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DAYTON, Ohio -- Ryan Doherty wants people to know he's not a novelty act. The folks in Arizona don't view him that way but it's easy to understand why some would rush to judgment and form such an opinion regarding the Notre Dame product.
Doherty is big. Very big, in fact. And according to some, at 7-foot-1, he's the tallest player in baseball history. Whether that claim can be substantiated is another matter but there are several websites that say it's so. Either way, Doherty is hard to miss and usually gets more than his share of stares when he steps out of the dugout.
What the critics, the doubters and even the gawkers don't realize, though, is that Doherty can pitch. And whether he's 5-foot-1, 6-foot-1 or 7-foot-1, that fact can't be overlooked. The Diamondbacks realized that size really doesn't matter as long as you get people out. So when no one drafted Doherty last June, Arizona signed him as a free agent and began working with him, hoping the dividends will be as large as the player himself.
"When you see someone as tall as me, you think it's just a gimmick," said Doherty, who begins this season in the Midwest League with South Bend, where he'll play his home games just a few miles from the Notre Dame campus. "But my job is to get people out. I know that's how I think of it."
Mike Rizzo, Arizona's vice president of scouting operations, certainly doesn't view Doherty as a novelty act. After seeing him pitch as a sophomore at Notre Dame in the spring of 2003, Rizzo became intrigued by the possibilities that Doherty brings to the mound. With his height and the way he comes bounding down off the mound, the idea that hitters would be more than a little intimidated stuck with Rizzo.
"I saw him that one year and he threw very well," Rizzo said. "He never got back on track. He comes at you with such a unique arm angle that I thought it would have an effect on the hitter. You don't see a pitcher come at you with his arm slot very often.
"It's a little tougher for a (long lever) guy to keep his delivery together because there are so many moving parts, it's hard to stay consistent. But we're trying to work with Ryan on keeping a good arm angle."
The Diamondbacks also have Doherty on a strength and conditioning program with the hopes it will build his arm strength to a point that he can touch the low to mid-90s on the gun. Currently, he's a mid-to-high 80s pitcher, which seems odd considering his size. Doherty says that he hit 95 occasionally on the gun when he was in college and is hopeful that his current conditioning program will get him back to that level consistently.
South Bend pitching coach Wellington Cepeda has worked with tall pitchers in the past, including fellow Arizona prospect Derik Nippert, who is 6-foot-7. Nippert was on the same program that Doherty is on now and saw his velocity increase from 86 (mph) when he was signed to as high as 94 on the gun.
Doherty made his first appearance of the season Friday night at Dayton, pitching two innings of relief. He gave up two runs on four hits and truck out two. He was 3-3 with a save and a 3.27 ERA in 22 games last season for Yakima of the Northwest League. For now, he'll come out of the bullpen as long relief but Cepeda thinks with a little work, he could be a starter or even a closer someday.
"Mechanically, I came out of college in bad shape," said Doherty, who added that watching San Diego's Chris Young, at 6-foot-10, has served as an inspiration. "But the coaches here have got me more synchronized, and I think the arm strength will come because of that. I think they are tied together. And I have faith in coach Cepeda because I know it's not going to happen over night. It's a process and you have to work at it."
Doherty says he found that working at baseball proved to be much easier than basketball. At his size, it would only seem natural that he would be on the court rather the diamond but he gave up basketball several years ago to concentrate on baseball.
"You can spend 10 hours a day on baseball," Doherty said. "If you put that much time into basketball, you'll be burned out. The same love of the game just isn't there."
As for being so tall, Doherty says he's used to the stares and if people "tend to be idiots" about his height, he just shrugs it off.
"I reached 7 feet when I was a junior in high school and it kind of got me ready to answer all these questions," he said. "You know, you would never dream of asking a heavy person about being so heavy or ask people about other physical attributes. Tall is just one of those things and people just ask questions that pop into their heads.
"The fans try to rag on you but anything they've said, I've heard a thousand times. I thought one was funny, though. Someone yelled something to me and I told him I didn't hear him and he said 'Why don't you come down to my floor then.' That was pretty witty."
The jokes and barbs will probably keep coming. But don't be surprised if someday Doherty and the Diamondbacks have the last laugh.
Kevin Czerwinski is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.