Oswalt: Big-time pitcher is small-town guy

"It doesn't really matter how hard you throw, these guys are going to adjust to it . . . ," Roy Oswalt said.
"It doesn't really matter how hard you throw, these guys are going to adjust to it . . . ," Roy Oswalt said.
Posted: August 01, 2010

WASHINGTON - Even if Roy Oswalt throws three Don Larsens in the World Series, if Philadelphia falls in love with him forever and he falls for the city right back, Oswalt won't be one of those ballplayers who settles in the city, calling it home.

Roy Oswalt has a home, in the woods of Mississippi. He owns a hunting lodge there on his 1,000-acre ranch with "the finest whitetail deer herd in the South" and fishing lakes plus imported exotic animals such as gemsboks, blackbuck antelope, and mouflon sheep. During the off-season, Oswalt is on his Caterpillar D6N XL bulldozer when he doesn't have a gun or bow in his own hands.

Oswalt grew up nearby in Weir, a no-stoplight town, population 553. This area of central Mississippi is home to his wife, too. The Oswalts, Roy and Nicole, began dating in the 10th grade after meeting at a choir concert. They attended neighboring high schools, and Oswalt may be the only big-leaguer whose wife batted against him in Little League.

Oswalt's parents still live in Weir. They've decided to stay there, rebuilding after an April

tornado that ravaged the home Roy grew up in, knocking down the outside walls of the brick four-bedroom as Roy's mother and her dog, Sweetie, rode it out in a closet. (The headline in the next day's Jackson Clarion-Ledger: Woman, dog emerge from closet to find Weir home blown to pieces.)

"The community is a really good place," said Oswalt's older brother, Brian, who coaches high school baseball in Brighton, Tenn., outside Memphis. "The neighborhood got together - as far as I know, everybody is building back."

Before Oswalt turned professional, signing an initial half-million dollar contract with the Houston Astros, he went to nearby Holmes Community College. (So did Nicole; she played softball.) Roy still shows up regularly in the off-season, said Holmes coach Kenny Dupont.

"If he comes here, a lot of times, he'll be in camouflage," Dupont said. "I've seen him throwing bullpens in camouflage. He's just down-to-earth. He's kind of quiet, shy, but once he gets to know you, he'll rattle and rattle and rattle."

Oswalt's father, Billy, a Vietnam War veteran, is a hunting scout, leading parties at Roy's Double 4 Ranch. (For the name reference, check the back of Oswalt's baseball jersey.) When Roy was growing up, his father was in the logging business.

"He cut pulpwood and sold the timber," Dupont said. "He was a hardworking man. The timber business is a pretty tough business. Even when he was here, Roy knew what he wanted to do with his life. I used to have to run him off the field. He'd have a five-gallon bucket, filled with balls. He'd have a long toss with himself, in the rain."

From an early age, the Oswalt boys also were hunting.

"I guess I started when I was 10, when he was 7 or 8," Brian Oswalt said. "We started shooting like a .22 rifle. I think my dad thought we would never kill anything. The next year or two, he got probably one of his best deer he ever killed. I think he was 9 or 10. We have a picture of him standing with it. It was an eight-point."

In community college, Oswalt had a "very easy demeanor - put him between the lines, he was fierce. I used to call him a bulldog," Dupont said of his 6-foot pitcher. "If the other team started 'yeah, yeah-ing' out there, you almost had to calm him down. Roy would show them his glove, tell them what was coming, and throw it by them. He'd buzz them with a 96 m.p.h. fastball."

When Oswalt gets to know his teammates, he may start telling them some tales. Like the one about the particular deer he stalked one off-season, bypassing bigger bucks to get this one elusive target, how he'd nicknamed it Eight Ball, and finally got it the day before the deer season ended. Or the one about his miraculous shoulder-healing in single-A ball, back in 1999. The shoulder had been killing him late in the season, into the off-season, until he went to work on this old truck he'd bought.

"It had a miss in the motor and I was trying to find out why it was missing," Oswalt said Saturday in the visiting clubhouse at Nationals Park. "I was checking sparkplug wires. I picked up one that had melted on one side of it. When I grabbed it, it started shooting bolts through me. I couldn't open my hand. I'm thinking, 'How am going to get off of this thing?' The only thing I decided was to just jump back."

That maneuver worked, Oswalt said, and "almost instantly, my shoulder just felt like 10 times better, like it had been welded back together or something. I was like, 'There's no way that fixed my shoulder.' I've never had a problem since then."

He knocked the side of his wooden locker.

Whatever wasn't going right for him in his Phillies debut Friday night - through the first five innings, Nationals lefthanded batters got on base nine times in 12 plate appearances - Oswalt still didn't sound particularly concerned the day after. He suggested he had been more worried last season when he had a 4.12 ERA, the highest of his career.

"Coming into this year, my mechanics kind of fell back in sync from the year before," Oswalt said. "I felt real good coming out of the gate. I just felt the ball was coming out of my hand better than it was the year before. It seemed like the year before I was fighting my mechanics the whole year."

Phil Garner, who managed Oswalt from 2004 to 2007, including two 20-win seasons and the Astros' National League pennant year of 2005, said Saturday, "Roy's at his best when he thinks he has a chance. I think Roy gets a little bit bored. I don't think personal numbers mean that much to him."

He is a different pitcher from those early years, the 32-year-old acknowledged.

"When I first came up, I was little more of a power pitcher, at 97 [m.p.h.] most of the game," Oswalt said. "Now, you've got to be a little bit smarter. Now, I have a change-up. You learn as you go. It doesn't really matter how hard you throw, these guys are going to adjust to it before the game is over."

A younger Oswalt once told an interviewer: "It's fun to see the fear of the hitter - especially if you've got a big-name hitter up there, and you throw inside, you can tell it gets under their skin." That part hasn't completely changed, he said Saturday.

"I still have a fastball," he said with a smile.

Oswalt again talked about how he had no qualms about coming to Philadelphia, how the rumors of his wanting no part of the city were unfounded.

"He told me everybody's high- strung there," said his brother Brian. "That's a good thing. That's one of the things he said, how you can walk through the mall and ask how the team did today and they can tell you the score."

"I grew up in a town with 500 people," Oswalt said. "The size of the city doesn't really matter. Anywhere you go is going to be bigger."

In the off-season, he'll be back home quick enough. Oswalt's Double 4 Ranch books hunting groups. Among other packages, there is a $4,000 three-day deer hunt, gun or bow, fully guided, maybe with Roy's dad as a guide, and a $2,000 two-day turkey hunt.

The ranch booked a few groups during the last off-season but is going to do it only during baseball season this year, Oswalt said. Pennsylvania hunters and Phillies fans shouldn't get any ideas for a road trip.

"You kind of want some time for yourself," Oswalt said.

Contact staff writer Mike Jensen

at 215-854-4489 or mjensen@phillynews.com.

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