In a motel room in Liberal Kansas the night before his pitching assignment against the Liberal Bee Jays, one of the outstanding young pitchers of the Wellington Heat uses his time wisely in preparing for the game. Not by charting pitches or studying hitter's tendencies. Much more important work is being done.
“I'm on 'Slyder Duty' tonight,” Derek Fischer explains. “The rest of the team is over at the ballpark while I watch Slyder.”
By Karl Younkman
In a motel room in Liberal Kansas the night before his pitching assignment against the Liberal Bee Jays, one of the outstanding young pitchers of the Wellington Heat uses his time wisely in preparing for the game. Not by charting pitches or studying hitter’s tendencies. Much more important work is being done.
“I’m on ‘Slyder Duty’ tonight,” Derek Fischer explains. “The rest of the team is over at the ballpark while I watch Slyder.”
Slyder, the team mascot and number one K-9 in the hearts of Heat fans is apparently not allowed to roam the ballfields when the team plays on the road. Hence, each game one of the players pulls ‘Slyder Duty’.
It’s not that Fischer couldn’t gain some additional insight and knowledge by being in the dugout charting, it’s just that the Heat have already faced the Bee Jays three times this season. And with a 4-1 record (5-1 after the next evening’s win over Liberal) Derek has shown during the season that he’ll be ready to pitch. Besides that, somebody has to watch the dog.
At any rate, Fischer has always been willing to do what it takes to help the team become successful. In his approach to pitching Derek tries to do what he can and let his teammates seal the deal.
“I try to throw strikes and get the ball in play,” said Derek. “If I can get them to hit it on the ground the defense will throw them out.” Spotting the ball on location and keeping the hitters off balance are Fischer’s strengths. Never a big strikeout pitcher, although he has recorded 10 strikeouts in two separate games this summer, Fischer also doesn’t walk many batters. “My goal is to walk no more than one a game,” Derek said.
Fischer grew up in Brandon, South Dakota where he served both sides of the battery on his high school baseball team. “I played pitcher and catcher and also played third base,” said Fischer of his high school career. An all-state and all-conference selection as a senior, Derek was a pretty salty hitter as well, hitting in the upper .300 range.
Fischer stayed in the state of South Dakota when he went off to college, joining up with the University of Sioux Falls. As a freshman he was slotted to the bullpen to start the season and his first appearance was a memorable one. Or maybe not.
“I came in with the bases loaded and the score tied in the 10th inning,” Fischer remembers. “I hit the batter. Game over.”
The coaches saw something in Fischer in that appearance. They made him a starter. “I went 4-0 as a starter the rest of the way,” said Derek. “I was probably nervous in that relief appearance but I settled in the rest of the year.”
Settling in and relaxing is something Fischer by all appearances seems to find easy. “I try to stay positive in the dugout,” said Derek. “I’ll calm guys down if they need it and try to bring them up if they get down on themselves.” Also, the leisurely strolls to and from the mound between innings projects that relaxed body language that is sometimes very important in an athlete.
Heat head coach and owner Rick Twyman plucked Fischer from Sioux Falls after his junior season there and, after graduating this year, Derek decided to come back to Wellington for another run with the team.
As many ballplayers hope to do, Derek would like a stab at pro baseball, but it’s not all-important. “I’ll be going back to Sioux Falls for my masters,” says Fischer. “I’m shooting for a career in finance, perhaps as a financial adviser.” He’ll also be on the baseball squad as an assistant pitching coach while attaining his degree.
The small town life is something that Fischer knows well and in Wellington he has found a familiar feel. “Wellington is about the same size as my hometown Brandon,” says Fischer. “There’s not too much going on but what does go on is good. It has that hometown feel.”
“The Wellington fans are awesome,” Derek continued. “We were welcomed by the community from the start last year and that’s a key in getting a lot of guys to come back.”
Fischer came back after a season last year when the Heat finished runner-up in the NBC World Series and he looks forward to the challenge again starting in just a few weeks in Wichita.
“The one big thing we have to do is to make the Sweet 6 and stay in the winner’s bracket,” Fischer says of the tournament strategy. “With the amount of (pitching) arms we have I like our chances in a tournament format.”
“And coach is intense, He’ll keep on us. I know we haven’t played up to his standards a lot this year but we’re winning. I think he’s been happy.”
And if the coach isn’t happy, the doghouse awaits.