Potent Pitching

By IAN WILSON

Luring one of the most mild-mannered players in Major League Baseball (MLB) history to charge the mound is an unusual achievement, but it’s one that Lou Pote can celebrate.

The 6-foot-3 right-handed pitcher was with the Anaheim Angels in 2001 when he did the nearly impossible: he made Hall-of-Fame designated hitter (DH) Edgar Martinez mad … like, really mad.

It was the sixth inning of an early October game in Anaheim between the Angels and the Seattle Mariners, who finished that season with an American League (AL) record 116 wins.

“During the course of the year, our pitching staff had done a pretty good job of getting him out. One of the things with getting him out was we got him off the plate. I know personally I’d done that a couple times that year,” Pote told Alberta Dugout Stories.

“That night, we’re sitting in the bullpen and one of the Mariners relievers, it might have been Jeff Nelson, said ‘Eddie said if he got knocked down again he was going to charge the mound.’ A couple innings later, I get in the game and I threw him a fastball up and in and he’s diving over the plate to try and get fastball or cutter away … it runs in and hits him in the hand, then hits him in the face and he goes down.”

As Pote asked for another baseball from the umpire and catcher Bengie Molina checked on Martinez, the bullpen premonition came true. It unfolded quickly … but also sort of slowly.

“Next thing I know, it kind of happened pretty fast, he’s running at me,” said the Illinois product, now a pitching coach with Dawgs Academy in Okotoks.

“I had lots of time … Eddie wasn’t very fast … and then one of the slowest people chasing in Bengie Molina.”

Clearly, the former Calgary Cannon felt he was being targeted by the Angels pitching staff.

“I remember when he was running out there, he kept yelling, ‘Five times!’ He was like, ‘Five times! Five times!’ Then he takes a swing at me, and I duck and the next thing you know we’ve got two teams piled up,” said Pote, a 29th-round pick of the San Francisco Giants in 1990.

Martinez was hit by pitches nine times that season, so it’s unclear if the “five times” was in reference to the number of times he’d been struck by that point of the season, or if that’s how often the Angels managed to tag him.

After the game, Pote told reporters he had no intention of plunking Martinez, but Seattle centre fielder Mike Cameron noted a pattern of Anaheim hurlers trying to pitch the team’s prized DH up and in. Several of those baseballs missed the mark, resulting in a collection of bruises for Martinez.

“They’ve hit him before,” Cameron told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. “I tell you what – they flicked a switch (in Martinez) that I’ve never seen before.”

Getting back to the aftermath of the scrum, Pote could hear the soothing tone of an unfamiliar voice in his ear.

“It kind of breaks up, and somebody has me and I can’t move, and I’m trying to get away and the guy is like, ‘Dude, relax. Dude, relax.’ Finally, he puts me down and I look and it’s Jay Buhner,” said Pote of another popular Mariner who suited up for the Calgary Cannons.

“He said, ‘You just got charged by the nicest guy in baseball.’ So, that was pretty funny. Thinking back on it, it was funny that he said that, funny that I got charged and then once it cleared, Eddie got thrown out of the game and then it wasn’t funny anymore.”

When action resumed, the bags were juiced with one out for John Olerud, who hit a double that cleared the bases.

“I wasn’t real happy at that point,” recalled Pote.

It was one of 21 Mariner hits that led to a 14-5 victory for Seattle.

“I’d never seen Edgar get that upset in all my years with him,” Mariner manager Lou Piniella said in his post-game comments in the Seattle Times.

The incident led to the only suspension of Martinez’s 18-year MLB career.

HOME RUN HISTORY

The Mariner melee was part of a career year, in many ways, for Pote, who set major-league personal bests for innings pitched (86.2), game appearances (44) and strikeouts (66) in 2001. He also posted a 2-0 record with a 4.15 earned run average (ERA) and a pair of saves as a middle reliever.

There was another dubious distinction, however, that stood out from that campaign and it was one that placed Pote in the history books. During a mid-June matchup against the Giants at Pacific Bell Park in San Francisco, Pote entered the game in the sixth inning and faced Barry Bonds.

“My agent at the time wasn’t a big fan of his and he said, ‘You should hit him. I’ll give you some money if you hit him.’ My thought process was I want to strike him out … didn’t happen,” said the Kishwaukee College alum.

With the count at two balls and one strike and the Angels leading 8-3, Pote fired a fastball in that Bonds had no problem handling.

Pote had spent some time around Bonds during his time with the Giants organization in the early 1990s and he recalled the slugger saying at batting practice that he could tell as soon as he hit a ball if it was a home run or not.

“As soon as he hit it, I looked at our centre fielder, Darin Erstad, and then I turned around and looked at Barry and he’s going into his home run trot. Where he hit it, it’s the wall with the bay, McCovey Cove, and the centre field wall where they meet, so it’s like the deepest part of the park,” said Pote of the 430-foot blast.

The long ball was the 34th of the season for Bonds, who set a new single-season home run record that year with a final tally of 73 home runs.

“It’s pretty cool when you look back at it. I’m part of history,” said Pote.

WORLD SERIES WINNER

The 2002 season offered Pote the opportunity to do something that Martinez or Bonds never did – win a World Series ring.

While Martinez did get a measure of revenge for Pote’s bean ball by launching a 12th-inning, game-winning home run off of him in late September of that year – the last homer that Pote surrendered in his big-league travels – it was the Angels who made a playoff run as the Mariners looked on.

After dispatching the New York Yankees in the AL Division Series, the Angels beat out the Minnesota Twins in the AL Championship Series. That setup a World Series final against Bonds and the Giants, which the Angels won in seven games after overcoming a 5-0 deficit late in Game 6.

“I didn’t get to pitch but it didn’t matter because the manager has got to do what he thinks best. I thought it was the best decision, too,” said Pote, who appeared in 31 regular-season contests in 2002, logging just over 50 innings of work.

“Obviously, I would’ve loved to have pitched but when you’ve got Francisco Rodriguez coming up and doing what he did, it makes it a little bit easier. Ultimately, I knew kind of how it worked. Guys who were middle innings guys were usually left off the roster … I was a team guy and whatever they thought best, regardless of what I thought, it was the best decision.”

Rodriguez, who went by the nickname “K-Rod,” went 5-1 in the postseason and picked up the win in Game 2 for the Angels. He also led the team in strikeouts during the World Series.

“It was something that as a kid I always dreamed about,” said Pote of the championship title.

“For it to become reality was something I’ll never forget. It was the guys on the team that made it so special. It was a tight-knit group. A lot of them I still keep in touch with to this day.”

LENGTHY PLAYING CAREER

It was a long road from being the 787th overall pick of the Giants to becoming a World Series champion with the Angels.

Pote spent five years in the Giants organization before he was dealt to the Montreal Expos for pitcher Luis Aquino in 1995. Two years later, he received motivation to elevate his game beyond the Double-A level.

“It was probably one of the most memorable days in my baseball career when somebody told me I wasn’t good enough. I got released at the end of spring training, and I’m a big believer that some things happen for a reason. I went home, worked, played for a summer team and then I got a phone call in August from the Cardinals,” recalled Pote, who pitched effectively in his 23-plus innings for the Arkansas Travelers in 1997.

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1998 baseball card of Lou Pote

Despite posting a 1.54 ERA and 21 Ks in seven appearances for the St. Louis affiliate, the Cardinals did not resign him. Instead, the Angels inked Pote and he played in Midland in 1998, where he had a workhorse season that included six complete games. The next year he finally earned a promotion to the Triple-A level with the Edmonton Trappers of the Pacific Coast League (PCL).

Pote made 23 starts and logged 150 innings for the Trappers in 1999, going 7-9 with a 4.50 ERA and 118 strikeouts. The parent club took notice and on Aug. 8th – his mother’s birthday and nine years into playing pro ball – Pote received a call from Trapper manager Carney Lansford.

“He told me I was getting called up to the big leagues. Pretty cool day, special day on mom’s birthday and something that I’ll never forget,” said Pote, who made his MLB debut a few days later.¬†

Pote split time between Anaheim and Edmonton in 2000, during which time he was converting from a starting pitcher into a bullpen beast. He picked up a dozen saves for the Trappers that year.

FREQUENT FLYER

His departure from Anaheim after the World Series win resulted in plenty of travel for Pote, who played for the Hanshin Tigers in Japan in 2003.

“It was a lot different from what I expected. I thought the culture and food and everything was going to be the biggest adjustment and it was the complete opposite. It was baseball was the biggest adjustment, and I didn’t really adjust to it,” he said.

“I went over there for one year and had a blast. I learned a lot about myself, I got to see Japan and meet a lot of great people.”

From there, he returned to North America and bounced around before the Cleveland Indians gave him a shot. His last MLB appearance took place on June 9, 2004 when he worked a scoreless ninth inning during an 8-1 victory over the Florida Marlins.

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Lou Pote grips a baseball at Seaman Stadium in Okotoks … photo by Ian Wilson

His days on a mound were far from over, however.

Pote spent a couple of years in the minors with the Texas Rangers organization before Alberta came calling again. By that point, Pote had started a family in Edmonton and pitching pals Scott Richmond and Reggie Rivard were members of the Cracker-Cats of the independent Northern League. They convinced Pote to join them in 2007. The 35-year-old was a steady starter and trusted arm out of the bullpen, going 8-8 with a 4.21 ERA and five saves.

He played the next year in Taiwan before suiting up for the Edmonton Capitals. The independent-league team was owned by Daryl Katz, who also owned the Oilers of the National Hockey League (NHL). From an operations perspective, the difference was noticeable.

“To go from playing for the Cracker-Cats, where there was no following, to the front office of the Oilers taking over the team and running it the way they did, it was awesome to come back and see baseball the way it should be in Edmonton,” said Pote.

CAPITAL GAINS

This was the stretch run for Pote, who was cast as a starting pitcher once again, and he made the most of it. He was named a Golden League All-Star in 2009 and 2010. In his final season, the 40-year-old won a North American League championship and was named the postseason MVP. Pote pitched seven strong innings during a series-clinching 7-3 triumph over the Rio Grande Valley WhiteWings.

“It was just a special way to go out. I look back at my career and I don’t really have any regrets because I laid it all on the line and played as long as I could and I kind of went out on my own terms,” said Pote.

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Pote (middle) celebrates his North American League championship with his Edmonton Capitals teammates in 2011.

With his playing days behind him, Pote was not yet done with the game of baseball.

He started coaching in Fort McMurray and the Edmonton area, before joining Dawgs Academy in Okotoks.

“It was something that I wanted my kids to be a part of, and it was something I wanted to be a part of, too,” said Pote of the Dawgs program.

“It’s an opportunity to get as much baseball as you want. For a dad to be able to spend some time with my kids at work, it’s awesome.”

Pote has three sons, 12-year-old Dane, 15-year-old Owen and 16-year-old Conor. His eldest boy is starting to generate headlines of his own. Conor, a third baseman and pitcher, was named the best player in his age category by Baseball Alberta in 2019. He also attended the prestigious Tournament 12 (T12) event in Toronto last year to compete against Canada’s best baseball prospects.

All three boys have likely heard plenty of baseball stories from their father, as have other students at Dawgs Academy, but Pote said he tries to keep his glory-day yarns to a minimum.

“When I first got here, you know, I would tell a couple stories here and there, but a lot of times I want them, if they have any questions to ask me. Sometimes, it’s like here comes another one of their stories, right?” said the pitching coach.

“If somebody gets a home run hit off of them, I’ll go out there and I’ll say, ‘Well, you know what? You know that restaurant at centre field at the SkyDome, now Rogers Centre? … Well, I gave up a couple balls out there, so that one wasn’t as far so it ain’t as bad, right?’ Just to kind of lighten the mood a lot of times.”

Nonetheless, questions about Pote’s MLB experiences come up now and then.

“One guy, a couple years back, had Googled me and that was the first time somebody had asked me about Edgar, so that was pretty cool getting to tell the story and see the reactions. It’s all pretty cool and I like to share every once in a while, but I don’t like talking about myself too much.”

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One thought on “Potent Pitching

  1. Lou Pote is a class act and one of the good guys in baseball. The Dawgs are lucky to have him.

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