BULLPEN BOSS

A WCU baseball standout from the ’70s is coaching the Baltimore Orioles’ relief pitchers

By DAVID DRIVER

Rick Adair was a student at Spartanburg High School in the 1970s when he went to Cullowhee to visit cousin Wayne Tolleson ’78, who was on the Catamounts baseball team. Adair had his heart set on playing baseball at the University of South Carolina, but the feeling was not mutual. “I was told I was not good enough to play,” Adair said.

Rick Adair is now coaching in the big leagues.
Photo by Todd Olszewski, courtesy the Baltimore Orioles

While visiting Tolleson, he met Bill Haywood, head baseball coach at WCU from 1969 to 1981. Haywood came to see Adair play as a senior at Spartanburg High, and the young pitcher joined the WCU program the following fall. “He was a good left-handed pitcher with good fundamentals, so I offered him a scholarship,” said Haywood, now retired and living in Myrtle Beach, S.C. Adair enjoyed two seasons with Tolleson, a Spartanburg native who eventually played Major League Baseball.

During three seasons at WCU, Adair went from a non-prospect whose fastball topped out at around 85 mph as a freshman to throwing in the mid-90s by the time he was drafted in the third round by Seattle in 1979. “He learned how to pitch,” Haywood said. “We did a lot of work on his pickoff move and his mechanics. His pickoff move was as good as anyone in the world.”

Adair pitched pro ball for seven years and reached the Triple-A level, one stop below the big leagues. “He almost got there. If he would not have gotten hurt I think he would have made it,” Haywood said.

But Adair has made it to “The Show”  – as an instructor. He has worked as a Major League Baseball pitching coach in Cleveland, Detroit and Seattle, and held minor league positions with Cleveland, San Diego, Detroit, Atlanta and Texas. After working as pitching coach for the Mariners in 2010, he was named bullpen coach of the Baltimore Orioles for 2011 alongside new pitching coach Mark Connor.

Adair said as a bullpen coach he is an extension of Connor, although the former WCU standout does not make pitching changes or visits to the mound. “Mark and I were coaching together with Texas. We had conversations going back to the late 1980s,” Adair said. “The last couple of years, since I was at Seattle and he was a consultant with Texas, we said if we ever had a chance to work together that would be great.”

Adair finds his new job interesting. “I have never been in the bullpen at all as a coach,” he said. “I think the world of Mark as a person. He has been an adviser. His knowledge and expertise is awesome. He gives me the freedom to speak. We have about the same exact thinking on pitching.”

Adair is the nephew of the late Art Fowler, a pitcher and pitching coach for several years in the big leagues and pitching coach for the Yankees in 1988, when Tolleson was on the team. Adair has two sons – Dustin, a pro golfer, and Travis, a minor league infielder.

David Driver is a freelance writer living near Washington, D.C