In almost every sport, bigger is better. Every athlete—especially those who play basketball—has dreamt about it. If only I was 5 inches taller...I could be that Division One point guard, that quarterback, that starting pitcher. While there are plenty of examples of guys who are not tall who have thrived, it's just a little easier if you are blessed with size.
Well, Johnny Hellweg was blessed with size. He was plenty big when he graduated from St. Dominic High School in 2007. Hellweg was 6 feet 4 inches. At that point, most everyone is done growing, but not Johnny. He grew and then grew some more. By 2011, he was a towering 6 feet 9 inches. He also was blessed with a special right arm. The Angels drafted him, and the Brewers acquired him in the trade for All-Star pitcher Zack Greinke.
The 25-year-old Hellweg responded by having a fantastic season this year in the minors: He was the AAA Pacific Coast League pitcher of the year, the Brewers minor league league pitcher of the year and was named to the All-PCL Team. He made his major-league debut June 28, and won his first game against the Cubs a little later. On Sept. 20, he pitched a solid five innings against the Cardinals.
Hellweg is not quite a polished starting pitcher yet. The growth spurts have changed some of his arm slots and it has affected his control. However, he does pitch in the high 90s and has a bright future.
How did it feel to have all this late growth?
There were days I'd wake up and there would be a weird sensation that the ground was farther away. I think last year was the first year I didn't grow a substantial amount, but it's been a journey getting to where I am now. I was happy being 6'4—that’s a good baseball height. Then I kept growing, growing and growing, and now I am overly tall. (laughs)
Who did you grow up idolizing?
I liked everyone...Ron Gant, Ray Lankford...I was watching Chris Carpenter when I was in high school, and he's over there in the other dugout. It's kinda surreal. I saw him during batting practice and I almost walked up to him.
How bad do you want this?
I always wanted it bad, but I wouldn't say it was a ‘want.’ I always had a weird feeling that I knew it was gonna happen, it was just a matter of when.
Tell me about the phone call you made to your dad after you found out you were going to the big leagues.
It's one I have been waiting to make for a long time. He was at a restaurant with my brother. I could hear him—he was going nuts. I could just see him jumping around and making a fool of himself, but he had a right to. It was a cool experience.
FIVE THINGS I BELIEVE:
1. If Matt Adams got 550 at bats next season, he would hit 30 homers with 90 RBIs. The Cardinals may be the only organization in baseball who couldn't give a talent like this 550 at bats.
2. If you ever doubted the power of the NFL, never forget this: The television ratings for the rain delay between the Seahawks and 49ers on Sept. 15 were higher than 60 Minutes.
3. There are two things that are worthless in life: a politician's promise and a college coach's contract. They sign these extensions that go for eight years. Then a year into it, they get an offer, and they are out the door immediately.
4. I think the Cialis commercials are great. I have learned that romance comes from activities like painting and rowing with your wife. I have never tried either, but I am buying some paint, a boat and some paddles tomorrow.
5. My new favorite thing in life are the playaways. They are books on tape at the library, they’re a little thicker than a credit card. You can never be bored if you are listening to one of those mystery novels.