A major distraction — don’t worry, it’s a good kind of distraction — was dropped into Cale Elam’s life almost a month ago.
A baby boy, Kaden.
Elam went out the next day and pitched seven strong innings in a Wichita State victory over Stephen F. Austin and he’s gotten to be pretty good juggling baseball with a much-busier family life with his wife, Kelby, his sweetheart going back to the eighth grade in Oklahoma.
And since life took on a whole new twist, the 23-year-old Elam is 4-0 with a 1.71 ERA.
This is a proud new daddy who takes enormous pride in pitching.
“My wife has been really supportive of the whole thing,” Elam said. “This has changed both of our lives, obviously. She’s always been there for me, always been supportive. And with her taking care of (Kaden) when I’m on the road, I don’t have to worry as much about what’s going on back home.”
Overall, Elam is 5-0 with a 1.47 ERA. He gets the start Saturday at Indiana State, where the Shockers are confident he’ll continue to befuddle opposing hitters with an assortment of pitches designed to, well, befuddle.
Elam doesn’t throw as hard as some others. Especially not as hard as Phil Bickford, the pitcher he opposed from Cal State Fullerton last Saturday at Eck Stadium. Bickford was the No. 10 pick in the Major League draft last June out of Oaks Christian High in California, but failed to reach an agreement with the Toronto Blue Jays. Instead, he honored his commitment to Fullerton and was outstanding against the Shockers. Elam was just a little better, pitching a complete game and allowing four hits and two runs while striking out eight.
Elam walked only one. It’s that pinpoint control with all of his four main pitches — he sometimes adds a “get-me-over curve” to the arsenal — that makes him so tough.
“He’s a senior who’s been through it,” Wichita State pitching coach Brent Kemnitz said of Elam.
That he has, spending his first two seasons as the Shockers’ closer before moving to the starting rotation in 2013.
“I’d say I’m just a strike-thrower,” Elam said. “And really competitive. I don’t have what I would call that top-three-round draft guy stuff, a guy who is throwing 96 mph. I’m not a flamethrower but I’m going to give you all I’ve got. I’ll give you a chance to win and go from there. That’s the biggest thing, a bulldog mentality.”
Elam cherishes the challenge of beating hitters with guile and smarts instead of being able to rely on the electric stuff that attracts professional scouts.
Thing is, there were a lot of scouts at Eck Stadium last week to watch Bickford, several other Fullerton prospects and Wichita State first baseman Casey Gillaspie, who provided a long home run and two other hits.
Elam’s performance, though, also had to be noticed. He was exceptional, as he almost always is.
“There were a lot of scouts there to watch (Bickford) go up against Casey,” Elam said. “I didn’t realize until after the game that (Bickford) had turned down a lot of money and was so highly-touted. It goes back to Brent and our coaching staff wanting us to control what we can control, to worry just about ourselves. At the same time, it was big.”
Elam has never been drafted. Of the 1,216 players chosen in last year’s 40 rounds, his name wasn’t called. So you can imagine what a thrill it is to go out and beat a guy like Bickford, whose enormous potential will likely someday make him a millionaire.
“Those scouts might have been there to watch somebody else the other day,” Elam said. “But if you have a game and show them what you can do, then you can get picked up off of that.”
Elam’s numbers speak loudly. Anyone who watches him consistently knows he has the intangibles that guys with power arms sometimes miss.
“I throw four pitches at any time and sometimes five,” Elam said. “Fastball, cutter, slider, changeup and sometimes a curve. But the curve is just to give a hitter a different look.
“A flamethrower type pitcher might have only two pitches. I’m upper 80s, 90-91, more of a ground ball pitcher, a guy who moves it around a lot. I try to get what I call bad swings, weak grounders and pop ups.”
Yet this season, Elam has 42 strikeouts in 43 innings. Hitters have a lousy .182 average against him and he rarely walks anyone, just five in six starts. That’s a lot of easy innings. When Elam pitches, Kemnitz should rent a rocking chair.
“It’s one of those things,” Elam said. “If you’re stuff isn’t going to blow hitters away, then you better have the brain, the control and the knowledge to see what’s working and not working against each hitter. That’s another thing I’ve picked up — I’m more in tune with what I need to do to get certain guys out.”
Elam is always thinking out there. Mostly about how to pitch, but now also about a newborn. But thinking is his edge.