bellamy as a submariner. Bellamy posted a 0.97 ERA in 2009 which included 16 saves for the Hurricanes. Bellamy, a reliever for Miami from 2007-2009, logged 19 career saves while wearing the script M.
After a stint in the Chicago White Sox farm system, Bellamy returned to the University of Miami. Bellamy is still a Hurricane today, as he serves as the Director of Nutrition and Performance for the football program.
The most recent sidewinder star for the ‘Canes was Cooper Hammond. Before Miami Hammond, the six-foot-three pitcher out of Venice High School in Florida, helped the Indians win back-to-back state titles. Hammond was one of the earliest relievers in his career to drop down as he came to UM already pitching in that style.
Hammond was immediately a star in the bullpen and pitched for the ‘Canes from 2014-2018, after redshirting in 2016 due to injury. Hammond posted a career ERA of 2.25 with a 12-5 record and 8 saves over his career.
It’s no coincidence that Hammond, a sidewinder pitching, wound up at Miami. J.D. Arteaga is still the ‘Canes pitching coach and obviously knows the technique well from his time with Tessmer and Bellamy. Hammond wasn’t an All-American or a CWS champion but he was a great relief pitcher in orange and green during the end of the Jim Morris Era.