Dr. Mike Marshall's Pitching Coach Services

April 02, 2000 Tampa Tribune

************************************************************************** Pitching guru undeterred by legal jam
Tampa Tribune
April 02, 2000

ZEPHYRHILLS, FL:  Che Stine, named by his free-spirited parents for the Cuban revolutionary, came to Mike Marshall last year feeling anything but rebellious.  Stine was 19, young for his condition, but there it was, nonetheless:  a classic dead arm, stressed to near uselessness by trying, without much training, something even less complimentary to the human elbow than alternately throwing screwballs and curves.

He'd had a fling as a high school javelin thrower, and now his elbow ached to the point that he could barely muster a Little League fastball.

But Stine had heard through the baseball grapevine that there was this pitching guru in Zephyrhills who, in exchange for nothing more than a 40-week commitment, would reveal the secrets of getting batters out.

So he came.  From Key West, where his hippy parents reared him, via Lake Wales, where his junior college career was brief and uneventful.  Now, baseballs sing spring's hopeful arias as they snap from his fingers.

Fit and optimistic, Che Stine is free to fantasize again.  "I think I'd make somebody a pretty good utility pitcher," he says.

"He can do better than that," says Marshall, 57, a master of pitching physics.  As a Major League relief pitcher, he once appeared in a staggering 100 games in a single season, and was, in 1974, the first closer - the guy who gets outs 25, 26 and 27 - to win a Cy Young Award, pitching's top honor.

Marshall spins dreams, and the county - through its Code Enforcement Board and administrator Fred Lowndes, its Planning Commission and, indeed, its board of county commissioners - wants him to cut it out.

So far, the county is winning.  But a fellow who's been summoned to dispose of Willie Stargell or Mike Schmidt or Reggie Jackson with the pennant, or the World Series, in the balance is not easily deterred.

THE BATTLE BEGAN in December 1998, following complaints of neighbors who said the pupils living in Marshall's Vinson Avenue duplex disrupted the neighborhood's peace with late-night parties and other forms of disquietude.  There also was dismay about the grunting and thumping that accompanied the pitchers' training.

Marshall squelched the boys-will-be-boys behavior.  Now, only he, his wife and youngest daughter live there.

And he addressed the thumping created by pitchers heaving 6- and 12-pound iron balls into reinforced wooden rebound boxes by refitting them with layers of sound-deadening padding.  Now, sounds emanating from the back yard register about the same as nearby bird songs on a sound measuring device he keeps handy.

"There's your "substantial adverse noise effect," Marshall says.  "This is music to my ears."

Code Enforcement was unimpressed.  Applying a shifting series of labels to his tutorials, from business to baseball camp to private school, all denied by Marshall, who takes no money, gives no degrees and promises no post-graduate job opportunities, the board demanded that he "cease and desist" ... something.  Activities, the board said.  Specify, said Marshall. Figure it out, the board replied.

SO, HE WONDERED, is backyard pitching prohibited in Pasco County?  What about giving advice?  Is it the county's intention to start rounding up youth league dads who collect neighborhood kids for impromptu clinics in their back yards?

To get along with the enforcement board, he agreed last summer - under threat of a $25-a-day fine - to seek a special exception to provide "professional services."

Marshall says administrator Lowndes said he would back him at the July hearing of the Code Enforcement Board.  (Lowndes did not return telephone messages Friday.)  Instead, the record shows Lowndes sloppily misinterpreted Marshall's petition, calling it an application to run a "professional baseball pitching school."

Exemption denied.

Despite Marshall's request for a continuance, board member Joseph Menicola moved to increase the daily fine to $250, the largest amount allowed by law and plainly a roughshod display of force.  This is the same Menicola who said at the June hearing, "We can decide anything we want, sir."

Raring back, Marshall hired appellate attorney, civil rights specialist and Stetson Law School Professor Michael Finch, who filed a lively petition with the 2nd District Court of Appeal in Lakeland that details the Code Enforcement Board's appalling tactics.

WHILE HE WAITS on the court, Marshall keeps his commitment to the several young pitchers who have committed to him.  For an hour or so each morning, he sits at a picnic table surrounded by heavy-duty netting in his back yard, studying the pilgrims, and occasionally tweaking their mechanics.  Usually, everyone finishes by 9:30, and Marshall goes inside to one remodeling project or another.

In another several weeks when they have finished, he will close his "illegal activity," at least until he's able to reverse his troubles with the county.

Interestingly, in the next round Marshall will be able to provide incontrovertible evidence that he is a hobbyist, not a schoolmaster.  Last week, he received from the state a certificate describing his activities as "avocational."

By then, Devil Rays right-hander Jeff Sparks, a sore-armed grunt turned Triple-A prospect, may be pitching at Tropicana Field.  And when he tells the story of how his career was revived under the eye of a certain squat, bald retiree in Zephyrhills, the kicker will be that a Pasco County board, dismissing the qualities of due process and ignoring other statutory requirements, shut Marshall down.

By then, county commissioners may want to have reviewed Finch's petition submitted to the district court.  The vague, flippant and arrogant behavior demonstrated by the Code Enforcement Board ought to send a chill down the spine of every property owner in Pasco.

Clearly, the county has some backtracking to do.

Happy Pitching Everybody

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