Someone to know: Fastpitch softball pitcher Michael Cantrell

Written by Bob on March 20th, 2012


In just nine years, Michael Cantrell has become one of the young promising pitchers in the USA.
Contributed photo

“I’m a very antsy person, so when the fastpitch season is coming up all I want to do is play softball,” – Michael Cantrell

MECHANICSBURG, OH – Young pitchers who follow the heady advice of veteran pitchers generally have a good start in becoming first-rate fastpitch pitchers.

Michael Cantrell is one of them. Though he’s only 20 years old, he’s learned much in his nine years in the circle, where he windmilled his first pitch as a 12-year-old.

He credits veteran pitchers Rich Markham, Ron Marstiller, Scott Sutherland and Bill Hillhouse with giving him sound advice in learning the trade.

“Over the span of my career I have taken their information and used it,” Cantrell said. “All of them are successful pitchers, and combined they have a lot of knowledge.”

In his short career, Cantrell has already pitched in the NAFA World Series age 19 and 23-under tournaments for the Westerville (Ohio) Capitals and Ramsey Financial (Illinois), twirling his teams second and third place finishes in 2010 and ’11. He’s thrown four one-hitters, and one no-hitter, while compiling an impressive 10-3 record.

Cantrell has earned his stripes by pitching for several teams – the likes of the Capitals, Frankenmuth Driving School of Frankenmuth, Mich., and Jac & Do’s of Findlay, Ohio. And he also pitches in several leagues in Columbus, West Liberty, and Kidron, Ohio. He’s put on the mileage, traveling an hour and a half just to pitch in Kidron.

He’ll do anything within reason to get on the rubber.

“This season I’ll play in the Frankenmuth League during the week, and with the Capitals on the weekends (tournaments),” he said, adding that in the beginning while learning how to pitch, he didn’t get a lot of work with the Capitals. But that has changed with his steady improvement year-by-year.

“I think I have improved my game significantly and I’m looking forward to a second year as one of the main pitchers,” he said.

Let’s learn a little more about this left-hander who like several other young USA pitchers are the future of the sport.

How did you get your start pitching? I started when I was 12 after watching my sister, Sasha Cantrell-Farmer play fastpitch. I taught myself by watching the pitchers in her games.

When did you get your first opportunity in the male side of the sport? I started pitching competitively when I joined the Westerville Capitals when I was 15. This will be my seventh year playing for the Capitals.

What do you enjoy best about fastpitch? I love the quickness of the game, both in the shorter game time than baseball, and in the speed of the action. I love being able to play sometimes four and five games in a day at tournaments if necessary.

Becoming a fastpitch pitcher isn’t easy. What have been some of the challenges you’ve had to overcome? To be a pitcher you have to be mentally tough. At first, I wasn’t mentally tough, but after a lot of pitching and games, I have gained mental toughness.

Any other pitching challenges? Thinking too much at times. When I think too much, I tend to overthrow…I collect myself when this happens and relax and just throw the ball by being loose, and having good snap on the ball…My manager Rich Markham reminds me of this. I will also slow down my arm speed…My coaches emphasize that it’s important to know what causes “bad” pitches, and how to correct them in the middle of a tight situation. A key for a pitcher is to “recognize and correct.”

The pitch that gave you the most trouble to learn? The rise ball. My pitching coach Ron Marstiller told me that what matters is that you get underneath the ball, and that you have good snap with your fingers, and then the ball will do what it’s supposed to do.

What is your best pitch – your “go to” pitch? My drop ball. When a pitcher can spot the drop ball anywhere he wants to, it is a deadly and deceiving pitch. Last season, my main focus was the change up…this season I will be concentrating on my rise ball. I have a decent rise, but sometimes I hang the pitch low and in the middle because of mechanical errors that are fixable.

There’s so many different coaching theories. How did you decide what to follow and what to question? Do not believe a coach who says, “You HAVE to do it this way, because NO you don’t. There isn’t just one way to pitch fastpitch softball. There are a lot of different ways to pitch (effectively). A pitcher needs to learn from different (coaches and veteran pitchers), and then decide to use the style that best fits them.

Your most memorable experiences? My first win in 2007 at the NSA (National Softball Association) World Series in Salisbury, MD. I pitched against the Virginians…and beat them. And I was 3-for-4 at bat with two doubles. I was only 16 and I felt as if the other team looked down on me because I was young and kind of wild.

Every pitcher likes to get the “big strikeout.” Any come to mind? Against David Wiley at a tournament in Indiana. (He was on) a team stacked with open players. I pitched in relief and struck Wiley out after he had been crushing the ball all day. I threw him three straight outside change ups, and he went after every one of them and missed. (Yes! A young pitcher who realizes one of the most valuable “tools” a pitcher can have: the change up!)

One of the most important tourneys you’ve played in? The ASA (Amateur Softball Association) age 23-under National Tournament at Mankato, Minn. (Playing for Frankenmuth Driving School) We faced some big names, and I went 1-1 (record) and pitched the semi-finals, losing by one run to a really good team. And last year in the NAFA (North American Fastpitch Association) World Series, I pitched against Ramsey Financial, and lost only one game to the Free Agents, and was 2-0 with two unearned runs.

Most impressive pitcher you’ve seen? Sean Kelly from Michigan. He doesn’t have over-powering speed, but he’s fast enough. He moves the ball around and his ball moves a lot. He doesn’t give batters easy pitches to hit. Speed isn’t everything. Movement and location is the key to being a successful pitcher.

Along with yourself, which other pitchers are helping to keep fastpitch alive in Ohio? Another young pitcher my age playing weekend tournaments is Jon Labuhn. He also plays for the Capitals. He’s only in his second year of competition, but he’s improving fast. Two other young pitchers starting to pitch in the Chet Smith League are Ryan and Joel Brockman of the Jack Daniels team from Columbus. Their father and grandfather were very good pitchers.

What post-season tournaments will the Capitals be playing in this season? We will be competing in the NAFA World Series, and the ASA and NSA national championships.

Spring has sprung, are you ready for some fastpitch? I’m a very antsy person, so when the fastpitch season is coming up all I want to do is play softball.

5 Comments so far ↓

  1. eric legge says:

    good luck for the future- when you
    make it to the ISC then people will
    know who you are.

  2. Bob says:

    I don’t think a ball player has to make it to the ISC to know “who you are.” Many ball players compete in ASA and NAFA at various levels depending upon their athletic ability. So to Michael and all you young ball players and pitchers out there playing in whichever organization you choose, and at whatever level your athletic ability takes you, thank you for playing the sport that so many of us enjoy. Maybe your name won’t become a “know who you are” in the world of top-flight fastpitch, but believe me, you are making great contributions to the sport, and we admire your love and dedication for fastpitch / fastball!

  3. Rich Markham says:

    Bob, Thanks for the previous comment. I have played fastpitch for 50 years and one of the problems is the perception that the ISC and ASA Major teams and players are the only ones that matter. Too often this shows itself as a disrespect of the “elite” players for the lower level players. I have never been on that level but NOBODY has as much fun playing fastpitch as I do. More than 85%–maybe 95%–of the players in fastpitch do not and will never play fastpitch on the major level. We all look up to the elite players for their skills and usually try to get as close to that level as possible. But our players and games are just as important to the sport as the “elite” players and games. Which brings up an interesting point: Why should the game be governed and controlled for the benefit of the “elite”?

  4. Bob says:

    Right you are Rich – well said. And keep your young pitchers a chuckin’. The game desperately needs them and more like them.

  5. bob thurmes says:

    rise ball , Ron Marstiller is right on about rise ball. i could make a change rise break up and curve to the left at the same time. the rise was i’d say was twice as much a regular fast rise. put two knucles on the narrow face part of the seams and really get under it and snap it upward. you’ll have a great chane up if you can control it. most batter;s will not touch it.

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