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College baseball: Finding the fun again

Neiman has made big improvements and enjoyed doing so

Posted: March 8, 2011 1:55 a.m.
Updated: March 8, 2011 1:55 a.m.

Valencia High graduate and College of the Canyons pitcher Troy Neiman has waited patiently to get a chance to prove himself. He’s doing just that this season, demonstrating his improved speed and the different pitches he’s added to his repertoire.

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The last time Troy Neiman remembers having this much fun playing baseball, he was 12 years old.

At that age, when he was playing travel ball, no one cared about his mechanics or whether he topped 90 miles per hour with his pitches.

It didn’t matter how tall he was or how well he executed a change-up.

It was certainly too early to start thinking about the possibility of being drafted by a Major League team.

Somehow, College of the Canyons’ 20-year-old sophomore right-hander has found a way to bring the enjoyment back to the game in spite of the added pressure.

It’s easy to enjoy it when you’re playing as well as Neiman has in the early part of COC’s season.

In five starts, he carries a 3-2 record, averaging 6 1/3 innings per appearance and recording 35 strikeouts.

Both of those totals lead the team.

“I’m starting to believe what everyone has told me pretty much my whole high school and college career, which is, ‘You are good enough to do this,’” Neiman says.

The years leading up to now have been mostly filled with doubt and frustration for the Valencia High graduate.

In high school, Neiman didn’t get much playing time.

He pitched a total of 8 2/3 innings his entire senior year with the Vikings after being cut from the team his junior year.

Before that, a major growth spurt negatively affected his throwing mechanics and stifled any chances of making varsity.

“It was really frustrating, but my teammates tried to keep me around because they knew what I could do,” Neiman says.

The frustration only mounted when Neiman got to COC and hardly got any play time between redshirting his first year and sitting on the bench most of last season.

However, he was convinced to stick with the sport he had been playing since age 4.

Part of the problem was, in all his years of experience in baseball, he had very little formal training.

The potential was there. The nitty-gritty details were not.

That’s where COC head coach Chris Cota came in.

“We thought at some point that his arm was going to get stronger,” Cota says of Neiman’s initial arrival with the team. “He was real raw. He just threw it when he got up there.”

When Neiman was originally recruited, Cota says it was for his size and upside more than anything else.

Neiman’s 6-foot-6-inch frame is ideal for the position, and his success this season and his ever-increasing velocity could get him drafted into the Major Leagues.

In high school, Neiman recalls his fastball coming in around the 70 mile-per-hour range.

With a couple years of more precise pitching training, he’s up above 90 now.

“I think a lot of it is confidence and being a year older and understanding what to do out there on the mound,” Cota says. “It’s learning how to pitch rather than throw.”

Dating back to his days of playing travel ball with the Santa Clarita Vipers, Neiman says he used to simply imitate the professional pitchers he saw on television.

After two years working with the COC coaching staff, Neiman finally has a refined fastball and an improved change-up, and he’s added a curveball to the arsenal.

“He was just not ready to be our guy last year, and this year he worked really hard in the fall and earned a spot as a starter,” Cota says.

He’s done more than earn a spot.

Neiman has worked his way through obscurity to become an integral part of COC’s rotation in his sophomore year.

Without question, his physical improvements have played a big part in his success, but Neiman points to some of the visualization and meditation exercises he does at practice to help with the cerebral aspects.

Fitting, considering he’s a psychology major.

“It’s really a mental game,” Neiman says. “You can’t just go up there and be too pumped up. I try to go out there and be as relaxed as I can and let my defense do the work. You can’t try to overpower them.”

He has a better ability to work out of jams and recover after making mistake pitches.

Neiman has found a comfort zone on the mound.

“He’s not an overpowering pitcher, but he throws strikes, works fast and gets ground-ball outs,” Cota says.

And with very little film or scouting information on him, Neiman has caught a few teams by surprise.

Perhaps he’ll surprise some Major League scouts as well.

“There always is a possibility of getting drafted, but that’s not what I’m banking on,” Neiman says.

For now, he’s just soaking in all he can of his final season at COC.

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