Monday, August 15, 2011

Interview Part 1: Paul Abbott, First Half

Lowell Spinners pitching coach and former major leaguer Paul Abbott in the Lowell dugout Aug. 3, 2011

Part 1: First Half | Part 2: Setbacks and Success

LOWELL, MA - The injuries started to pile up, as did the years Paul Abbott had spent away from the majors.

He'd gotten relatively short looks at the bigs each year from 1990 to 1993. But he spent the next four seasons in the minors, calling home AAA clubs in Omaha, Iowa, Las Vegas and Tacoma.

Abbott kept pitching, and coming back from injuries, he told The Greatest 21 Days recently, because he knew he was a major league pitcher and he knew he would get back.

"I wasn't going to let something I wanted to do since I was 8 years old slip away," Abbott told The Greatest 21 Days recently. "I'd worked too hard."

Abbott's work paid off with a return to the majors with Seattle in 1998, and the second half of his big league career.

It was a second half that saw Abbott play parts of seven more major league seasons, take a no-hitter into the eighth inning in 2000, pitch in the playoffs twice and, in 2001, a season where everything seemed to come together, he won 17 games.

But, before that comeback was even possible, Abbott had to make the majors for the first time. That itself didn't come until his sixth season as a professional, after signing in 1985 at the young age of 17.
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Spinners pitching coach Paul Abbott speaking with catcher Jayson Hernandez before the game Aug. 3, 2011

Abbott spoke with The Greatest 21 Days earlier this month in Lowell, Mass., before a recent New York Penn League game between the Lowell Spinners and the Aberdeen game at Lowell's LaLacheur Park. Abbott is serving as the Spinners' pitching coach for 2011.

Abbott has returned to the minor leagues, helping young Red Sox prospects make it in the pros. But it's also a job that hardly existed back when Abbott was starting out. Abbott recalled he never had the benefit of a pitching coach back in 1985, after he signed with the Twins.

Abbott played that first year with rookie Elizabethton, the Twins' third round pick. With him on that team were pitchers Jeff Bumgarner and Steve Gasser, the Twins' first and second-round picks from the same draft.

Now, Abbott noted, there's both a pitching coach and a strength coach at every level, with hopefully better results.

"They're getting fine-tuned earlier to where the mechanics are more repeatable, better, tighter," Abbott said. "so hopefully, mechanically, there will be less strain on your arm, where they kind of just threw you out there before and you just kind of learned on the job."

In that first year, without a pitching coach, Abbott got 10 starts, going just 1-5. His ERA neared 7.

Lowell pitcher Luis Diaz delivers to the plate in the second inning Aug. 3, 2011. Diaz went six innings, giving up one hit and one walk for a no-decision. Diaz' pitching coach at Lowell is Paul Abbott.

After that, Abbott moved to single-A Kenosha in 1986, spending the next three seasons at that level, progressing to records of 13-6 and 11-9. Abbott recalled it took him that long to mature, both physically and mentally.

He made AA Orlando in 1989 and then AAA Portland in 1990. On Aug. 21, 1990, Abbott found himself stepping onto the field at Kansas City's Kauffman Stadium, with the visiting Twins. He was making his first major league start.

"I'd never pitched in front of third tier stadium," Abbott recalled of Kauffman. "It just seemed so massive, I really didn't want to look up."

Arriving later at the Metrodome, the experience was similar.

"It doesn't really sink in until you're there," Abbott recalled of his first call-up.

He'd been expecting it, and it finally came. Then he walked into the Metrodome.

"It really kind of brought it in kind of a whole different perspective," Abbott said. "It seemed like the lights were brighter, the noise was obviously louder, and the players were guys you'd been watching on TV for a while."

Spinners pitching coach Paul Abbott greats a young fan with a fist bump before the game Aug. 3, 2011 at Lowell

It was the realization of his childhood dream, Abbott said, "but it really kind of brought this semi-harsh reality that this is a special place that you've really got to be on your toes for."

That first outing in Kansas City, though, didn't go as planned. He gave up seven runs, not getting out of the fourth inning.

Abbott thought he pitched better than the box score showed. Some hits weren't hit very hard, he'd walked some people. But it wasn't like he'd gotten smashed.

"It was more of a start that, you know, I can do this," Abbott said, "and the next one was obviously a lot better."

In that next outing, Abbott went a bit longer. He went eight innings against the Rangers, giving up three hits and no runs, though he didn't get the win. In his third, his debut at the Metrodome, he went just 1.1 innings, giving up six runs.

Abbott said he soon realized the need to be consistent, something he wasn't. He ended that first season with a record of 0-5 and an ERA of 5.97.

He returned to the majors each of the next three seasons. He got 15 outings in 1991, six in an injury-shortened 1992 and five starts with the Indians in 1993.

Then came his four seasons back in the minors. But, more than keeping his childhood dream live, Abbott kept going because of his confidence in his abilities as a pitcher.

Part 2: Setbacks and Success

Part 1: First Half | Part 2: Setbacks and Success  

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