Portrait in perseverance: Mike Fiers' road to the majors
Have your little boy come down inside here where he can throw.
The man in the dunk tank rubbed his hands over the top of his soaked head, and the woman running the game waved the boy up a few feet.
The father kept the son back as he took the three balls for a dollar.
It's OK. Have him come inside the line – this is where the adults stand.
"No," the father insisted, his 5-year-old looking on. "That's alright. He doesn't need that."
The man in the tank barely had time to catch a breath.
Mike Fiers could always hit his target, from the time he began playing catch with his father on the sidewalk at the age of 3. Bruce Fiers wasn't a pitching coach, by any means. He worked construction; on his feet to the point his knees were bone-on-bone. But he knew one thing – you throw strikes, you win.
He also wanted to keep it simple for his young boy. Come over the top, and work the ball up and down, worry about side to side later.
"Let's be accurate," Bruce told his son on the sidewalk. "You've got a good arm. Let's start from there and we'll learn as we go."
The boy learned. Well enough, in fact, that it was Bruce who got the pair banished from pitching near the house when one of his throws broke a window.
Once Mike was old enough to pitch to live hitters – about 8 years old – parents would ask Bruce and his wife Susan, or his mom Linda Korman and her husband Rick, and if he was getting specialized instruction.
"We've always worked week-to-week," Susan Fiers said. "We didn't have money for stuff like that. That is a natural, God-given ability."
Mike's proclivity for strike throwing led to success through the Florida Little Leagues, but to his parents he was just a kid who loved baseball and had a certain knack for throwing the ball over the plate.
Harold O'Berry, one of his coaches, saw more.
Just before Mike entered Deerfield Beach High School, Berry pulled Korman aside.
"This kid is going to play Major League Baseball," he told her. "You need to do whatever you can to get him there. He has something different than everybody else."
Mike Fiers rubbed his beard, and a smile crawled up the side of his face.
"I've heard that before," he said.
Between the latter part of his high school career and the end of July, different wasn't always good for Fiers.
On the field, it was. His high left side and over the top delivery still filled the strike zone, still won games. To the radar guns clustered behind backstops, it wasn't. For college recruiters, and later, major league scouts, just because you saw it didn't mean you believed it.
The gun, and Fiers' lanky frame, was enough to trump the production.
You don't throw hard enough. You'll never be able to get college hitters out. You'll never be able to get professional hitters out. You don't have the stuff to make it to the major leagues.
"I've heard it at every level," Fiers said, subconsciously crossing his arms, which brought his shoulders back, which pushed his chest out.
He had just thrown 6 1/3 innings of shutout ball against the National League East-leading Washington Nationals, striking out nine and lowering his earned run average to 1.77.
If it ever got to him, it only showed on the field as he tore through lineups, and on Pompano Beach.
Often arriving before 5 a.m., Fiers and his friend Mike Dobre would sprint along the Atlantic Ocean. They would put in some endurance distances, swim up to three miles, all before breakfast. There would be two, maybe three others joining the pair, but few could match Fiers' effort.
"He was pushing it to the limit every day, and he wouldn't let anyone tell him otherwise," said Dobre, now a coach at Zion Lutheran High School in Deerfield Beach.
The naysaying got to those around Fiers though, as he bounced between Broward Community College in Florida, the University of the Cumberlands in Kentucky and finally, Nova Southeastern University in Ft. Lauderdale.
"He's constantly been told you're not good enough because you don't pitch fast enough. Every time," said Bruce, his pitch rising. "They're all the same. They come out with a radar gun. It doesn't matter how many wins you have. It doesn't matter how good you are. It's 'You don't throw 95 miles an hour, you can't be effective.' Even though he's beaten this other team, 'Yeah, he won but he doesn't throw fast enough.' It was aggravating. Really aggravating."
If it ever irritated Mike himself, it was turned inward, and then out.
"All of those things factor in to having success," he said. "It's just good. It's good to me to have people say things bad. Some people don't take it with them on the field, but I do, and I actually like it."
On the field is where Charlie Sullivan, an area scout for the Brewers, saw something different. He called Bruce Seid and convinced him to come to Florida and watch Fiers pitch.
"In my position, you listen to your scouts and you hope that they identify not only the tools, but the intangibles, which is the makeup, which is the instincts," said Seid, the Brewers Director of Amateur Scouting. "If a guy can identify not only the tools but the makeup and the instincts, you may have someone that either beats the odds or is pretty special."
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A very well thought out article. I have new found respect for Fiers. It tells you how much we all have to work hard at what we do to get to the places in life that we need/ want to be. Also when you finally do get that chance, seize the moment, because it can be gone in an instant.
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