7/2/05 – Daily News Record
After No College Postseason, Pitcher Excelling in the VBL By DUSTIN DOPIRAK Daily News-Record Stephen Ochs is pitching with something to prove this summer. The Harrisonburg Turks left-hander spent the whole college baseball season, his freshman year, on the Florida State travel roster, only to be left off for the postseason in favor of an older player in redshirt freshman Trent Jarvis who hadn’t traveled all season. While the Seminoles played on in to the NCAA tournament super regionals, Ochs was forced to keep track of the team through television and calls from his teammates. Ochs said he has no hard feelings for his coaches, saying that they always go with more experienced players and that he respected their decision and how the situation was handled. He said the coaches sat him down for a talk that lasted over a half-hour, explaining to him the reasons he was left off and what he needed to work on over the offseason. The snub is something that sticks with him, however. "It definitely lit a fire under me," said Ochs, who compiled a 5.02 earned run average and 11 strikeouts in 14.1 innings of relief work for the ’Noles. "It inspired me. It makes you work that much harder. I didn’t even see it coming, it kind of blindsided me." It was just as surprising to Tony Thomas Jr., Ochs teammate both at FSU and with the Turks. Thomas, the Seminoles’ freshman starting second baseman, roomed with Ochs in Tallahassee and was disappointed when he found out his classmate wouldn’t be joining the team for the NCAA tournament. "When he did pitch he did extremely well except for one outing when we made a lot of mistakes behind him," Thomas said. "… It was almost shocking that he didn’t make the postseason roster. I’m still looking for an explanation for that." The inspiration has been clear in Ochs’ numbers so far in the Valley League. He is 2-1 in four starts with a stellar earned run average of 1.67. In 27 innings on the mound, he’s struck out 26 batters while yielding just eight walks and just five earned runs. He appeared to be headed for another win Thursday night at Memorial Stadium against Woodstock. Ochs pitched a 1-2-3 first inning and the Turks (12-10) scored four runs in the bottom half of the frame on a three-run home run by center fielder Lucas Delong (San Francisco) and an error that scored first baseman Jeff Carroll (Ohio State). With the inning still going, however, the rains came and washed it out. Ochs is taking his snub as motivation, but he’s also taking his coaches’ parting words as advice. He was told he needed to work on developing his curveball and working inside to eventually work from the bullpen to the starting rotation. He starts for the Turks, so he will get more opportunities to work on those things. "I’m definitely developing my curve and my inside fastball," Ochs said. "When you’re relieving, you really don’t need three pitches. You only need two. They wanted me to develop a third pitch." As it stands, Ochs has an impressive fastball and a wicked off-speed pitch that he calls a "modified circle change-up." He holds the pitch with his first three fingers, but doesn’t put his thumb on the ball. "I was just messing around and seeing what would work," Ochs said. "It took me a long time to develop it and locate it. You learn to control it though, just toss it around." The pitch works like a screwball, which is especially baffling because it spins like a fastball coming out of Ochs’ hand. It eventually breaks down and away from right-handed hitters and down and in to left-handed hitters. "When he first throws the pitch it looks like a fastball," Turks manager Bob Wease said. "So you’re geared for a fastball, then 8-9-10 feet from the plate it’s a change-up and it’s running away from you. It’s really a great pitch and it’s really hard to hit. And if you do hit it, it’s usually a groundball to shortstop or a weak grounder to second." While Ochs is working towards starting next season, he’s also enjoying his summer in Harrisonburg. He’s one of the Turks’ leading pranksters and a practitioner of the ‘hot-foot’ gag, a mainstay in baseball dugouts for decades. The prank works like this: Stick a piece of tape on the back of a teammate’s shoe, sneak up on him and light it on fire. He probably won’t know what hit him until he smells burning rubber. Not even Wease himself has been spared. "He did it to me the other night," Wease said. "I started to sit down on a chair, then someone told me to look under the chair and that’s what I did. There was a little fire going on. He puts tape underneath the chairs, then he puts it down and lights it and it burns right up. I just laughed at him. I’ll get him back before the season’s over. I promise you. I can’t tell you how, but I will get him back."