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Wednesday, February 25, 2009
Tim Lincecum: Behind the Shoot


Lincecum is ready to pitch, and actually let go.

Tim Lincecum was happy with the mitt. The shaggy-haired kid, wrapped in a pea coat and skull cap punched the leather pocket contentedly, his throwing hand balled into an affectionate fist. We asked if it needed a little oil, but he balked. "No, it's great. It's basically the one I use." A few minutes earlier, Lincecum was a little embarrassed. We picked him up at his Midtown hotel on a tease of a beautiful Manhattan day in January, the sun nosing its way through the hedgerow of skyscrapers just enough to warm the outside air to perhaps 15 degrees. "I hate New York," someone muttered from the back of the SUV. We sat in traffic. Lincecum had his jersey, cleats, a hat—all the essentials for an ESPN The Magazine photo shoot—but no baseball glove. So we set about with him, his agent, Dad and girlfriend in the back of the car, looking for a sporting goods store open on a Sunday before lunch.

"I have a black mitt," I'd offered. "We can swing by my place and get it." I didn't care about getting to the shoot on time. I wanted Tim Lincecum to wear my mitt.

"Is it a black Rawlings? It has to be a black Rawlings," said his agent. "Sorry, it's his deal."

Mine is an Easton. Dammit.

But a half hour later, we'd found a sponsor-approved model at a sporting goods store a block off Union Square. The salesman was helpful enough.

"It has to be a black Rawlings. A pitcher's glove."

"Well, we have these." He handed us one, then another.

"No—a black Rawlings. It's for Tim Lincecum. We have to have that particular brand."

"Oh."

He found one soon enough. We set up in a studio, and Lincecum, lost inside a baggy Giants uniform, fired pitch after pitch in front of a white screen, his form a consistent and violent Tazmanian whirl, minus the cloud. Behind the cameras, his father sipped coffee and held court. You'd be surprised how much Chris Lincecum enjoys this background, at least based on how much you hear of the mustachioed longtime Boeing employee with the Marlboro-tinted voice whenever someone writes about his youngest son. Chris taught Tim his famed motion, but he's the opposite of a dote. Does he get to many games?

"Just a couple. I went to his first start, and I caught him in Philly," says Chris.

"You don't look much like Tim," someone offers. "Well, it's like I tell people when they ask why we don't look alike, I didn't make him with my face."

The light mood extends for another half hour. A laugh or two, then silence punctuated by a camera flash. But after a while, as we near the end of the shoot, Chris shakes his head and winces a little each time Tim winds and throws. Chris tells me that it can't feel good on the elbow to keep throwing in the same motion without ever releasing the ball. We don't have a net, and at the end of each windup, Tim has to grip the ball tightly, lest it fly into a camera lens, or an eye socket, at 95 MPH. All the momentum, all the inertia, but no release valve. It's counter-intuitive, like yo-yoing from your knees. The motion the kid fine-tuned for years is cheated out of its resolution. But soon enough we finish. And like he does after a 140-pitch start, Tim says his arm feels fine.

The kid who looks like he should be asking for an autograph, not signing one, inks his name on the Rawlings label. It's the only place on the glove that could offer contrast for a black pen. He hands the glove to the photographer, and looks toward the door.

"He's getting pretty good at this stuff," says Chris. "He used to be terrible."