Southern Miss baseball is in the midst of one of its best seasons in school history as the Golden Eagles recently cracked the top five in numerous national rankings.
The key to Southern Miss’ success has been its pitching staff, which boasts of being in the top five of the country statistically in earned run average, strikeout-to-walk ratio, strikeouts and walks allowed per nine innings. At the forefront of these feats is one of the best starting weekend rotations in the country with Tanner Hall, Hunter Riggins and Hurston Waldrep. This is the first of a three-part series that gives an in-depth look at how each of the weekend starters prepares throughout the week leading up to their game.
Part two shows how Saturday starter and Delta State transfer Hunter Riggins uses his experience to take a laid-back approach and, at the same time, gauge how his body feels in his weekly preparation before each start.
“It’s easier to do a recovery lift when you win.”
It’s the Sunday after Southern Miss takes a narrow 3-2 loss to UAB on the road. By no means can it be said that Hunter Riggins had a bad outing on the mound after the graduate transfer gave up three runs off six hits in six innings with six strikeouts.
But the soreness from throwing 110 pitches and taking the loss makes having to do a flush workout, much less on the road, a little less enjoyable.
“It sucks when you lose and then have to work out, and then you have to flush from that loss,” Riggins says. “It’s easier to do a recovery lift when you win.”
And for Riggins, doing workouts on the road is somewhat of a new concept because that wasn’t an option in his four years at Delta State. Even Southern Miss strength and conditioning coach Todd Makovicka recognizes that working out on the road can be unpleasant, especially for an athlete that’s never had to do it.
“It’s an adjustment,” Makovicka explains. “In terms of sports performance and strength training, it’s going to be hard no matter what. It can be more taxing on you by doing it in a different environment, especially in the environment of a team you play three times over the course of a weekend.
Not every team will have their athletes work out on the road, but in Makovicka’s program, it’s an integral part of his workout plan.
“It’s not one of those going to the crappy hotel gym and hop on the treadmill for 30 minutes and call it a day,” Mackovicka said. “The baseball strength coaches across every team that we have traveled with have been nothing but extremely welcoming and allowing me to take whoever needs to do a flush a workout and utilize their weight room facilities. That allows me to keep everyone on the plan that I have set for them regardless of where we are.”
As he has learned from his years of college baseball, Riggins shakes off his mental dilemmas by coming up with a personal best front squat of 295 pounds.
“It’s (on to the) next game and everything, and you have to stay even keel,” Riggins said. “It sucks (to lose), but we’ve had a great season, and you can’t dwell on losses. There’s nothing I can do about it. You have to take the wins with the losses.”
“Some days, I just want to run around, catch a football and act like a kid”
Every pitcher on Southern Miss’ staff has their own warm-up routine for their arms. For each pitcher, it’s an exact stretching science that helps loosen their arms in their own way.
Riggins starts off each day of his routine throwing by heading to the training room and using the compression arm sleeves and then gets some heat applied to his back before beginning his throwing routine.
The routine includes arm circles frontwards and backward and different stretches for his arm that Riggins sums up as, “Basically doing flight crew stuff.” In addition, he’ll work in stretches with jaeger stretch bands, throwing heavy balls and a body blade tube that altogether lasts at most eight precise minutes.
Perhaps the most essential part of Riggins’ daily routine is throwing a football rather than a baseball from short range. In his own scientific breakdown, Riggins uses the action of throwing the pigskin to get his whole body loose.
“It has a healthy arm slot that I enjoy,” Riggins explained. “The elbow will never get in front of your hand. It’s a different arm motion. It puts no stress on your elbow. It gets your hips and shoulder activated.
“I get my legs going with moving around. I get my arms going because I have a good arm path with the football. I’ve found that it gets my body going, then throwing short (with a baseball). I think a football helps me get on top of the ball more, and it helps me feel like an athlete.”
Admittedly, throwing a football also gives Riggins some confidence in his athletic ability, who notably did not play high school football.
“I like to throw a football because I can get on top of it and can be an athlete for the time being,” Riggins said. “Some days, I just want to run around and catch a football and act like a kid.”
“If I can, I’d play golf once a week.”
Even though players will get a day off during the week, it’ll be practically disregarded since each athlete has a routine they try to keep.
Riggins is no different, especially since his bullpen is scheduled for Wednesday, which just so happens to be the team’s day off. But with clear skies in the forecast, getting his bullpen early as possible is a top priority because it’s a perfect day to golf.
“Most of the time, we are off when it rains,” Riggins said. “I will go play golf when I can. It’s good to have a day off where you can go outside and enjoy yourself.”
But first, Riggins focuses on using his time valuably in his early 9:30 a.m. bullpen.
I think it would be important for me right now to step back and take a midseason refresher of my mechanics,” Riggins said. “I won’t worry about how good the pitches are and will just feel the ball come off your hand and hit the mitt.”
After getting his arm right, he’ll join some of his teammates for an 18-hole round of golf. Oddly, Riggins picked up golf in the seventh grade because his school didn’t have a middle school baseball team.
“I probably shoot around 84-85,” Riggins said. “It’s not too bad. It could be worse, and it could be better. On a good day, I’m around 80-82.”
“I don’t want to freak out about a game.”
There isn’t too much preparation before game day, but as Riggins lays down for bed, the right-handed pitcher has his own version of counting sheep. It’s by no means on purpose, but Riggins’ final thoughts are perplexed about how his fingers grip the baseball for each of his pitches.
“It sounds ridiculous,” Riggins says. “I sit there and think about it like if I’m working on my changeup, then what do I need to feel with how my changeup comes out of my finger. Where exactly will it come off my finger? Where will my arm angle be, and where will my arm finish, or where will the ball come off my hand?
Riggins knows how strange it sounds, but it’s something he has now done for two years.
“I want to feel exactly where my arm is and where that ball comes off my finger,” Riggins said. “My changeup is going to come off the right side of my middle finger. I want to think about how I’m going to pronate that.
“It’s only during baseball season, though. I’m not some freak. It’s just when it’s fresh in my mind.”
Come gameday, Riggins keeps things as normal to his daily routine as possible. He doesn’t need much to prepare. He doesn’t need music and prefers to have casual conversations rather than to be left alone in his thoughts. However, his only must is that he wears his favorite and most comfortable socks, specifically Strideline men’s athletic premium socks, under his baseball socks.
“It’s not even a superstition comfort thing; it’s literally more comfortable,” Riggins said. “It feels better. If you feel baseball socks, they feel cheap. I ask for them on my birthday and Christmas every year. That and beef jerky. I pull them up and pull my other sock over them. It’s softer. It’s a nicer impact. My feet might be sweaty, but they are going to sweat anyway. They are good socks.”
Somehow fittingly enough, Riggins’ double pair of socks summarizes his mental approach to the game and how he takes the mound each Saturday.
“My (routine) is laid back, but it’s not to the point where I don’t get my stuff done,” Riggins said. “I try to stay the same level and even keel the whole time. I don’t want to get super hyped before a game because that doesn’t help me. My mind won’t be in the right spot. I want to pitch the same way I have pitched my whole life. It’s still a game. I don’t want to freak out about a game.”