OU pitcher Magnifico throws 100 mph
NORMAN — Maybe it’s the name — one that seems appropriate for Open Mike Night at the local Laugh Factory — that makes us believe there’s no way we should believe.
Damien Magnifico! And he throws 100 mph?
“A lot of people ask me if I really throw that hard,” said the Oklahoma pitcher. “But I don’t like talking about myself. I just tell them to come to a game. Maybe you can see for yourself.”
See it, sure. Believe it?
It’s got to be a trick, but without the cape or puff of smoke. Kids of all ages, radar guns and our own eyes see it, but somehow that’s not enough.
So we go to the great arbiter of our time — the internet. And unless the number of YouTube hits with videos from fans with their mouths half open and their iPhones shaking are lying, the right arm from Oklahoma pitcher Damien Magnifico seems to be as magical as his name.
He throws 100 mph. But Magnifico’s greatest trick is the fact he has accomplished the feat over and over.
“My mentality is pitching, not just throwing,” Magnifico said.
Few things in baseball get people buzzing more than the home run, but throwing, pitching or speeding at triple digits does. It brings out scouts armed with the lie detector called a radar gun and creates self-inflicted, hand-to-the-side-of-the-face slaps when the numbers hit the scoreboard like it did in early April when Magnfico touched 100 or faster more 22 times in his start against Arkansas.
“That’s a special thing,” Oklahoma coach Sunny Golloway said. “How many men walking on this planet can do what he does?”
Sounds like another question only Google could answer. But what we do know, in not-so-scientific terms, is not many. So to find out how, you have to pull the curtain back and go back stage to see how this act got going.
Born in Dallas, Magnifico was the kid no one else wanted to play catch with. “Ever since I first started playing, I was always throwing harder than everyone else,” he said. “I guess I threw too hard. I’d have to play with my dad instead.”
Magnifico went on to North Mesquite High School and was drafted in the fifth round by the New York Mets in 2009. He didn’t come to terms with the Mets and ended up at Howard Junior College in Big Spring, Texas. He also ended with an arm injury which turned into missing a season before he ever got on the mound.
And like so many others, the surgery may have made his right arm stronger.
“We thought he’d be a high-90s kind of guy,” Golloway said. “That’s what got him drafted out of high school. But we didn’t know that he could throw 100. There’s no way we could have know that.”
Magnifico transferred to Oklahoma and landed in the bullpen where he was immediately scheduled as the Sooners closer when word hit that the kid could throw 100. With a name like his, how could he not be?
But it didn’t really work. Control was an issue, which is certainly not uncommon when you throw 25 mph faster than the speed limit. He walked five in his first three innings and had an ERA of 9.00 in those first four appearances. Then came a three-inning save against New Mexico, which was followed by his first start of the season at Oregon State on March 11. Back to relief in his next six appearances, Magnifico seemed to figure things out a bit and then pulled off his greatest trick yet against then No. 11-ranked Arkansas on April 10.
“I wouldn’t have told you in 103 pitches, 22 of them would have been 100 mph,” Golloway said. “I wouldn’t have been able to tell you that in the eighth inning against Arkansas he’d still 100 mph. When we got him, there was no way we knew he could throw 100. We couldn’t have known that.”
Actually, Magnifico touched 101 in the ninth inning as he allowed just three hits in the 4-0 win, where Magnifico was just one out away from a complete game.
“At first, we were impressed,” said teammate and pitcher Dillon Overton. “We’d really never seen it before. Now, it’s kind of strange, because we’re used to it.”
That doesn’t mean the rest of us are. Dozens of scouts are a common occurrence at OU’s L. Dale Mitchell Field as they line up around the bullpen when Magnifico warms up. Then they scramble in a choreographed herd to the seats behind home plate so they can see more.
“It’s a unique thing,” said Miami Marlins director of scouting and former Oklahoma pitching coach Stan Meek. “You don’t see it often. He puts himself in a different category because velocity is a commodity you try and gather up. You may not see anything like what he’s doing in a four- or five-year period.
“Just from that standpoint, it gets your attention.”
That’s exactly the point, Golloway said. While Magnifico went four innings and lowered his ERA to 3.03 against Oral Roberts on April 17, Galloway was wanting to make sure everyone was focused on his pitching.
“I’m at ORU and wondering where their miles-per-hour gun is,” he said. “I wanted it on the scoreboard. I want their hitters to see it. When you step out of the box and see 101, you think to yourself, ‘That thing almost hit me in the head.’
“I mean, stick your head out of your car and go 100 and let a telephone pole hit it. It might hurt a little bit. Here, we like to turn it off (radar gun) when we’re warming him up. Then, on that first pitch . . . Bam! It’s pretty awesome.”
So, the magic of Magnifico continues. That’s why we watch even if Magnifico doesn’t.
“During the game I don’t even look at the scoreboard,” he said. “It doesn’t mean that much to me to throw it hard.”
Funny thing is, no one else feels that way.
“It’s beyond special,” Golloway said. “It’s fun.”