Their first match up may be April 16th at Chase Field, the sinkerball specialist against the man who put together a 25/25 season one year ago. These are two players many baseball fans have enjoyed throughout their careers, because neither one takes themselves too seriously, until they step between the lines. At that point both Derek Lowe and Eric Byrnes become aggressive attackers, sparing no effort along the way.
I have enjoyed several memorable conversations with the hurler and the hitter separately and for my next few entries, they will share the space prior to their battles in Arizona and Southern California.
Daron Sutton: I understand you dad Don named you after Derek Sanderson of the Boston Bruins, a guy known for being feisty and stirring things up. It seems like he was prophetic with the word feisty and it may have described both of you.
Derek Lowe: My dad never let me win at all, in any sport, in anything and it drove my mom crazy. But I think it instilled a different attitude. We’d play basketball and he’d box me out, he’d block my shots and I was like 10 and 12 years old. We had a basketball hoop in our backyard and I remember the day that I finally beat him to the day and today it is still one of my top ten most favorite memories.
Sutton: Did it have an impact on you to have athletic and active parents?
Eric Byrnes: Yeah they were and it did, my dad’s a fourth degree black belt and he was a karate teacher for 20 years. My mom Judy is into whatever she’s into, tennis and such. You know what, my mom’s got a ton of energy, she’s 60 years old and she runs all around. She’s one of the few people in my life that I have a hard time keeping up with. She’s a ball of energy and you know what, I think that’s important. Many times children are a reflection on their parents and the one great quality that I picked up from both of them is that they’ve always had a lot of energy and whatever they’ve done in their lives and careers, they’ve put everything into it and I think that’s the most important thing.
Sutton: Your mom Diane was a tennis player and competitive, but you’d pick up a racquet once a year and take her down?
Lowe: Again, our family didn’t take it easy on anybody. So if you think that you are going to play with your mom and hit it nice and easy…no way. My sister was the same way , she was a tremendous athlete, played college volleyball. But that’s just how we were, we were very competitive and I still think today that that was a great thing to have, because you can bring it into your job, that drive to win.
Sutton: Was karate part of your childhood?
Byrnes: It was. I had an issue and what happened was that I was really into it at about 12 years old. I was this rebellious kid and whichever way my parents wanted me to go, I wanted to go the opposite. Plus I had a little anger management issue, where we’d get in these routines and then we’d do sparring. Well sparring was tough for me because there was no head contact, and it seemed like it would turn into a street fight for me and all I wanted to do was whack the other kid in the head. That happened a couple too many times and that’s when I ended up playing baseball and football.
Sutton: How many times did the kid from Dearborn, Michigan get to Tigers Stadium?
Lowe: I went to 10 to 15 Tigers games a year and never missed batting practice. That’s why I appreciate the signing for the kids and giving kids balls. I was that kid out there, real skinny, timid, never made eye contact with Major League players, because to me they weren’t even real people. You were in awe of them and to now be on the flip side of it and be able to give back. But, yeah, 10 to 15 games a year. Chet Lemon was my favorite player and I wore his jersey every single game. I don’t know why he was my favorite player but he was.
Sutton: What did you study at UCLA?
Byrnes: It was a History major with a specialization in Business Administration. I’m not going to sugar coat anything, I wanted the easiest major because I was playing baseball at a pretty tough academic school and that was History. Outside of U.S. History, there were a few international classes that I didn’t mind, but I wanted to learn something from the economics side and kind of intertwine the two. So I just start taking some econ classes and it was easier to get the specialization is Business Administration and that was the direction in which I went. There is no doubt that the degree is very important but a lot of times life is learning outside of a text book.
Sutton: How close were you to deciding to play college basketball?
Lowe: I signed to go to Eastern Michigan, that was my 100% intention because that was the only sport I was really good at. I wasn’t good at baseball at all. I may have been able to go to a school a little bigger, but I wanted to play, I was really skinny (175 pounds) and it was close to home. I signed to play basketball there and I never dream I’d get drafted, but I was drafted in the 8th round (by the Mariners). My intention then became to give baseball three years just to see how far I could get into minor league baseball and then go back and play basketball.
Sutton: You are the poster child for giving 100%.
Byrnes: The way I look at it is that I’ve got to make up for my lack of ability with a little hustle. It’s the one thing that you can control and there are so many aspects that you can’t control throughout the game. Hustling doesn’t take anything and it’s not very hard. To tell you the truth, I really don’t understand why more guys don’t do it.
Sutton: What do you miss about being a closer?
Lowe: First of all, I was doing it in Boston so every game is intense. Just the rush of being out there, it was something I never thought I would do, I always thought I was going to be a starter. The adrenaline rush of pitching the 9th inning in Fenway Park was hard to describe. I was lucky though because I pitched in the 9th inning like it was any other inning. I was fortunate to be a set up guy for a couple of years and that was the best way for me to go about it and it worked. I think now that I can use some of what I learned as a closer when I’m starting. There are times you have to get the big out when there are runners on 2nd and 3rd, and there are probably two or three times per start like that where you can’t let that guy score.
Sutton: You have shared with me that you enjoy a healthy debate and I know you’ve had radio and television experience. You may have a future doing my job.
Byrnes: I hope so. You know what it’s sometimes real tough for an athlete to make the crossover because so often you get pigeon holed as just a jock, the same way announcers are going to get pigeon holed with, ‘well he never put on the spikes’. I’ll tell you what, for the guys that say that about the broadcasters, that’s a whole bunch of bull. I understand that not everybody played at the professional level, but generally if you are a sportscaster somewhere along the way you figured out how hard this game was and I think the same is true when the shoe is on the other foot. Like I said before, I like taking a side and I like trying to argue it and defend that side and I’m going to have an opinion on just about everything.
If you have taken Byrnes side in the battle, you have won the debate in the early match ups. Eric is 9 for 17 against Derek for a .529 clip, without a single strikeout. In nine career starts against Arizona, Lowe is 2-4 with a 5.44, while Byrnes hits .380 in his 17 games against Los Angeles. More of the conversations coming up.
See you soon.