Photo Credit Mark Cunningham/Detroit Tigers
It’s a bird… it’s a plane… it’s “Super-Fist!”
Since being traded from the Mariners before the midseason deadline, Doug Fister and his lanky 6-foot-8 frame were embraced by Detroit fans with clenched fists, inducing nothing short of what can be depicted as “Fist-mania.”
The 27-year-old native of Merced, Calif., was nothing short of brilliant, compiling an 8-1 record over 10 starts, with a minuscule 1.79 ERA, earning him the honor of American League Pitcher of the Month for September.
In a trade that sent Casper Wells, Charlie Furbush, Francisco Martinez and Chance Ruffin to the Mariners, the Tigers acquired David Pauley and one of the game’s most underrated and genuinely nice rising stars.
“Doug is truly the nicest guy you’ll meet,” Chris Pedretti said, Fister’s family friend and Head Coach at Merced Junior College.
“He’ll do anything to help. We had a charity golf tournament last Saturday and he took over the raffle without even begin asked,” Pedredtti said.
Despite a towering mound presence, Fister did not rely on a plus fastball to pitch effectively, rather his ability to locate and change speeds in all counts.
“He was a tall, skinny kid. He didn’t overpower batters with his fastball. He was around 80-83 (MPH) his freshman year, and 85-86 (MPH) his sophomore year. He learned how to pitch, how to locate, and use his changeup,” Pedretti said.
As a child Fister threw a tennis ball against the garage door until his mom made him stop.
He moistened the ball so it would leave a mark that he could aim at and hit over and over again.
Despite its common application in real estate, the phrase “location, location, location” should be ingrained into all aspiring pitchers minds.
Something as simple as firing a tennis ball at a mark on the garage can go a long way to explain the tremendous emphasis the right hander puts on regimen and routine, no matter the magnitude of the occasion.
“I focused on keeping everything the same,” Fister said, on his approach leading into his first postseason start versus the Yankees.
“The same anticipation, the same excitement, I kept the same routine for the same game I’d pitched a thousand times before.”
His ability to attack hitters, and work quickly, make Mr. Fister a righteous reverie for position players from the Pacific to Lake Huron.
“The thing about Doug, he is a position player’s dream. He works quickly. He is a great athlete that holds runners and fields his position very well,” Tigers pitching coach Jeff Jones said.
“He is a great kid.”
With less than three full seasons at the big league level under his belt, Fister has demonstrated poise that certainly hasn’t been hindered by the good fortune of pitching in the same rotation as three Cy Youngs: Felix Hernandez, Cliff Lee, and Justin Verlander.
“I was talking with my father last night about how special it has been for to pitch with three of the game’s best. Discovering what makes them tick. To see them shag BP (batting practice), their attitude, the way they carry themselves: chin held high, shoulders back. I take their characteristics and input them in my game,” the latest Detroit sensation said.
In just three short seasons Fister has been blessed with impeccable timing. In his first full season in Seattle, “The Kid,” Ken Griffey Jr. returned as the prodigal son in the twilight of his career. Like so many other baseball players of his generation, the conversation of the game’s greatest is for not, without Junior.
“I was lucky enough to be his teammate. He is the epitome of what it means to be a baseball player. He teaches everyone, young or old. He took me under his wing and said, ‘this is the way you play the game.’ One of the most memorable moments was when we lifted him up and carried him on our shoulders in Seattle before a standing ovation. You can’t ever reenact that,” Fister said.
In addition to pitching the 6-foot-8 righty played first base while at Merced Junior College. Both of his career hits came as a Mariner, a single and a double.
“Oh goodness, that’s tough to say,” Mr. Fister said as to who he’d rather face if he had one at bat, Felix Hernandez or Justin Verlander.
“They both have some good stuff, but personally, I’d say Felix. We joked around about it a lot. It would be a good opportunity for a grudge match.”
Those close to Fister liken his success to an outstanding work ethic learned from his parents, Larry and Jan Fister. Larry is a fire captain that played football at Fresno State, where Fister transferred and in 2005 lead all Fresno State pitchers with 7 wins, and 77 strikeouts, in 93 2/3 innings pitched.
He majored in construction management.
Raised in a family that understands the value of diligence, it comes as little surprise that the 6-foot-8 righty’s favorite player growing up was none other than “Mr. Ironman” himself, Cal Ripken Jr.
Located just 80 miles southwest of Yosemite National Park, in the San Joaquin Valley of Northern California, Merced is known as the “Gateway to Yosemite.”
“It’s a beautiful drive, I recommend it to any of my Detroit fans who are visiting,” Fister said.
Fister has made his home in Merced along with A’s relief pitcher Brian Fuentes and Dusty Ryan, a catcher in the Mets organization.
“It’s phenomenal that these guys have made the decisions to live in their hometown. The fact that Doug, Brian, and Dusty have chose to live in Merced says a lot about this town,” Pedretti said.
“They’re regular guys. They workout with our team, it’s special.”
Regular guys you say? What is more regular than raking leaves?
“Doug is one of a kind,” Fuentes said.
“He has a great head on his shoulders. He has an unbelievable work ethic. He was a hot commodity coming out of high school, between basketball and baseball, but has always been humble and down to earth. I actually just saw him like 10 minutes ago at Lowes. He was getting supplies to rake leaves.”
Given the opportunity to challenge a single NBA player to a game one-on-one, Fister doesn’t want to fool around.
“Michael Jordan. It’s like growing up and watching Griffey, you want to know what it is to be on the same court as the best there is,” the fast-growing-Detroit-fan-favorite said.
The Tigers’ no. two in the rotation takes great pride in his hometown and is grateful for the everlasting support the people of Merced continue to offer.
“Everywhere I go: the grocery store, hardware store, I run into someone I know and they say, ‘hey, good job!’ It is a warm thing to know that the whole community is backing us. It doesn’t go unnoticed,” Fister said.
Although the Tigers stood atop the standings at the All Star break, a recent history of second half collapse instilled a brooding doubt amongst both media and fans in the D.
While it was not a household name, the announcement that Fister had been acquired went great lengths to relieve that doubt.
“I felt a whirlwind of emotions. I was unsure what to expect,” Fister said on his reaction of being traded to the Tigers.
“I will never forget that moment. They embraced us with open arms, it was the kind of welcoming we hoped for. With the reputation of this clubhouse we knew we wouldn’t be strangers, it made things easier.”
In just 13 appearances with the Tigers between the regular season and the playoffs, “Super-Fist” soared to a 9-and-2 record with a 2.36 ERA surpassing plateaus that a number of pitchers go careers without achieving.
Fister pitched at least seven innings and allowed two-or-fewer runs in 7 of the 10 starts he made for the Tigers during the regular season after making his debut with the team on August 3rd.
The only other American League pitcher to make seven such starts in that time was James Shields, of the Rays.
On September 5 Fister mowed down a career high 13 batters versus the Indians upping his previous of 9 strikeouts.
“Looking back, I couldn’t have asked for more. It’s about being a good teammate, taking care of the guys next to you, and trusting them enough to do the same. When you do that, winning will take care of itself,” Fister said.
“It’s about brotherhood. My numbers could have been better or worse, my focus was on my new family.”
In addition to the stellar play of both Delmon Young and Wilson Betemit, Fister’s downright filthy performance down the stretch for the Tigers helped boost the team to 95 wins and a 15 game lead over the Indians in the Central when it was all said and done.
His storybook season continued into the playoffs where he earned two victories, including a decisive-game-5 on the road at Yankee Stadium.
“There’s nothing quite like it,” Fister said on winning the Division Series versus the Yankees.
“Nobody can take moment away. Knowing, that group of guys will always have that celebration, is why we play the game.”
Perhaps then it is fate that Mr. Fister found himself traded to the Tigers, with the ball in his hands, when a city that needed a reminder of triumph a bit more than the rest, was against the odds.
“For Love of the Game,” he offered without hesitation as his favorite baseball movie.
“It’s really something. I say the same things to myself on the mound,” referring to Kevin Costner’s character Billy Chapel, also a starting pitcher for the Tigers.
“Now I’m in Detroit,” Fister said in awe.
It is only fitting in the aftermath of a season that produced a full-on-fisting of the American League that the cult-classic cheer, “Eat-em-up-Tigers, eat-em-up,” started by James Van Horn, a homeless man outside of Comerica Park, be taken one step further and transformed into, “Fist-em-up-Tigers, Fist-em-up!”
Kevin Alan Lamb is a 26-year-old resident of Royal Oak, MI. Kevin, a 6’7 RHP, led the state of MI in wins, 13, and strikeouts, 187, his sophomore year, leading West Bloomfield to the Class A State Semifinals. Kevin went on to pitch at High Point University, a division one member of the Big South in High Point, NC. Kevin also helped lead West Bloomfield to the basketball Class A State Semifinals, losing before 12,000 fans at the Breslin Center in East Lansing.
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