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Saturday, July 18, 2009

Cole could hit 100 mph at Aflac game

Jim Ecker        
A.J. Cole gave up a home run on a 95 mph fastball at the WWBA 17U National Championships in Marietta, Ga., last week, so he rared back and put something "extra" on his fastballs after that. The radar gun flashed "97" and "98" on pitch after pitch, with Cole determined to keep all the rest of the balls in the park.

True story? "Yeah, that's accurate," he told Perfect Game.

"He hit a good pitch," said Cole. "It was between his knee and his thigh. He just stuck his bat out, I guess. I missed my spot a little."

Cole, a tall, lanky 6-foot-5 righthander from Winter Springs, Fla., had hit 97 in a game before, but had never thrown a pitch at 98 in his life. Now he's thrown several.

"It surprises me, that I can actually do it," he said. "I just started trying to throw a little harder."

Cole will take his talented whip to the Aflac All-American High School Classic at PETCO Park in San Diego on Aug. 16, a member of the talented East squad. Maybe he'll have reached 100 mph by then, or maybe he'll hit 100 in San Diego.

"I'm trying," he said. "I'm trying for it. It's been a dream of mine since I started pitching."

Cole pitched for the Orlando Scorpions Black team at the WWBA tournament. He was extremely impressive, aside from that home run, with a smooth, easy delivery, explosive fastball and nasty breaking balls. A lot of batters swung and missed at his heater, then got fooled on breaking balls and had a series of check-swings for strikes.

Cole credits Brad Stilwell, his personal pitching coach, for his development on the mound. Stilwell worked with Cole on an AAU team in Florida, and then Cole's family hired him as a personal tutor.

"He was all 'arm' in the beginning. I give Brad all the credit," said Kathy Cole, A.J.'s mother.

Stilwell told Cole to imagine a cow kicking a bucket when he pitched. It may sound silly, but it worked.

"That's what he said," Kathy Cole related. "Like a cow kicking a bucket. I said, he's not a farm boy. I'm not sure he understands."

Actually, Cole did understand. Stilwell told him to start his motion, lift his left leg and picture himself holding onto a pole, straight up and all even. "Then," said Cole, "when you start to go, you push off and you kick the bucket. I don't know, it just all made sense to me, real quick. He found a way to make me understand.

"He played a major role," said Cole, "because he taught me all the mechanics and how to actually use my lower half to throw."

Cole began to take baseball seriously when he was about 12 years old, according to his parents, and played on a 12-and-under team called The Bomb Squad that compiled a gaudy record of 89-5-2. When he was 15, he played on the USA Baseball 16U team that went to Venezuela for a tournament and won the gold medal. He's committed to play college baseball at the University of Miami (Fla.), but that could depend on what happens in the 2010 draft.

Right now, he's playing summer ball and looking forward to the Aflac game in San Diego.

"It's an honor to play over there," he said. "I know it's a really big event, because one of my friends went last year."
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