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Meet the Tobs: John Allen
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Meet the Tobs: John Allen
Campbell reliever a rare side-arming left-hander

Wilson Tobs pitcher John Allen hopes he’s found a path to professional baseball.

In 2014, his third year of college at his third school (East Carolina University, Louisburg College and Campbell University), Allen was convinced by one of his coaches to throw a bullpen session side-armed. The left-hander impressed so much, he made the switch to a fulltime side-armer.

The results during the college season for the Camels were mixed. He appeared in 10 games mostly as a specialist, going just 52/3 innings for the NCAA Columbia Regional-appearing Camels. He struck out four and walked five while posting an ERA of 12.71.

But this summer in Wilson, his peaks have far outweighed his valleys, as he has struck out 15 in 131/3 innings of work spread out over 13 appearances. His 3.29 ERA is third-best among regulars and batters are hitting just .152 against him.

Times staff writer Randy Jones sat down with Allen in the Fleming Stadium press box on Thursday afternoon to ask him a few questions about baseball, life and his time so far in Wilson.

Wilson Times: So, tell me about the transition to a side-armed style of pitching? Didn’t the change occur recently?

John Allen: "I had trouble controlling my pitches in the fall of this past year at Campbell. My coach saw me messing around with side-arm and submarine a little bit. I was playing toss literally the day before the first game of the spring season. He said ‘Why don’t you throw bullpen?’ And I was like ‘Sure.’ I was on point with it. I felt comfortable with it. I’ve been sticking with it ever since. I feel like I’ve been more competitive than I ever have been over top and I feel like just rolling with it right now.”

WT: Left-handed side-armers and submarine guys, they’re not common. It’s a pretty big thing for scouts to find one who can control it and get guys out. Did that come into your thinking at all?

JA: "Very much. I’ve done my research with major league submarine guys. There is a very small minority of lefty pitchers who are throwing side arm and being successful too. It was a real, I guess, big decision for me to drop down and be comfortable with it at the D-I level.”

WT: Did it take some convincing?

JA: "It was more my decision making. Our coach at Campbell didn’t really have much input with it. He went with what I put my mind to. He was confident I’d be able to get it perfected and get comfortable with it. And I feel like I’ve done some pretty good things so far with it.”

WT: Is it hard mentally to make that change?

JA: "It is. It’s hard both mentally and physically. All the research I’ve done, it’s a completely different muscle group. It’s more stressful on the body in some ways, different muscles are used. And it was a big change mentally too, because throwing the ball side arm is not as easy as it is over the top. You have to be really coordinated and really in sync with your body. It’s a challenge. There have been a lot of successes so far and I’m very comfortable and confident going forward.”

WT: What was it like the first "real” game you threw that way?

JA: "It felt weird. They put me out there with a pretty big lead and they put me out there to see what I could do against three lefty batters. I had a big success there. I think I grounded out one guy, swing and miss the next guy for a strikeout and popped up a guy. It felt great. It was a confidence booster to know I could compete at this level side arm. I had so little time to get adjusted with it.”

WT: Who were the guys you looked at for inspiration? Were they on YouTube?

JA: "I did research a lot of YouTube videos. A right-handed submarine guy, Brad Ziegler of the Arizona Diamondbacks, he was a big inspiration. Darren O’Day of Baltimore, he was a big guy to research. I love to watch those guys on video and on TV because they’re still pitching pretty well and being successful in the majors. I felt looking up to them and watching them pitch would give me the visualization I would need.”

WT: Being a rare lefty, side-armer will hopefully get you attention come draft time, right?

JA: "Of course it does. I heard even when I was a starter as a lefty, you just don’t see a lot of lefty starters who are successful. I had a good chance there, but now even more as a side-armed lefty. It’s a very small minority. You’re not going to hear of many guys like that. I think it’s a great avenue to go.”

WT: What was it like being a part of Campbell’s big successes this season, going to the regional in Columbia?

JA: "Just being a part of it, I did not throw an inning there at the regional, just gave me another motivation. You’re in front of 8,500 people on a Friday night under the lights, in practically a major league stadium, just gave me a new perspective of what it can be like at the next level.”

WT: What brought you to Wilson this summer?

JA: "I wanted the competition during the summer. I hadn’t played ball in quite a bit.”

WT: Had you been to Wilson before?

JA: "Yeah, I pitched here during high school. (Kerr-Vance Academy) played here at Fleming against Greenfield several times. Always was a great venue to come to.”

WT: What do you do when you’re not on the field?

JA: "Usually just spending time with the host family or just hanging out with some of my teammates having a good time. We find things to do out here. Go to the movies, go to the beach. There’s lots to do.”

WT: What’s the worst park in the Coastal Plain League?

JA: "I’d have to say Petersburg. While I haven’t pitched there, from what I’ve seen and been told it’s the worst. The outfield is pretty bad.”

WT: How about the best, other than Fleming Stadium?

JA: "I really love Morehead City. We’ve played there a lot this summer. I wouldn’t complain. They have one of the best pitching mounds in the CPL. They always keep it really nice. The grass is always green. It’s a perfect playing surface.”

WT: Now for some other questions, what do you think about your bus driver?

JA: "Bob? Oh man. I love Bob. He’s a character. I’ve got a couple of teammates that like to pick on him a little bit, but we have a good time. He always has his few words. We have a great time on the trips. It’s good bonding time with Bob every once in a while. He’s got lots of stories to tell.”

WT: Are the bus rides a bit of a drag, especially late in the season now?

JA: "It can be. But it’s easier when you have a good team. It’s more like a brotherhood on the bus. We always find something to get through the bus rides. When the times get tougher and the bus rides get longer everybody tries to find something to do. And we’ve bonded a lot that way.”

WT: Who started the baseball bowling thing during rain delays?

JA: "I think our kid, Daniel Batts may have started that. It started at the Peninsula Pilots field. We had a rain delay or something and they set up the cups like a bowling thing. It’s pretty competitive game every time we play. It’s always Peninsula.”

WT: More on silly questions ... What’s your favorite cereal?

JA: "Honey Nut Cheerios. It’s just really sweet. I eat them plain, but when you put milk in them it just makes it so much sweeter.”

WT: What’s your favorite video game?

JA: "Call of Duty.”

WT: What games do you guys play against each other? And who is the best?

JA: "We play hockey, NHL hockey, a lot. I’d say Seth LaRue. He’s one of my teammates at Campbell. We play it all the time at Campbell when we have down time. He’s more up north than I am, they play it a lot more there.”

WT: Did you guys get a chance to see Sharknado 2 yet? I know you had a game last night.

JA: "Ha. No, didn’t see it. I saw the first one on Netflix and I can expect it not to be much better.”

WT: What’s your favorite movie?

JA: "I have to go with a sports movie. I’d say ‘Miracle.’ Just because it’s very inspiring. United States winning the gold.”

WT: Who is your favorite singer/band/rapper?

JA: "Right now I like, he’s a pretty current guy. His name is Mike Stud, his real name is Michael Seander. Just because he has a similar story to what I’m trying to go through. He was a baseball player at Duke, an All-American freshman. He was a closer at the time. And he’s a rapper. I’m not really into rapping or anything, but I like his lyrics. He is spot on.”

WT: How’d you find out about him?

JA: "Through one of my friends at ECU. We actually went and met him, he and one of his friends that got pretty big too, Huey Mac. He was a big inspiration, actually. Going through the story he went through. It was tough. He went through Tommy John surgery and didn’t come back at all. I mean he was lights out, was going to get drafted and it was kind of sad to hear. But at the same time, he took another avenue that he knew he could. He didn’t, he wasn’t negative at all about it. I felt like it was a great inspiration. There are people like me who want to go one to something else, something bigger. And they do it when they have the right mindset.”

WT: What’s the coolest place you’ve ever been?

JA: "Oooh. I would say Colorado Rockies, the mountains. Grant Lake, Colorado. The grand lake was probably on of the prettiest things in the mountains. It was just surrounded by huge mountains. It was a crystal-clear lake. It was just sunk in. It was a beautiful town. That’s one of the places, dream places I’d want to live. I was an outdoors kid. My dad used to make me stay outside, I’d never stay in, watch TV or anything. He always wanted me to stay outside, be active and explore things.”

WT: What would be your dream car?

JA: "A Ford Raptor.”

WT: What do you drive now?

JA: "A Ford Fusion. A 2007 Ford Fusion.”

WT: One last thing, tell the fans out there something about John Allen that they don’t know. Anything at all.

JA: "I’m a very big music man. I like to play guitar and piano a lot. Whenever I have access to it. I didn’t bring my guitar down this summer, but one of the first things I do when I go home is play some songs. I like to go on YouTube and listen to different things and try to quick learn them in 30 minutes or so. I have a lot of fun with that.” | 265-8117 | Twitter: @RandyJonesWT

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