PHOENIX — Before every start in the last three years, Chase Anderson has walked to the back of the mound, stooped down behind the rubber and drawn three sets of initials into the dirt with his right index finger.
AFHA. RDA. LW.
Three of the most influential people in his life have passed, and they continue to inspire and motivate.
"It gives me strength," Anderson said of his pregame routine.
"I know they can see every game."
Anderson, 26, made a major league debut for all to see in Arizona’s 5-1 victory over the Chicago White Sox last Sunday, on a Mother’s Day outing before his mother, his wife, his mother-in-law and other family members at U.S. Cellular Field. The text message tally was up to 105 by last Monday, and his Facebook account blew up, too.
He knows his father, Robert Dale Anderson, and grandmothers Annette Harris Anderson and Leann Wood are there, too. Icons, he has called them.
"Me and my dad were so close," said Anderson, who goes by his middle name. His first name is Robert, too, and Chase lived with his father in their home town of Wichita Falls, Texas, after his parents separated when he was 12.
"He raised me," Anderson said. "Sacrificed so much for me. We did everything together."
Anderson’s father, who moved to Fort Smith, Ark., two years before, suffered a heart attack on March 19, 2012, as Anderson was in spring training with the Diamondbacks. Anderson takes some solace in the fact that he and his father were together in Arizona just two days before, and his father got to see him pitch. As they did in Wichita Falls, where Anderson threw three no-hitters in his senior year at Rider High.
"The last time I saw him I got to say I love him," Anderson said.
Anderson admitted feeling the emotion of his first major league start Sunday. He could not eat much. The ham sandwich he eats before every game — he also shaves his face and does two minutes worth of pullups as part of his routine — was replaced by a smaller snack.
When the game began, however, Anderson was in complete control. He threw all three of his pitches — a fastball that topped out at 94 mph, a curve and a changeup — for strikes and faced the minimum 16 batters before Moises Sierra hit a one-out home run in the sixth inning to cut Arizona’s lead to 3-1.
Jose Abreu had the only other hit off Anderson, but left fielder Cody Ross threw him out at second base trying to stretch a single in the second inning. Anderson, who struck out six, was removed when he walked Tyler Flowers following Sierra’s homer.
"It’s definitely everything you could have expected. I wish I could have gone through six scoreless, but I couldn’t ask for much more than that," Anderson said. "I tried to stay even keel, but I was definitely nervous, butterflies in my stomach before the game. But it was a good day. After the first pitch I could calm down and say, ‘OK, it’s the same game,’ and go from there. You have eight All-Stars behind you. You just let them play defense."
The D-backs were taken by the way Anderson handled not only the White Sox but the moment.
"What impressed me the most was the way he attacked the strike zone," D-backs general manager Kevin Towers said. "He threw his fastball in to a pretty physical ball club. The White Sox, you look at their size, their strength, their power, the small ballpark. Most guys would tend to live on the outer half of the plate and won’t come in against guys like Abreu. He pitched inside-outside and mixed his changeup very well. He showed confidence."
It’s not easy.
"Your guts are all tied up," said D-backs left-hander Wade Miley, remembering his first major league start in 2011. "It’s a challenge to make the first pitch reach home plate, much less a strike. You think back to when you are a kid, 5 years old. This is the one dream, and now it is coming true. It is all happening in this moment. He’s got good stuff, a Bugs Bunny changeup, and he locates. He didn’t try to do too much. He stuck with what got him here and had success.
"It was exciting. I think I told ‘Coley’ (Josh Collmenter): ‘Remember that feeling you got. He’s getting that feeling right now. I wish I could have that feeling back.’ "
The D-backs could have promoted 38-year old Randy Wolf from the minor leagues to fill the rotation vacancy but chose Anderson after his strong start at Double-A Mobile, where he was 4-2 with an 0.69 ERA, with 38 strikeouts and six walks in 39 innings. His losses came in the only games he gave up runs, and he had a 21-inning scoreless streak when he was recalled. He worked hard to develop his curve ball during spring training, and the early results have been positive.
"Just trusting my ability. Trusting my stuff. Throwing my curveball for strikes when I need. That is probably the biggest thing this year," Anderson said. "Obviously as a starting pitcher you pitch off the fastball. Having all three pitches has definitely been a benefit to me."
Anderson gets loose before each inning by doing one pullup in the dugout before heading back to the mound, something he picked up from San Francisco right-hander Tim Lincecum a half-dozen years ago.
"On TV one time I was watching him pitch," he said. "He was lights out, and I saw him do it said ‘Hmm, I’m going to try that.’ Had a shutdown inning the next inning and just kept doing it. It keeps your scap(ula) and the back of your shoulder loose."
Anderson will make his second start against the Los Angeles Dodgers on Saturday, and perhaps you will take notice of the between-innings pullups. He will draw his inspiration elsewhere.