Wichita State Shockers

Wichita State’s pitching success starts with ‘flow, flow, flow, flow, flow’ (+video)

VIDEO: Shocker coach Brent Kemnitz makes pitching meetings fun

Wichita State University's pitching coach Brent Kemnitz speaks to his pitchers during a meeting before the first practice of the season on January 29, 2016. (video by Jaime Green)
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Wichita State University's pitching coach Brent Kemnitz speaks to his pitchers during a meeting before the first practice of the season on January 29, 2016. (video by Jaime Green)

Maybe Brent Kemnitz is telling the grandma story, or the wedding-crashers story that inspired you to ask out your future wife, or one about a broken ice machine. Certainly he’s waving his arms and his voice is rising and he’s clutching seven pages of yellow legal paper.

This is the first pitchers meeting of your college baseball career and you didn’t expect this.

“I thought he was on something,” senior Chase Williams said.

“I thought we were just going to be talking about practice,” sophomore Cody Tyler said. “I thought the guy was nuts.”

Every baseball practice at Wichita State starts the same way, with Kemnitz striding through the hallway chanting “flow, flow, flow, flow, flow,” his call to the pitchers to meet. They gather in the team room in the basement of Eck Stadium to hand out practice duties, update their health, assign the drink run (formerly to Sonic and now for diet green tea with lemon), and discuss pitching lessons.

Most of all, it is a chance to watch Kemnitz perform his 38 seasons of coaching experience, a series of one-act plays that former Shockers remember as some of their best times.

Wichita State University's pitching coach Brent Kemnitz speaks to his pitchers during a meeting before the first practice of the season on January 29, 2016. (video by Jaime Green)

“As a freshman, you don’t know what to do, you don’t know if you’re supposed to be laughing,” former pitcher Anthony Capra said.

Mike Pelfrey, preparing to start his 11th season in the major leagues, remembers Kemnitz telling them it is always better to let other people talk up your performances — except for Kemnitz’s basketball skills.

“Then he started jumping up and down,” Pelfrey said. “His head and arms are almost hitting the ceiling and he’s pretending like he’s shooting and his feet are almost touching his bottom and he’s yelling ‘17 and 5’ which is what he averaged in high school.”

“Flow” is both a description and a goal.

Flow is Kemnitz’s word for focus and confidence that leads to performance. When the pitchers worked on fielding in the 1980s, Kemnitz wanted movement and precision, so he told them “flow, flow, flow, flow, flow.” The term soon became more than that.

Former catcher Sean Johnson, who used to sprint from hitters meetings to join flow, researched the word and gave Kemnitz a definition that includes “flow is such a pleasurable experience that the person often repeats the activity with the hope of experiencing flow again.”

Current Shockers count flow, which run from 10 to 30 minutes, as one of the highlights of their day.

2.531982 ERA, best at Wichita State since 1978

2.68 2007 ERA

2.731992 ERA

“This guy’s a character, a loose coach,” junior Willie Schwanke said. “He still makes me laugh, no matter what. He always finds a new way to bring out the same joke.”

For most of the previous 37 seasons, Kemnitz presided over a collection of some of the nation’s most talented and most successful pitchers. Last season, Shockers pitchers slumped to a 5.10 ERA, the program’s worst since 1978. They ranked sixth in the Missouri Valley Conference for ERA and walked more batters than any other conference staff. For the first time since 1979, no WSU pitcher earned All-MVC honors.

The injuries, the inexperience, the inconsistency — it all tested his devotion to positivity and support.

“Worst pitching year we’ve ever had,” he said. “I was more positive last year than I’ve been in my whole career here and it was the most painful year that I’ve had. I stayed positive more so than I have any other year, and it wasn’t even close.”

WSU pitching has work to do to regain its status as one of the nation’s top staffs. In the MVC, it’s largely been passed by Missouri State as the prime producer of talent. No Shocker has gone in the first round of the draft since 2006 and it hasn’t had a top-10-rounds pick since 2011. MSU, meanwhile, has produced four first-round picks since 2006 and led the Valley in ERA three of the past four seasons.

For the Shockers, 26-33 last season, to return to the first NCAA regional since 2013, the pitching must improve.

Sam Tewes and Schwanke both missed most of last season with injury and are back to lead the rotation. Tewes pitched in five games before shoulder inflammation ended his 2015. A torn lat muscle benched Schwanke after six starts, just as he was peaking. Cody Tyler missed all of last season after elbow surgery in 2014. Williams, pushed into a starting role because of the injuries, fixed control problems, mastered a changeup and threw WSU’s lone complete game in his last start. John Hayes returns as the closer after throwing almost every important relief inning last season.

Those five are proven and experienced, to varying degrees, and the hope is their talents can keep the rest of the staff in their proper roles.

“There’s a lot of talent,” Tewes said. “I think we had 12 guys in the fall that touched 90 mph … a lot of wipeout pitches.”

WSU’s starters spent the early spring practices building up their pitch counts so they can go deeper into games and protect the bullpen. The starters are capable of throwing 80-90 pitches this weekend. When the Shockers came back from break, they started on a weekly routine with a heavy throwing day followed by a six-day recovery plan to prepare to throw more pitches earlier in the season.

“I’m a big fan of it,” Tewes said. “At the beginning of the spring, we threw 60 or 70 and moved up to 80 and by opening day we’ll be up to 90.”

The injuries wrecked the rotation last season and forced Kemnitz and coach Todd Butler to rebuild their staff during the season. Schwanke, drafted in the 22nd round, returned to school when the Brewers didn’t meet his $300,000 bonus request. Tewes went 8-3 with a 3.27 ERA as a freshman in 2014.

Those two and Williams give WSU a solid weekend plan that it rarely enjoyed last season.

“We’re trying to re-establish the Shocker tradition and we haven’t done that yet,” Butler said. “But when you have Tewes, Schwanke … winning starts on the mound. They’re right where they should be. They’re strike-throwers. They fill up the zone.”

The Shocker tradition of great pitching started early in Kemnitz’s tenure and rarely wavered before 2015. In his early days at WSU, he held meetings on the field to get his pitchers organized. By 1988, the sessions turned into the daily meetings. Central to the meetings is “Brent’s brain,” a hand-written text of seven pages started in 1988 and consisting of 395 tips, rules, sayings and theories. The first 40 are fundamentals of pitching, running and practice plans.

From there, they veer into the mental game, life lessons and goofiness.

No. 145 is “Eliminate comfortable at-bats.” No. 162 is “You are what you perceive yourself.” No. 190 is “Comedy is tragedy separated by time.”

“Something that seems like a huge deal at the time, and it may be, you’ll laugh at in a couple years,” Kemnitz said. “You may be embarrassed. You may be hurt. You may be in your own head. In a year or two, you’ll laugh. The quicker you can pick up that feeling, the better off you’ll be.”

The pitchers enjoy the meetings because they count on entertainment and a positive vibe, even after a bad inning or a bad exam. Kemnitz will tell the “up and away, up and away, up and away” story that involves a picture of grandma and a lesson on making adjustments on the mound. He can compare a bad season to a broken ice machine at Sonic and tell the players that customers don’t care — they want their ice.

It’s kind of like our meditation period,” Williams said.

The stories span generations of Shockers pitchers, most of whom remember the lessons regardless of their application to baseball.

“I think he’s the best mental guy around,” Pelfrey said.

In 2015, WSU’s ice machine did indeed break. The 2016 pitchers are confident they can fix those problems and get the Shockers back in the right flow.

Paul Suellentrop: 316-269-6760, @paulsuellentrop

Northern Colorado at WSU baseball

  • When: 3 p.m. Friday
  • Where: Eck Stadium
  • Records: season-opener
  • Radio: KNSS, 1330-AM

Wichita State baseball schedule

Date

Opponent

Time

Friday

N. Colorado

3 p.m.

Saturday

N. Colorado

2 p.m.

Sunday

N. Colorado

1 p.m.

Tuesday

at Oral Roberts

3 p.m.

Feb. 26

at New Mexico

7 p.m.

Feb. 27

at New Mexico

3 p.m.

Feb. 28

at New Mexico

2 p.m.

March 1

Neb.-Omaha (ESPN3)

3 p.m.

March 4

Sam Houston St. (ESPN3)

3 p.m.

March 5

Sam Houston St.

2 p.m.

March 6

Sam Houston St. (ESPN3)

1 p.m.

March 8

at Oklahoma

6 p.m.

March 11

at Cal St. Fullerton

9 p.m.

March 12

at Cal St. Fullerton

8 p.m.

March 13

at Cal St. Fullerton

3 p.m.

March 15

North Dakota (ESPN3)

3 p.m.

March 18

at Nebraska

4 p.m.

March 19

at Nebraska

2 p.m.

March 20

at Nebraska

Noon

March 22

Oklahoma St. (ESPN3)

6:30 p.m.

March 24

Cal Poly (ESPN3)

6:30 p.m.

March 25

Cal Poly (ESPN3)

6:30 p.m.

March 26

Cal Poly (ESPN3)

Noon

March 29

Stephen F. Austin (ESPN3)

6:30 p.m.

March 30

Stephen F. Austin (ESPN3)

3 p.m.

April 1

TCU (ESPN3)

6:30 p.m.

April 2

TCU (ESPNU)

1 p.m.

April 3

TCU (ESPN3)

1 p.m.

April 5

Oral Roberts (ESPN3)

6:30 p.m.

April 8

at Evansville (ESPN3)

6:30 p.m.

April 9

at Evansville

2 p.m.

April 10

at Evansville (ESPN3)

1 p.m.

April 12

Oklahoma (Cox 22)

6:30 p.m.

April 15

Missouri St. (ESPN3)

6:30 p.m.

April 16

Missouri St. (Cox 22)

2 p.m.

April 17

Missouri St. (ESPN3)

1 p.m.

April 19

at Kansas (Cox 22)

6 p.m.

April 22

Bradley (ESPN3)

6:30 p.m.

April 23

Bradley (ESPN3)

2 p.m.

April 24

Bradley (Cox 22)

1 p.m.

April 26

Kansas St. (Cox 22)

6:30 p.m.

April 29

at S. Illinois

6:30 p.m.

April 30

at S. Illinois

4 p.m.

May 1

at S. Illinois

1 p.m.

May 3

at Kansas St.

6:30 p.m.

May 6

Indiana St. (ESPN3)

6:30 p.m.

May 7

Indiana St. (ESPN3)

2 p.m.

May 8

Indiana St. (ESPN3)

1 p.m.

May 10

Creighton (Cox 22)

6:30 p.m.

May 13

at Illinois St.

6 p.m.

May 14

at Illinois St.

2 p.m.

May 15

at Illinois St.

1 p.m.

May 17

Kansas (Cox 22)

6:30 p.m.

May 19

Dallas Baptist (Cox 22)

6:30 p.m.

May 20

Dallas Baptist (ESPN3)

6:30 p.m.

May 21

Dallas Baptist (ESPN3)

2 p.m.

May 25-29

MVC Tournament

 
 

at Terre Haute, Ind.

 
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