CLEVELAND – Trevor Bauer’s suffer-no-fools mentality has always been his best weapon, from his days as a high school underclassman, through a dominant stint at UCLA and into a major league career that’s been solid, if statistically unremarkable.
Now, the cerebral right-hander has arrived on baseball’s grandest stage, which provided him both a platform for his skills, and numerous reminders that he didn’t get here by being polite.
That mentality has cost him friends and allies. It also ensured that he will start Game 2 of the World Series for the Cleveland Indians.
“I think everybody wants to be accepted. I don’t think he’s going to do things just to be accepted,” says Indians pitching coach Mickey Callaway. “I’m so glad he’s like that and that we have a prepared pitcher every night he pitches.
“I think he’s going to do whatever it is to make himself the best pitcher possible – whether it makes somebody not accept him or not.”
And this World Series provides Bauer an up close reminder of the occasional collateral damage resulting from him merely being himself.
Mike Montgomery, a key member of the Chicago Cubs bullpen, was a teammate of Bauer’s at Hart High School (Santa Clarita, Calif.), a California athletic powerhouse that’s produced six current major leaguers. They pitched on a 2008 team that went 23-7.
Montgomery was a year ahead of Bauer, and was the 36th overall pick in the 2008 draft.
Bauer also did not pitch again for Hart – in part because of a hostile environment fostered by older players on the team who did not take to Bauer’s brash attitude or his unusual training techniques.
“It was enough to make me decide not to play my senior year, regardless of if I had a chance to go to college or not,” Bauer said Monday. “So, I’ll leave it there.”
Instead, Bauer enrolled early at UCLA, where he majored in mechanical engineering and dominated Pac-10 hitters; after three seasons, he was picked third overall by the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Leaving high school early was the right decision for Bauer. Montgomery understands.
“We had a lot of seniors,” Montgomery said of his 2008 squad. “We probably gave him a hard time. But he handled it pretty well and we had a lot of fun with everybody.
“Everybody on that team was getting made fun of, just normal stuff.”
Yet it was Bauer who stood out, thanks to a give-no-quarter mentality that Montgomery says extended even to mundane tasks like batting practice or shagging balls. A bit intense, sure – but characteristics that came to define Bauer.“From the beginning, I could see how ultra-competitive he is,” Montgomery says. “It was always a big competition.”
Bauer promised Montgomery he would strike out more batters than him in 2008.
“I did,” Bauer said Monday, an icy grin on his face. “We had our struggles, but have kind of mended the fence since then.”
Indeed, there have been some awkward moments between the two. Oddly enough, they did not meet until Montgomery’s senior year, although they grew up just a few blocks from each other amid the sprawling housing tracts of Santa Clarita, a Los Angeles exurb just down the road from Magic Mountain.
Now, their fathers often run into each other when Montgomery’s dad walks his dog.
The passage of time has allowed some of the tension to deflate. So, too, has Bauer’s success.
An early proponent of unusual training methods such as the use of weighted baseballs, arm bands and extreme long toss – throwing up to 360 feet before a game – Bauer has long been viewed as an iconoclast.
As a brainy 15-year-old tossed into the alpha environment of a successful high school program, those methods served as a virtual kick-me sign. Now, they’re viewed a bit differently.
“The pregame routine and the bands and the blade thing that he does, all that stuff combined – we all looked at each other like, ‘What is this guy doing?” Montgomery recalls. “Then when he gets out there and is pitching we’re like, “Oh, maybe we should be doing that, too.’
“I know he’s definitely hard-headed, and has issues with different things, but that’s part of what makes him good. Good for him for sticking to what he knows.”