Steve Geltz doesn't look like the overpowering type, but it doesn't take long for the University at Buffalo freshman reliever to gain the attention and respect of hitters in the batter's box.
If he hasn't gained a batter's attention on the first pitch, he has captured it on the next one.
Geltz may not look as imposing as his favorite Major League hurler, Roger Clemens, but the 5-foot-8, 160-pounder is a control pitcher who throws first-pitch strikes 75 percent of the time.
He's armed with a tailing fastball that hits 87 to 92 mph on the radar gun. He possesses a sharp curveball and a cruel change-up.
Although his curveball has been used as his out pitch in the early going, he can throw that and the change-up for strikes anytime in the count.
Geltz, 18, a former standout pitcher at Wilson High School, gives UB a weapon it has lacked since the school's baseball program ended a 14-year hiatus in 2000.
Not only do the Bulls have a legitimate closer to put out late-game fires, but they also have someone who's versatile enough to eat up innings in middle relief or a spot start as dictated by circumstances.
Geltz, a former First Team All-Western New York selection, has been gaining the attention of opposing hitters at an alarming rate. But it also has taken him all of 7 2/3 innings to catch the eye of scouts for those prestigious NCAA-sanctioned summer wooden bat leagues, where potential prize college players showcase their talents for Major League interests.
>5 straight strikeouts
Geltz has recorded 10 strikeouts in his first three appearances, but the real attention getter is five consecutive strikeouts in notching saves in his first two collegiate appearances.
After yielding a one-out infield hit in his first game, he struck out the next two hitters to save a 4-2 win over Appalachian State. He preserved an 8-7 March 3 triumph over Marshall by fanning the Thundering Herd's one, two and three hitters, in order.
"People take notice when you've got a freshman out there throwing hard," UB coach Bill Breene said. "In the short time we've had the program, we've never had a guy with the mental makeup and physical skills to close out games at our level consistently any way."
Geltz has gotten off to such a fine start that one can't help but wonder: How did UB lure this blue-chip prospect away from the Southern schools? Why isn't Geltz pitching in a place where the climate is warm and conducive to playing baseball all year?
"I didn't want to travel anywhere," said Geltz, who turned 18 last November. "I wanted to stay close to home. Basically, I wasn't real comfortable going away from my family, plus I have my girlfriend [who attends Buffalo State] here. I didn't want to leave her."
Other schools interested in him included Division I Niagara, Canisius and downstate Stony Brook, as well as Erie Community College, a respected junior college program.
"I thought UB was my best option," Geltz said, because it provides the highest level of competition of all the local schools.
Breene said UB benefited from Geltz's lack of participation in the showcase camps before Division I, II and III coaches for high school juniors and seniors. If he had attended more of them, UB most certainly would have had more competition for Geltz's services.
"I think in a sense he is kind of a homebody," Breene said. "He's close to his mom and dad. I can see no matter who was on him we would have still been in the mix for him. I think even if he had options to go to schools out of the area, we still would have been in the mix."
>UB's inside track
Since stud pitchers don't grow on trees in an area where it's been known to snow in May, the locals understandably competed fiercely for Geltz.
UB had the inside track because Geltz pitched during the summer following his junior and senior scholastic seasons with an Inferno program, coached by UB volunteer assistant Neal Turvey.
Turvey noticed the kid's potential, notified Breene, and the Bulls locked up Geltz during the early signing period, before his memorable senior season with Wilson.
Geltz closed his scholastic career with a 7-0 mark, 0.73 earned-run average and 121 strikeouts in 59 innings, helping the Lakemen win the Niagara-Orleans League title during a 20-5 campaign. He struck out 229 in 121 innings in his time with the Depew-based Inferno, which played a 70-game travel schedule against Southern counterparts.
"He was a hidden treasure," Breene said. "We got kind of lucky. He was content to play locally, and that was to our advantage."
>The injury bug
While most Division I programs try to ease their freshmen into the flow of things early, UB isn't in the position to do that. The injury bug afflicted their pitching staff before the start of the season.
Sophomore starter Mark Tourangeau is out for the season after having Tommy John surgery last September. The surgery involves the reconstruction of the torn ulnar collateral ligament in the elbow. A tendon is removed from a patient's wrist or hamstring and grafted into the elbow. Although it takes a minimum of nine months to recover from the one-hour surgical procedure, pitchers typically throw harder once they've recovered from the injury.
Newfane's Tony Kurtz is likely to miss the season while recovering from wrist surgery he had in December. That means rubber-armed Geltz will make spot starts during the week and close out games on the weekend, altering the original plan of simply having him handle the closer's role.
"It will be tough going from the closer mentality to a starter's mentality and pacing myself," said Geltz, who likes the closer's role because he gets to aggressively attack hitters.
"It's not the easiest thing to do, but I've done it before. They're really trusting me and my abilities to get people out, especially as a freshman. [It's just] more determination to keep working hard just to get the job done."
The chance to start simply gives Geltz another opportunity to showcase his skills for scouts.
The most prestigious wooden bat leagues are in Cape Cod and Alaska, but its likely a league just a step below in Ohio or New England will make room for Geltz's services. The rosters for those teams are close to being set the fall before the summer, with scouts using past seasons and the showcase events as the primary talent evaluators.
Geltz has caught them looking.
"He's got a chance to be a special one," Breene said. "He really does."