May 12, 2011
RALEIGH, N.C. -- Along with NC State baseball coach Elliott Avent and his staff, maybe George Washington deserves a little credit for Chris Overman's emergence as a relief pitcher.
Posted on the wall in his room is a quote from the first president of the United States, which reads: "There is nothing so likely to produce peace as to be well prepared to meet the enemy."
While not equating sport to war, Overman explained that he relates Washington's words to baseball in "wanting to be as prepared as you can" to confront hard-hitting opponents.
It's that devotion to preparation, plus a strong right arm, command of three pitches and steely resolve, that has helped Overman overcome most foes in the midst of late-inning pressure.
Going into this weekend's home series against Florida State, he fashions a 6-2 record with five saves, a 2.75 ERA and has held opponents to a puny .206 batting average.
With a fastball that hums up to 91 mph, a buckling split-finger, and a vexing slider, he also has struck out 32 in 36 innings while walking only seven.
"His greatest strength is his command,'' Avent said. "A lof of people throw hard, but don't hit spots. He hits spots, keeps the ball down. He's gotten better and better and more confident. He's big part of our resurgence."
The Pack has produced a plethora of stellar relievers throughout the years and Overman is carving his niche among the ace closers.
A fan of San Francisco Giants pitcher Brian Wilson, the 6-2, 228-pound sophomore strikes an imposing stance on the mound. He looks even more menacing when sporting a bushy beard, yet sometimes prefers the clean shaven look.
"It's kind of in and out with the shave,'' said Overman, noting that coach Avent occasionally has input about whiskers.
But the bottom line is to be razor sharp on the mound.
College Or Pro?
Overman, also known for adding levity in the locker room with spontaneous quips, could have pursued a professional career after his all-conference prep days at Myers Park High in Charlotte.
Valuing education and the college experience, he opted instead to sign late with NC State in 2009.
"I wanted to be a college student when it was time to be a college student; college helps you grow up,'' said Overman, a natural resources major and history minor with solid grades.
Yet at NC State, it's been about more than baseball and books. In one of his classes he met and then began dating Sarah Quinn, a cheerleader on the Wolfpack squad that placed third this year in national competition.
Quinn is from Charlotte and figures she cheered against Overman several times in high school when Myers Park played her Butler boys in basketball. Now she goes to Wolfpack baseball games and cheers for her former foe turned beau.
"I get really nervous when he's pitching," Quinn said. "I also know the other team's not going to score."
Sometime the other team does score. In Overman's first appearance of the season on Feb. 19, Elon parlayed two hits and two walks into four runs in 2 1/3 innings against him.
Then on April 19, Maryland rocked him for five runs on four hits in 1 2/3 innings. While acknowledging those setbacks stung, Overman generally manages wins and losses with reasonable equanimity.
"It's tough, the mental part, (but) I try to leave it in the showers and locker room so I can come back the next day and have my confidence back up,'' he said.
In between those two mound misadventures, a resilient Overman -- who often toils more than a closer's typical ninth inning -- reigned over the hitters. He didn't allow a run in 13 of his next 17 relief appearances.
Like a fireman, he has to get ready and stay ready. His preparation includes discipline off the field as well as on, reviewing scouting reports and adhering to a regimented gameday routine.
For the first four or five innings, Overman sits in the dugout, cheering and staying relaxed. Then he strolls to the bullpen, loosens up his arm and "locks in" mentally.
Like lots of relief pitchers, he has been thrust into some precarious positions trying to bail the Pack out of trouble or protect a late lead.
Rewind to a game at Miami. The score is tied. The bases are loaded. The Hurricanes fans are raucous, yelling in English and Spanish.
Overman didn't cower. Focused and throwing hard, he struck out two batters and retired the third on a pop-up.
In that moment he demonstrated what one of his favorite writers, Ernest Hemingway, said: "Courage is grace under pressure."
Besides pitching and fly fishing in the mountains, Overman enjoys reading and beyond the sports page. He has perused the work of Aristotle, Voltaire and Hemingway, among others.
"The reason I like Hemingway it's straight to the point,'' Overman said. "He has a way of saying stuff that makes you think long after you've read it."
But as NC State concludes its regular season with three-game series against FSU and at Boston College, Overman will likely close the books for a bit and try to help the Pack close with a flourish.
One thing for sure, he'll be prepared to pitch -- by George.
-- By A.J. Carr