06/02/05 – Dustin Dopirak , Daily News Record
Pitcher Heats Up Turks Written by Dustin Dopirak Daily News Record Chris Fessler has long hair, a love for heavy metal and a fastball that hits 94 miles an hour on the radar gun. Yeah, he’s a closer. Fessler recently graduated after two years at Yavapai Junior College in Arizona and has joined the Valley League’s Harrisonburg Turks for the summer. Manager Bob Wease is asking him to be his stopper out of the bullpen, and Fessler couldn’t be happier. "I love closing," said Fessler, who has signed to play at Division II powerhouse Central Missouri State next season. "You get to throw hard. I just like coming in and gassing people, that’s it." How long Fessler will remain in Harrisonburg is anybody’s guess. The rangy right-hander is expected to be taken in the Major League draft Tuesday. If he signs, his stay here will be short. "The guys I’ve been talking to say I’ll be going somewhere in the first 18 rounds," Fessler said. "If I go that high, I’ll probably sign." Until then, he belongs to the Turks. Fessler certainly has the tools for a closer. Beyond the fastball, he also is working on a slider and a change-up that can baffle hitters when they’re expecting heat. More importantly, Fessler has the mindset for the position. Closers don’t have a lot of room for error. They often have just one inning to pitch and have small leads to defend. Starters can have a bad inning, work through it and still win. When closers have bad innings, games end with them on the mound and the other team celebrating a comeback. It takes a high degree of confidence for a pitcher to withstand such dramatic failure. "He’s not afraid to challenge guys, and he deals with his failures really well," Yavapai coach Sky Smeltzer said by telephone Wednesday. "Guys coming out of the bullpen have to deal with failure a lot, and he has a good short-term memory, or I guess a bad short-term memory." Wease has only been working with Fessler for two days — the Prescott Valley, Ariz., native got into town Monday and started practicing with the team Thuesday — but already agrees with Smeltzer. "He’s got the bulldog mentality," said Wease, whose team opens the 2005 season with a 7:30 p.m. game Friday at Winchester. Fessler even looks like a closer and has similar musical tastes. His hair isn’t quite Mitch Williams length — his brown locks go down to about the bottom of his neck — but that puts him on a level with stoppers like the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Eric Gagne and former Cincinnati Reds Nasty Boy Rob Dibble. As a self-described "metalhead," counting Metallica and Pantera as his two favorite bands, Fessler would fit right in with major-league closers, who are known to use public-address systems to express their metal allegiances. For most of his career, San Diego Padres closer Trevor Hoffman has taken the mound with AC/DC’s "Hell’s Bells" playing over the loudspeaker. Gagne comes out to Guns N’ Roses’ "Welcome to the Jungle," and at Yankee Stadium, Metallica’s "Enter Sandman" is played whenever reliever Mariano Rivera pitches. Fessler could probably play his own anthem if necessary. He’s been playing guitar for five years. "My friend that was in a band got me into it," he said. "I’d say I’m pretty good." But he apparently doesn’t fit into some of the metalhead stereotypes. Smeltzer described Fessler as a quiet kid and had no objections when Fessler dated his stepdaughter, Rachel Lopez, when they went to Bradshaw Mountain High School together. They broke up when Lopez moved to Houston to play Division I volleyball at Rice University, but they still keep in touch. "He’s a very nice kid," Smeltzer said. "He does enjoy heavy metal music, but he’s really very quiet, very approachable off the field. He’s a really well-mannered kid." Fessler’s personal relationship with Smeltzer helped him get in to Yavapai last year after he spent his freshman season playing at Eastern Arizona Junior College. Fessler was actually recruited as an infielder, not a pitcher out of high school, and switched over midway through last season because he couldn’t break into the starting lineup on the infield. Fessler decided to transfer at the end of last season, and it helped that Yavapai is just minutes away from his home in Prescott Valley. Smeltzer, whose program has produced several major-league draftees, worked with Fessler’s mechanics, developing him into a player coveted by four-year schools. "At first, I thought it might be a little different," Fessler said of playing for his ex-girlfriend’s stepfather. "But it couldn’t have been better; he taught me all kinds of things." Fessler signed with Central Missouri State, the 2003 Division II national champion, in November but later got looks from Division I power Tennessee. Major-league clubs also have taken notice. Fessler has had tryouts with the Arizona Diamondbacks, Philadelphia Phillies and Tampa Bay Devil Rays. Smeltzer couldn’t get him too many innings on the mound, though, with 16 pitchers on the roster. Fessler said he got just 18 innings of work. Getting more work was Fessler’s primary reason for joining the Turks. "I need more innings," Fessler said. "I’m just looking to get some innings, work on some of the pitches I’m learning and go from there." Whether in the NCAA-sanctioned Valley League or in the minors.