Detroit Tigers' Buck Farmer has matured to the point of asking Casey Mize for advice
The 29-year-old Farmer soaked up all the advice he could from his 23-year-old teammate while dishing out a few tips of his own.
Mize hasn't pitched in the big leagues yet, but that won't stop Farmer from continuing to inquire about his offseason workout plan, mechanics and approach to certain batters.
"Casey Mize, he's far advance for where he's at in his career," Farmer said Wednesday. "He's a big one that I've sat and talked to, you know, time and time again, about just learning what he does and what I can maybe help him do.
"Or even take what he does and apply it to what I do."
Farmer is the epitome of what it means to grow into a leader, not only because of his veteran presence or reliability in the bullpen but because of his knack to teach, listen and learn.
He remembers sitting in Mize's seat six years ago, during the early stages of his career after debuting in August 2014. Established stars David Price, Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer and Anibal Sanchez were always entrenched in his corner.
"When you're on the mound, and I tell these guys this, you can give those guys too much credit," he said. "You're here for a reason. What you've done to this point has gotten you here. Don't lose sight of that."
Quarantining in Georgia reminded Farmer of what it's like to be a kid again. He found his humility as he threw in his backyard. He invited Joey Bart, a friend who lives just a couple miles away, to play with him.
Bart, 23, is a catcher in the San Francisco Giants organization.
"Hey, you want to go throw in the backyard today?" Farmer often requested over the phone.
"Yeah, sure," Bart responded. "I'll be over in five minutes."
Farmer was shocked at the self-realization that he — a big-league pitcher — was playing catch in his backyard. His neighbors watched closely, wondering what the heck was going on at the Farmer household, where his wife, Kayla, is expecting their second child in November.
"It was like asking my dad to go outside and play catch for five minutes," Farmer said. "Like I had to get permission: 'Can I go play in the backyard?' While it was still fun and something we had to do, it was like, man, what are we doing?"
They later found a local high school. Farmer tossed off the mound while Bart crouched behind the plate. Eventually, he got the call to return to Detroit as the team began summer camp July 3 in preparation for the 60-game season that begins July 24 on the road against the Cincinnati Reds.
He came back with a mullet — a byproduct of the mid-1990s family Christmas photo he found — and an ever-growing beard. The clean-shaven youngster with little big-league experience is no more.
"It gets a little warm," he said, laughing.
But he remains a mainstay in the bullpen.
He worked up quite the sweat through 73 games last season. In 67⅔ innings, he registered a 3.72 ERA, 1.271 WHIP and 3.04 strikeout-to-walk ratio. He seem to flourish in seventh- and eighth-inning situations.
Closer Joe Jimenez knows "everything can happen" in a 60-game season and realizes he'll shoulder the responsibility for many wins and losses. With that comes pressure, and Farmer, too, understands the value of his role.
"It's 110% from Day 1," he said. "That's going to bring a lot of fun, a lot of high-pressure situations. Those are going to mean a lot more this year. Every situation carries a lot more weight."
Farmer has come a long way to get to this point.
He got shelled early in his career, something not many predicted from the former fifth-round pick from Georgia Tech. A spot starter from 2014 to 2017, Farmer struggled three seasons ago with a 6.75 ERA in 11 starts.
In 2018, he began to find his niche in the bullpen with a 4.15 ERA in 66 games. In 2019, he blossomed, despite the team's horrid record.
Farmer is now perfecting a few things, like his front-door breaking ball to right-handed hitters because "you can't just sit there and pump fastballs," at least not unless you can throw over 100 mph with movement.
The self-proclaimed "super old-school" pitcher isn't focusing on analytics to enhance his weaponry. Rather, he's seeking the advice of others — even if they're much younger and less experienced.
That's how you know Buck Farmer is all grown up.
"It's a two-way street," he said. "I can learn stuff from them still, and they can learn from me."