Garrett Olson is learning how to fly fish, an activity the 26-year-old Seattle southpaw finds strikingly similar to casting a baseball toward home plate. Olson, who studied engineering at Cal-Poly, talked about those similarities when the Mariners visited Fenway Park in late August.
“I think there are parallels between pitching and fly fishing. One thing I’ve been learning about, talking to pitching coaches within baseball, is relaxation. One of the first guys to bring up relaxation was Jim Palmer. When I was with Baltimore, he would come up and grab my arm — my pitching arm — and shake it around. He’d say, 'This isn’t loose enough; your arm should be like a noodle.' I never really understood that concept, but this season it has started to make sense to me how everything needs to be loose and relaxed in order for functionality to happen, in order for your body to do what you have been training it to do. If you go out there too tense and try to force a pitch over the plate, you’re most likely going to overexert something. You’re going to pull something here or there and not be able to have a consistent delivery.
“I think the same goes for hitting. We were watching Joe Mauer take batting practice when we were in Minnesota, and how he just kind of takes his hands to the ball. He is so relaxed up top, not a lot of tension at all, and a very relaxed face.
“Now, kind of going to that parallel with fly fishing, it’s all timing. It’s something that was introduced to me this year by Don Wakamatsu. He’s huge into fly fishing and would talk about the relaxed expression on your face. You should be relaxed during the motion of it, moving the line back and forth, allowing the weight of the line to create that momentum instead of trying to force a cast. When you send the fly out into the water, you kind of let that momentum build up and the same thing happens with pitching. You’re not trying to force a baseball to a target, you’re kind of letting that momentum build up from your body. Your hand is essentially a lever. You’re basically releasing the baseball out of your hand; you’re not really using your arm to throw the baseball.
“One thing that is huge for me is breathing, deep breathing. For anyone who doesn’t know what a good way of deep breathing is, it is breathing in through your nose and letting the air fill up to its max capacity. Then your lungs, and even your diaphragm, force all of that out. When you do that, you’ll notice that your shoulders are the first thing to go down, and from there it just transfers to the rest of your body and you feel very loose and relaxed. That is something that we’re trained to do in sports. If you talk to sports psychologists, or anybody who has played baseball, deep breathing is very important to help you get relaxed before you throw that pitch or step in that box to take a swing. Along with visualization and preparation, it helps you to have that relaxed focus out there.
“I don’t think there are any good tense fly fisherman. Again, I’m just starting this up, but watching other people doing it, watching videos, and practicing myself, it’s very graceful. I’ve been told that the best fly fisherman are actually women. They tend to be, because women kind of have that natural graceful presence about them, they don’t force things like guys do. You can’t be tense when you‘re casting a fly, just like you can‘t be tense when you pitch.”