The art of pitching remains one of the most vexing — and taxing — skills in baseball, if not all of sports. Arm angle, release point, grip, stride, follow-through. Terminology that most of us would discount as ancillary is the meat-and-potatoes of any conversation you have with a pitching coach. It's language John Denny has come to speak rather fluently.
Denny won 123 games over a 13-year career in the major leagues, spent primarily with the St. Louis Cardinals and Philadelphia Phillies. Denny led the National League in earned-run average — the benchmark for all pitching statistics — in 1976 and won the Cy Young Award in 1983, a year he helped lead Philadelphia to the National League pennant. (Denny earned the victory in Game 1 of the World Series against Baltimore, the only game his Phillies won.) He retired at age 34 after the 1986 season.
Since his retirement, Denny has been active in several ventures, including a year spent building a sports camp in St. Louis for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. But pitching has never left his system. Having moved to Memphis in 2005 to be near the woman who is now his fiancée, Denny heeded the urgings of his oldest son (a baseball instructor in Orlando), and started the JAD [John Allen Denny] Baseball Experience.
Denny teaches private lessons in the backyard of his Midtown home, where he's built a regulation pitching mound and home plate. Lessons are $75 per hour, with discounts for three-lesson plans. Denny feels a minimum of three lessons is needed to start seeing genuine results.
"I initially wanted to target high school and college kids," he explains, "but that's not the market here. But it dawned on me that a coach really wants to get kids at the early, developmental stages. What I teach them can last the rest of their lives."
Denny stresses a philosophy that focuses on the physical, mental, and ethical elements of pitching. It's the third quality that tends to capture attention. "Pitchers these days are not getting some of the fundamentals," he says, "especially from an emotional and mental approach. Having a passion for playing, things of that nature.
"I became a Christian during my time in the major leagues. A person can be very successful and not have a code of ethics or morality. My feeling, though, is that at some point that will catch up with them. I've always taught and believed that what you are inside is how you think, what you do. If a baseball player can find stability in himself, understand right from wrong, his thinking will be better and his performance will be better. How you use your body is in part related to how you think. There's a right way to play this game, and a wrong way."
Having spent three years recently coaching pitchers through rehab in the Arizona Diamondbacks organization — Denny lived in Tucson before his move to Memphis — Denny has been close enough to the big leagues to sniff that familiar aroma of The Show. But for now, this member of the highly select Cy Young fraternity is content sharing his unique expertise with youngsters still dreaming of major-league lights. "Pitching is all about focus," says Denny. "I can pass on a fundamentally sound approach to the art of pitching."
For more information, call 452-4611 or visit www.jadennybaseballexperience.com.