Phil Klein is tearing it up on the diamond for Youngstown State this season. Klein has joined six other pitchers in YSU history to record 200 career strikeouts. Just this season, Klein has been named the Horizon League Pitcher of the Week, twice. He is the Horizon League leader with 61 strikeouts in 52 2/3 innings. He has earned four of YSU’s eight wins on the year. He struck out 13 batters against Toledo earlier in the season. He is Phil Klein, and if you were a Major League Baseball Scout, you would already know that. Klein will almost definitely get drafted and he has a very bright future in the sport of baseball.
Paneech: How much pressure is put on you to be a mentor to the younger guys trying to succeed as pitchers?
Klein: We have got so many young guys. Really, we only have a couple of upperclassmen who are pitching on this team. Things can go their way, but it isn’t consistent. You wonder what is going through their head, not so much the physical or mechanical stuff, but rather the what if they pitch good, what is going through their heads? We try to encourage them to think on an even-keel level to balance things out. There are times when it looks like they get it. Sometimes, these young guys will go out and have a really good outing, other times they get knocked around. I can only tell them so much, they have to learn how to be consistent.
Paneech: Supposedly, 90% of your power comes from your legs. How true is that to you?
Klein: I believe it. In the offseason, I focus more on running than lifting. If you don’t, you can put the ball over the plate and get hit around. I like to think I can go for as long as I can because my legs stay fresh from the work I have put in.
Paneech: Consistency is the biggest thing with any pitcher. You look at someone like Rick Ankiel. He was thrown into a relief role to pitch in a postseason game and ends up missing badly with every single pitch. How can a pitcher come unglued?
Klein: It all starts with the first batter of an inning. If he gets on, it gets in your head. Then he could steal, and it is further in your head. It can snowball until you regain your focus. By looking back at what happened, you give up a five or six run inning because the problems snowball in your own head. It starts with the first batter of an inning and all builds one way or the other from there.
Paneech: Do you prefer pitching from the stretch or a full wind-up?
Klein: I have no problem with either one of them. Last weekend, I was pitching out of the wind-up and my footing just felt wrong. I went from the stretch with no one on base because I felt more comfortable that way. It’s a feel thing, some people have a preference, but I am usually comfortable either way.
Paneech: You are blessed to have good coaches here. Coach Pasquale eats and breathes YSU Baseball. Talk about how these guys are to play for.
Klein: I talk to Coach Dan [Lipari] at least once a day. He’s a young guy but he knows his stuff. I can come at them with anything, and that’s the thing I like most. I can talk to any of them about school, baseball, girls, anything at all and they will be there for me.
Paneech: Having so much success at this level, are the big boys making their presence felt yet?
Klein: I filled out some paperwork for a few teams and have had conversations with some scouts. I am trying not to focus on that yet, but rather this team and this season. Those people cannot do anything for me while I’m in college and that kind of got in my head last season – always wondering who was watching and what they thought. It takes you out of the present, so I will worry about all that when the time comes.
Paneech: You look at Stephen Strasburg. He is babied along by the Nationals and then when they kind of turn him loose, he gets badly injured. Do you think him skipping this level was a mistake?
Klein: I don’t how much of Stephen’s problems came from mechanical things or if it was coaching. I feel like it is a benefit to work your way up because you are pitching to a better type of hitter each time you progress to another level.
Paneech: What kind of a hitter are you? If you get to the National League, you will have to bat.
Klein: (laughs) I would like to think I am a good hitter. I always tell the guys that if someone gets hurt, that I will go up there and take the three biggest swings you will ever see. I might not hit it, but I will take three big swings. If I played in the National League, I could always become a bunter.
Paneech: Lets talk Major League Baseball. Who do you root for? Who is your favorite player?
Klein: I am a big Boston Red Sox fan and Josh Beckett is my favorite player. He struggled early, but he is back on track now and has recorded plenty of strikeouts while keeping his ERA down around 1.00. His demeanor is even-keel and he is very intense. I can’t stand the Yankees and two of my roommates are all about the Yankees. It gets intense when they play each other and we throw our teams shirts on and have at it. I don’t wish bodily harm on any Yankee players, but I do hope they make ten errors and the Red Sox score 20 runs.
Paneech: What would happen if the Yankees drafted you?
Klein: (long pause) I’m going in there like it is any other team. I wouldn’t ask for piles of memorabilia. If I had to pitch against the Red Sox it would definitely be in the back of my mind that I grew up rooting for that team. I would have to take the right approach and do my best for whoever it is I am pitching for regardless of who it is against.
Paneech: Who was the best starting pitcher of all-time?
Klein: I would have to say Pedro Martinez back in the day. He was unreal. I also think Randy Johnson, Curt Schilling, and Roger Clemens were all the cream of the crop. Those guys were so good for so many years. These guys were good for 15 years.
Paneech: How are things going academically here for you at YSU?
Klein: I am a finance major. I am having the toughest semester of my life right now. I have two classes that I could spend all of my time on. I don’t care for the accounting as much as the stock market. The stock market is what I want to work with. If baseball doesn’t work out, I want to go into investment banking. They make good money. I love it here though. I get along with all of the guys on the team. i don’t think I would be nearly as happy at an Ohio State where there are 50,000 people running around and there is nowhere to park. I kind of like the size here. I had a couple of really good classes last Fall. I had Astronomy and Weather and really liked them. You know what the things are but you don’t know how they work. The worst class ever is one I have right now, it is a Financial Analysis class. The teacher flies through everything and I don’t get it. She might as well be speaking a foreign language. I have no idea on some stuff in there and have been to the teachers office a few times asking for help, it is rough.
Paneech: OK, here is $10,000, how do I invest it right now?
Klein: (laughs) I would throw a lot of it in Apple. Steve Jobs is having some health problems, but they always have something new to give their stock a big boost when it needs one. In three years they have returned 300% of what was invested. They always step up. I would spread it out though, and try to diversify your investment.
One Word Answers:
Favorite Fast Food Order: Taco Bell — Crunchwrap Supreme and Three Soft Tacos w/ Sour Cream.
Biggest Fear: Snakes.
Worst Habit: Being a Perfectionist.
Favorite Pitch: Slider.
Best Baseball Movie Ever: Bull Durham, hands down.
Favorite Gum: Eclipse Spearmint.
Favorite TV Show: Two And A Half Men.
Best Musician Out There: Jason Aldean.
Best Christmas program You Look Forward To Each Year? Christmas Vacation.
Best Player In Baseball Who Plays Somewhere Other Than Boston: Robinson Cano.
Ultimate vacation: Australia.
Tell me What You Think of Groundhog Day: It’s a waste of time… regardless of whether or not the groundhog sees his shadow it is going to be cold anyway. Valentine’s Day is a worthless holiday too, and I have a girlfriend.