Playing at Sea Level Could Give Sdsu Theedge

by Staff

There is often something unique about a team’s home field thatgives them an advantage. In the case of San Diego State, it’s theair. The abundance of it, that is.

SDSU is one of only two teams in the Mountain West Conference(with UNLV) that plays its home games below 4,500 feet. Is itpossible that playing at sea level will give Aztecs’ pitchers an edgethis season?

In any case, head coach Jim Dietz and pitching coach Rusty Filtersaid the pitching staff is the strength of this year’s team.

“They’ve got a lot of experience,” Filter said. “We have a lot ofreturning guys that throw an assortment of pitches. We can attack anyteam with a number of options.

“We’ve got every angle covered, it’s a matter of taking what we’velearned and having it come through on the field when it counts.”

Tomorrow night’s game against Houston begins an 11-game homestand.SDSU will not hit the road until March 2. One concern that couldsurface would be pitchers becoming too accustomed to pitching at sealevel.

It’s a well-documented fact that at high elevations, the ballusually does not move the way you want it to.

But Filter said he is confident in his staff.

“We’re going to pitch the same way,” Filter said. “We try not tochange our whole philosophy just because we go somewhere else.”

Although pitchers say they approach the game the same way in anyatmosphere, they acknowledge the differences inherent in thin air.

“As a pitcher, you know that at sea level your breaking pitchesare most critical,” said senior pitcher Marcos Mendoza. “When you goto Colorado Springs, everything is flat. You’re afraid that you’renot going to be yourself and not have your stuff.

“That’s when you learn that you have to adjust and deal with whatyou have.”

Part of that adjustment is adapting your pitching style andselection.

“The curveball obviously doesn’t work as well, so I developed mychange-up a lot,” said sophomore Chris Hartshorn. “You’ve got tochange speeds well. That’s the most effective way of getting guys outup there.”

As if the combination of thin air and aluminum bats didn’t makelife hard enough for pitchers in mile-high parks, the fielddimensions are typically shorter than those of Tony Gwynn Stadium.

“The wind is always blowing some way, usually out,” Hartshornsaid.

Hitters often see the opportunity to exploit these conditions andtry to simply get the ball in the air. What they might fail torealize is that doing so in San Diego would not produce the expectedresults.

“The hitters take it for granted,” said senior reliever JohnSkinner. “(Last year) New Mexico came down here with outstandingnumbers. But at sea level they couldn’t produce. A fly ball that’s ahome run in their park gets caught in shallow centerfield here.”

The topic comes up again and again, usually when discussing CoorsField in Denver, the home of the Colorado Rockies.

“Look at Darryl Kile,” Dietz said. “He was a bum when he was withthe Rockies (where he lost 30 games in two years). Then he went andwon 20 games for St. Louis.”

When the Aztecs begin conference play, the strategy for pitchingat high elevation is simple.

“No matter where we go, we have to throw strikes,” Filter said.”That doesn’t change no matter where you play.”

So will the SDSU pitchers be successful in the rarefied air? Willthe opposing hitters be uppercutting the ball in San Diego? Willeither of these even be a factor?

“We both play on the same field,” Mendoza said.