Feature: Baseball's Tim Cunningham
April 12, 2002
The arm of a pitcher determines the action and pace of a baseball game. One could argue that in no other team sport does a single player receive so much individual attention. How do pitchers prepare for a game? Once on the hill, what runs through their mind? Though each pitcher has a unique approach to this mental aspect of the game, junior left-hander Tim Cunningham feels that a consistent mentality is a crucial key to success.
With short relief, long relief, and now extensive starting experience under his belt, Cunningham has pitched in tight games and blowouts as both a role man and as the go-to arm. No matter the situation, he feels that, 'You can't change things based on the score or who you're playing, or how your arms feels. You have to have the same mentality and same mode of competition. If you start switching things up too much, you can become inconsistent.'
As the Cardinal's solidified Saturday starter, Cunningham follows a program that physically and mentally prepares him for his weekend outing.
'During the week you do your workouts, your running, your throwing and your bullpen. When Friday night comes around you watch the hitters and do a pitch chart,' explains the junior. 'When Saturday rolls around, I get up three hours before the game, get something to eat, and just relax and do a lot of self-talk and thinking. You do a lot of thinking and reflection about what you need to do, what you have been doing well lately, and what you need to key on in the game. Then I show up to the ballpark about two hours before, get dressed, stretch out, play catch, do a couple drills that I like to do, and then get out on the mound and get ready to go.'
And as his season numbers show, Cunningham has been more than ready to go. The lefty's 5-1 record ties him for second on the team in wins and his 2.67 ERA is the lowest among Stanford starters. More importantly, Cunningham has been giving the Cardinal quality starts, averaging more than six innings per outing and over seven innings in his last four starts versus California (3/9), USC (3/23), Texas (3/29) and Arizona (4/6). In his last two starts, Cunningham has been brilliant. In an epic pitchers duel against the Longhorns, the junior scattered seven hits over nine innings of shutout ball but received a no-decision. Last week against the Wildcats, the lefty surrendered just one run on five hits in seven innings pitched to pick up the victory.
As one might expect, the level of competition and in-state rivalry very well could create a post-season-like atmosphere for the Cardinal and Trojans this weekend, and Cunningham has proved that he can excel in such environments. In last year's NCAA Regional, Cunningham turned in a career performance in an elimination game versus Marist, tossing eight shutout innings and striking out a career-high nine en route to a 6-0 victory on the road to Omaha.
'Sometimes when you pitch in big situations, you get a sense of urgency,' says the junior. 'Sometimes for a lot of players, you step up another level. Your intensity goes up, you might throw a little harder, you might be that much more focused. Good pitchers and good athletes are able to go out there regardless if it's an elimination game or a regular game to compete at their highest level.'
Cunningham will take a 16-3 career record (.842, seventh on Stanford's all-time won-loss percentage list) into this weekend's series against Pac-10 rival USC. With his mental toughness and pitching clicking on all cylinders, expect to see the southpaw determined and focused. But this is nothing new for the lefty, as he considers and approaches each start as a big game. This consistent mentality fuels his success.
by Chris Curtis
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