Brewers reliever Loe had a long journey to Milwaukee
Covering the gold accented, navy carpet of the home clubhouse at Maryvale Baseball Park in a few steps, No. 73 was hard to miss.
At 6-feet, 8-inches and 245 pounds, Kameron Loe distinguished himself immediately upon arrival as a Milwaukee Brewers non-roster invitee in the spring of 2010.
One teammate eyeballed the broad shouldered, tattooed Loe and leaned over to John Axford.
"Oh my God, who is that guy?"
Axford, who pitched seven games for the Brewers in 2009 and was trying to make the big league club himself, said he had never seen Loe before and didn't know who he was.
"He scares me," said his locker neighbor.
Axford chuckles at that memory now, but admitted Loe cut an intimidating figure at first blush.
"That was some of the first things I thought," Axford said. "Coming into this game you meet so many different people, and you never know how people are going to be, and you never judge a book by its cover, to use a cliché in that way, but it's kind of just the way it is. Especially in this game there are many different personalities, so many different people."
Open the book, however, and there was a completely different story than the cover art would intimate.
"Then, like the first time you get to talk to him, get to know him, you're like 'Oh, nevermind, this guy's fine, he's like a big teddy bear,'" Axford said with a smile. "But that's obviously off the field, too. On the field I don't think I'd want to mess with him."
Perception as reality
Questions about his personality have been easy to shake for the affable right-hander, as Loe is quick to smile and share a laugh. But through much of his baseball career, his height has placed perceptions on him that were much more difficult to shake.
"I think people would dream about a 6-8 kid a little bit with those long arms and levers," said an American League scout who has seen Loe pitch in the minor leagues, with the Texas Rangers and with the Brewers. "When you saw the tall guy you thought there might be this guy that's going to throw 100 miles per hour."
Loe began touching 90 miles per hour at Granada Hills High School, but at a lanky 6-7, 185 pounds, his forte was throwing strikes. He went to college at California State University Northridge for three years before being drafted in the 20th round of the 2002 draft by the Rangers.
Despite his trajectory into professional baseball, Loe could never quite shake the feeling he should be throwing harder than the low 90s he was often around.
"When you're a big, tall guy I think it is expected that you throw hard," he said. "I definitely was not a hard thrower coming up. I started to hit 90 when I was in high school but I always kind of a soft thrower that kept the ball down. I did feel a little pressure to throw harder."
In his seven years in the Rangers organization, which included 47 starts and 60 relief appearances with the major league club, Loe said he tried a variety of workout programs designed at increasing velocity. It seemed like a good idea in theory, but in practice it wound up hurting more than helping.
"I've made mistakes," Loe admitted. "I tried doing a body builder's workout one year to put weight on and my shoulder got too tight. I was throwing hard – I was hitting 95, 96 – but my shoulder was too tight. There has been trial and error with trying to get strength."
Looking back, he feels his trips to the disabled list in 2006 and 2007 and the ensuing balancing act of staying healthy while finding strength led to the Rangers designating him for assignment in the summer of 2008.
"Pitching is such an unnatural motion, and a lot of tall guys who aren't natural athletes get back problems," Loe said. "You've got such long levers and all that strain is going to your hips and lower back. It's been a struggle for me. I have it pretty well under control now and I feel great now, but with everything comes a challenge. Even having the best tools will have its challenges because you're expected to do something. This game is really about learning yourself and learning who you are as a player and as a person and trying to grow that."
It's a struggle all tall pitchers deal with, even if velocity isn't an issue.
"I think when you have that kind of lankiness, it's difficult to try and repeat the delivery every single time," said the 6-5 Axford, who has always been able to throw hard. "Now that I'm stronger and bigger I've been able to kind of figure things out and repeat a lot easier than what I was in the past. My mechanics are a lot simpler now too. I'm sure Kameron would say the same thing, once you put a little more weight on it becomes a little bit easier too."
Axford smirked a little.
"There seems to be a certain expectation," he added. "Shorter guys throw about the same speed as you like to yell at you and saying they could throw 110 if they had your size and height, but they don't know how difficult it is being tall sometimes."
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