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Bob Tewksbury Joins 'From Phenom To The Farm:' Episode 22

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“From Phenom to the Farm” releases new episodes every other Tuesday featuring players whose experiences vary across the professional baseball spectrum. Players will discuss their personal experiences going from high school graduation to the life of a professional baseball player.

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Bob Tewksbury has spent a majority of the last 40 years either playing or working in professional baseball in some regard. If not for a chance reunion with his high school baseball coach, he might never have even played in college.

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Post-high school, the athletic Tewksbury had accepted a baseball scholarship to Rutgers, but the small town New Hampshire kid found himself overwhelmed and homesick in New Brunswick. He left Rutgers, returned home, and shortly after found himself working at a mail-order bird seed factory with little clue of what he planned on doing with the rest of his life.

He ran into his former coach mid-shift, who was less than thrilled to see his former ace pitcher using his right arm to haul bird seed instead of throw baseballs.

“He kind of looked at me and said, ‘What are you doing here?’” Tewksbury said.

The interaction inspired Tewksbury to give college a second try, enrolling at St. Leo University, a Division II liberal arts school in Florida. He caught the attention of the Yankees, who popped him in the 19th round of 1981 draft, beginning a long career in baseball.

Tewksbury would prove to be a more productive big leaguer than the Yankees highest profile signee of that draft class, Stanford outfielder (and quarterback) John Elway, but Tewksbury’s climb to baseball success wasn’t quite smooth sailing.

His minor league numbers were certainly a product of the times, an era before pitch counts and innings limits. The control artist’s stats were stellar, never carrying an ERA higher than 3.54 in his initial march up the ladder, but with that success came a heavy workload on his arm. In his first full professional season in 1982, he tossed 13 complete games with Class A Fort Lauderdale, and subsequently missed a big chunk of the following season with arm trouble, in what would be a running theme during his time in baseball.

He overcame his injuries and made the 1986 Yankees out of spring training, but adjusting to the majors while dealing with a domineering manager (Lou Pinella), a ballclub full of difficult veteran personalities, and the constant pressure of the New York media made it tough for Tewksbury to cement a role in the show.

He bounced between the big leagues and AAA, eventually being traded to the Cubs and then signing with the Cardinals as a free agent before the 1989 season.

It was in St. Louis that Tewksbury began honing the mental side of his game, something that would foreshadow his post-baseball career and allow him to finally stabilize a role in a big league rotation. He focused on positive visualization and a systematic routine in his preparation, and put up 11.7 WAR during his age 29 – 32 year old seasons, highlighted by an All-Star season in 1992 and a league low walk rate.

Tewskbury retired after the 1998 season and went back to school—this time with more of a plan for what he wanted to do with the rest of his life than when he’d enrolled at Rutgers nearly twenty years prior.

He’d eventually earn his master’s degree in psychology from Boston University and has spent the past 15+ years working with both professional and amateur baseball players as a mental skills coach. He recently released a book on the mental side of the game (reviewed here by BA’s Kyle Glaser) and continues to use what he’s learned in both his big league career and post-retirement to help players reach their full potential.

On today’s episode of “From Phenom to the Farm,” former big leaguer Bob Tewksbury joins to discuss his time in professional baseball. He talks minor league life in the early 80’s, the importance of the mental side of baseball, and facing off against future Hall of Famers in the All Star Game.

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