Southern Miss baseball is in the midst of one of its best seasons in school history as the Golden Eagles recently cracked the top 10 in numerous national rankings.
The key to Southern Miss’ success has been its pitching staff, which boasts of being in the top five of the country statistically in earned run average, strikeout-to-walk ratio, strikeouts and walks allowed per nine innings. At the forefront of these feats is one of the best starting weekend rotations in the country with Tanner Hall, Hunter Riggins and Hurston Waldrep.
This is the first of a three-part series that gives an in-depth look at how each of the weekend starters prepares throughout the week leading up to their game. Part one dives into midweek starter turned Friday night ace Tanner Hall, and a look into his love for breakfast, the science behind his workouts and his mental routine all translate to his achievements on the mound.
SATURDAY – THE DAY AFTER
Hall’s head rises on Saturday morning, and his body surprisingly has very few aches after throwing eight innings and 103 pitches against Rice.
Hall begins to prepare for another tough day, despite it not being his turn to throw on the mound. Hall starts his day by enjoying the Golden Eagles’ traditional Saturday morning breakfast of hashbrown casserole from Cracker Barrel before embarking on one of his most strenuous workouts of the week.
With the guidance of strength and conditioning coach Todd Makovicka, informally known as Coach Mak, thus begins an intense 45-minute weightlifting session that will have him lose over 1,000 calories. There are between 15-20 different exercises that include circuits, knee stability, pull-ups and core work in order to build towards accomplishing a personal best front lift of 325 pounds.
“It’s a very intense training environment,” Makovicka explains. “It’s not what you see at your local Crunch Fitness. It’s not hitting a lift and standing around. It’s very fast-paced training. It’s an intense lift but short and sweet.
“We take a lot of steps to warm him up. It’s not just starting with lightweight and then adding it up. We have that, but in between, we add a lot of things to get the body right, such as mobility of the scapula, mobility of the lats, activating the glutes, the hamstring, the quads to make sure he can produce the most amount of force within the weight room.”
After dressing out and feeling tired, Hall heads to go watch the Golden Eagles clinch their weekend series. But before that happens, midway through the game, Hall finds some leftover casserole. He quickly warms it up and scarfs it down.
“Breakfast is my favorite,” Hall remarks. “But more importantly, you have to be able to refuel your body after a workout like that.”
At the end of the long day, Hall heads home and turns on his computer. If it were a normal night for the business major, he would briefly go over his assignments that share the same due date that almost every modern college student as he battles the standard deadline of 11:59 p.m. But tonight, he sits downs and writes a paper before grabbing his standard seven hours of sleep.
SUNDAY – RECOVERY
On Sunday morning, Hall awakens and is faced with a decision that he imposes on himself three to four times a week. As he gets into his car to start his Sunday morning ritual, the question of ordering either the Working Man Sandwich or the sausage biscuit from local Hattiesburg restaurant Topher’s plagues him. As Hall pulls up to the drive-through, he eagerly requests the Working Man Sandwich.
As soon as he arrives at Pete Taylor Park, Hall sits down and savors each bite of the combination of eggs, bacon, chicken, and the crispy Topher’s toast that makes the $5.71 sandwich, tax included, worth every penny.
Afterward, Hall begins his next workout with Coach Mak. It’s a similar workout to Saturday but not as intense. The overall goal for each workout is not entirely strength but rather to develop a resting heart rate of 50 beats per minute. Makovicka’s philosophy is that if that can be developed, then it translates to a more efficient outing on the mound.
“We are trying to regain any lost mobility from his outing,” Makovicka said. “We’ll do things that basically oils up the joint. We try to get that shoulder moving as well as normal as we can while increasing the range of motion. We do a lot of mobility work. We do a lot of work that tries to pump blood in that area to help expedite the recovery process.
“You see in various studies that a lower resting heart rate allows you to throw harder and longer.”
After cruising through his workout, Hall faces the worst part of his week. It’s a 15-minute stretch on the dreaded stair master to conclude his workout – call it his necessary evil.
“Everything we do is not just one goal, but it’s a bunch of goals tied together with one commonality,” Makovicka said. “That pumps a lot of blood through his body being on the stair master and helps with the recovery. You want blood into injured tissue because that blood will carry the proteins and the amino acids necessary for the recovery.
“(Sunday is) easier, but Tanner would probably throw the stair master in the trash can if he could.”
TUESDAY – BULLPEN
The true preparation for his next outing on the mound begins on Tuesday. Following his regular arm care routine, Hall calls out for Poach, more formally known as Rodrigo Montenegro, his Friday night catcher, to come and get ready for the weekly bullpen session. With pitching coach Christian Ostrander, Hall may work on correcting something he did wrong in his last outing or maybe focus on a pitch that wasn’t working or just trying to hit certain spots.
“I like to be able to feel things out and go at about 60% effort,” Hall said. “I’ll work on a pitch that may not have been working on Friday. Like if my changeup feels off and my fastball feels fine, then I’ll throw the changeup five or six times. It lasts maybe at most 20 minutes.”
Hours later, Hall boards a bus to watch the Golden Eagles continue to make program history as they win their 15th straight game to set a new record with a win over Southeastern in Hammond, Louisiana.
THURSDAY – MENTAL PREPARATION
Hall completes another workout session before the team departs for Birmingham. After arriving at UAB’s field, Hall throws a brief bullpen session.
“Unlike most guys, I’ll throw 10 or 12 pitches when I get there,” Hall said. “I have to get a feel for the slope on the mound.”
As nightfall approaches, thoughts of tomorrow’s game enter the sophomore’s head. An intense visualization of Friday’s game unfolds in his mind. It first begins with a simple search on his phone to look at the upcoming opponents’ stats and then quickly follows with a diligent YouTube search for the opposing team’s highlights.
“I try to picture how I want the game to go,” Hall explains. “I don’t watch the complete game. I look at, say, a homerun highlight. If the pitch the guy hits is on the outside, then I’ll make a mental note to try and pitch more so inside.”
As the images of strikeouts and perfectly delivered pitches enter his mind, Hall finally drifts off to sleep.
FRIDAY – GAMEDAY
The next morning, Hall receives a text from Ostrander, and the duo goes over the upcoming scouting report together at breakfast. Then just after 11 a.m. Hall inserts his headphones to begin a trance-like state before arriving at the baseball field.
The lyrics, ‘The world know who I am,’ from rapper Youngboy NBA’s song Make No Sense, blares in his headphones to help set Hall’s mind right.
Just before his routine arm warmups and some sprints to get his heart rate going, Hall tracks down Coach Mak as he submits to his baseball superstition of having to chew a piece of 5 Gum peppermint until his last pitch in his outing is thrown. To honor the superstition, Coach Mak also joins in on the routine by chewing gum until Hall’s outing is over.
Finally, at precisely 5:23 p.m., Hall calls out for Poach to begin his final warmups for Friday’s game and then throws his last bullpen at exactly 5:50 p.m., just minutes before the first pitch and before the routine starts all over again.
“I enjoy what I do,” Hall said. “Because every day is an opportunity to do something better.”