July 2, 2013
By Jon Cooper
When Georgia Tech freshman infielder Matt Gonzalez swings for the fences tonight as one of eight participants in the 2013 TD Ameritrade College Home Run Derby at TD Ameritrade Park Omaha, he’ll have one of his biggest supporters within the Georgia Tech community, right there with him in volunteer assistant coach Wally Crancer.
Actually, Crancer will be the closest of anyone to him, and, after Gonzalez, himself, may be the most instrumental person in his success, as he’ll be the one feeding him the meatball pitches to deposit over the fence.
The 28-year-old Orange, Calif., native was a Yellow Jacket for two seasons (2006-07) after transferring from Riverside (Calif.) Community College, playing 90 games in the outfield, hitting .345, with 22 doubles, 14 homers and 82 RBIs. He would be one of Georgia Tech’s school-record-tying 10 players selected in the 2007 First-Year Player Draft when the Baltimore Orioles selected him on the 12th round and would play four years in the Orioles chain, finishing up in 2010 with the Frederick Keys of the Carolina League (High-A).
He returned to Georgia Tech in August of 2011 in his current capacity, and primarily helps assistant coach Bryan Prince with hitters.
Crancer took a few minutes to talk with Sting Daily about getting the call to accompany Gonzalez to Omaha for the Derby, getting a hitter to hit home runs, and getting in the groove and staying there so as to keep his opposing slugging percentage as high as possible.
STING DAILY: How did you get involved in the TD Ameritrade HR Derby?
Wally Crancer: I’m not participating. Matt Gonzalez is doing all the work. He called me and asked me if I would go out there and throw to him. Of course I said yes. That’s going to be a good experience. He should have a good time and hopefully he can hit a few home runs.
STING: Matt admitted he’s more of a line-drive hitter than a home run hitter. How do you make a home run hitter out of a line-drive hitter?
CRANCER: You really don’t. The big thing with Matt is he hits a lot of line drives and squares the ball up a little more than most. Hopefully I can throw some pitches a little higher up in the zone and he just squares them up. It takes a lot to get it out of that field so it’s going to take him hitting some longer line drives, me throwing some strikes and hopefully we get a little lucky, too. The wind’s not blowing in or something.
I had a swing very similar to Matt. I didn’t consider myself a power hitter. Whenever you try to hit home runs, it usually doesn’t happen. He needs to get where he can square the ball up. If we can maybe work more the middle-to-bottom half of the ball, him making contact and me kind of elevating the ball a little bit for him, we might have a chance to run a couple out of there. I told him we’re not going to change your swing. We’re not going to try anything different. It’s all about having a good time, have fun. Just go out there and have a good time, stay loose and hopefully he can hit a few out.
STING: Is hitting line drives advantageous at TD Ameritrade Field?
CRANCER: It might be because the main thing that keeps balls in the yard there is the direction of the wind. So the more you can cut through the wind with line drives you’re going to have a better chance. I think he’s got as good of a chance as anyone to hit a line drive out of there because he has good bat speed and he hits the ball hard all the time. He might not hit towering home runs but he’ll hit a home run that will get out of the yard in a couple of seconds. So we’ll see.
STING: You worked a lot with Matt this year. How does knowing his swing help you?
CRANCER: For him, I think just being familiar with me throwing to him is the biggest thing. It’s not going to be someone different throwing to him so he’s going to be familiar with me and I think that’s a little more comforting not hitting off someone you’ve never hit off before. I think all the guys out there will be bringing somebody that they are very familiar with to hit off of.
STING: Do you feel any pressure when he’s not hitting them out?
CRANCER: He’s going to tell me where he wants it and I’m going to do my best to get it there but you can’t really think about it. You’ve just got to pick your spot out and keep doing it over and over again. I’m going to miss some, he’s going to miss some. We both understand that. Nobody can throw it in the exact spot they want to every pitch but we can get it in a pretty good area. I’ve only been doing it a couple of years. Some of the guys out there are really, really good. I’ll miss some but it’s just repetition. When you’re at practice and you’re throwing 500, 600, 700 pitches a day eventually you find that rhythm, that release point to get it in a pretty general area and it just becomes second-nature. The problem is when you start thinking about it and you get in your own head and things start getting a little dicey. But if you just get out there and go through your same rhythm, same mechanics, you start to figure out where to start it and can put it right in the zone every time.
STING: What’s the hardest part about keeping momentum?
CRANCER: There’s a lot more down time than people realize so you get tired, you get stiff. You might have your swing early and then lose it late after you’ve had to sit around for a while. It will be interesting to see.
STING: Can you help him with your pitch location when he starts getting tired?
CRANCER: I might be able to take a little bit off, not throw it as hard, make sure he gets his bat through the zone. But he’s a pretty put-together kid. He’s very physical, a lot of fast-twitch so he doesn’t really break down. He’s the one guy that you have to tell him to stop hitting because he won’t unless you make him. So I think he’ll be okay in that area.
STING: Ideally you want to get tattooed as a pitcher?
CRANCER: (laughs) Oh yes. I love getting hit hard in batting practice. Half of BP is working on the hitter’s swing the other half is confidence. When the pitcher’s throwing strikes you have a better chance of squaring it up and feel better about yourself. I hope he hits it harder than he ever has.