Inside The Lab: How an empty storefront became a Harlem hot spot for MLB pitchers


NEW YORK. Adam Ottavino didn’t expect the Lab to turn into this.

The New York Mets forward just wanted to find a place in the city where he could spend the off-season, and he’s hard to find here during the winter months. Ahead of the 2018 season, Ottavino – then from the Colorado Rockies – transformed what used to be a Nine West shoe store underneath an abandoned Chuck E. Cheese store on St. Nicholas Avenue in Harlem into a modern pitching center adorned with cameras that measure pitch speed, and an iPad that provides pitchers with instant feedback.

“We were just trying to make the most of the situation,” Ottavino said.

Ottavino, who grew up in Brooklyn’s Park Slope, rented a retail space from his father-in-law in hopes of finding a temporary spot to put up his paddocks after dropping off his two daughters to school. Five years later, the Lab welcomes everyone from college pitchers to minor leaguers and amateurs from the New York men’s leagues, all the way to Ottavino’s major league mates – including free agent, hurler Matt Harvey, Chicago Cubs starter Jameson Tylon and Yankees reliever Michael King. those who spoke.

“It shouldn’t have been like that,” Ottavino said. “But I began to understand that it would not only be about me. It will be about the entire New York baseball community. Trying to be a resource for guys.”

To take The Lab to the next level this offseason, Ottavino hired staff for the first time to help run the lab, bringing in Gerardo Roque and Jason Pastuizaca, both of whom work for the Mets. The space now resembles a baseball museum curated by Ottavino, with autographed baseballs he has collected throughout his career, including legends such as Lou Brock, Ichiro Suzuki and Whitey Ford. There are jerseys autographed by some of Ottavino’s teammates over the years, including Scherzer, Jacob de Grom and Nolan Arenado.

“Every time I come here I see something new,” Tylon said. “It’s just a good mood. That’s all you need for guys who know what they’re doing, know how to work. There is a group text and whenever I signed a new contract, I did not have 90% of the numbers saved. there, but everyone congratulated me.”

There are nameplates for everyone who regularly pitches at the facility, a cork board with Polaroids made by Ottavino inside the lab, and a whiteboard counting the number of bullpenes thrown by each pitcher, the maximum speed thrown at the Lab (94.7 mph on King last winter while building up strength for spring training) and Quote of the Day recently quoted by former US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.

“There are known unknowns that we know we don’t know,” the quote reads. “There are famous known things that we know we know. Are there unknown unknowns? Things that we don’t know about, that we don’t know about?”

According to Alex Katz, who was one of the first to use the establishment when it opened, it has grown steadily over the years. Katz – a friend of Ottavino’s who has played with the Chicago White Sox, Baltimore Orioles and Cubs and runs Stadium Custom Kicks – hopes to play for Israel in the World Baseball Classic and uses the Lab to track his progress in the bullpen while getting advice from current major league players.

“It’s priceless, priceless,” Katz said. “[You] can’t spend hundreds of thousands of dollars and get that kind of information. You can talk to the guys who made the All-Star team. You cannot defeat him.

Some in the Lab community are inspired to work alongside big league players like Tylon and Ottavino in preparation for the season. John Lynch, a freshman at St. Joseph’s University on Long Island, had his first close-up of major league players after being invited by Katz.

“You look at yourself and you look at them and at one point they were in your shoes and they’re just people,” Lynch said. “I’m one of the youngest guys here and I’m just soaking it all up.”

For Jake Jaffee, a model who has worked with Supreme, Harley Davidson, and the North Face, and in his spare time plays for the Hudson Hurricanes of the New York City Metro Baseball League, his time at The Lab with major leaguers rekindled his passion for baseball. .

“I got a whole new perspective on what players are going through,” Jeffy said. “It’s surreal because you’re lucky to see a guy hitting 86, 87 in the men’s league, but actually seeing 92, 93 up close and seeing the nuances of how guys serve, you don’t get it from the inside every day. It’s such a pleasure.”

The lab also provided space for pitchers to pitch during the lockout last winter when they couldn’t use their teams’ facilities. King and current free agent Luke Farrell used The Lab to their advantage during this period.

“I’m having fun because you get to see them up close and turn them on from that relationship,” Ottavino said. “At the same time, it’s cool for them because they know they have a place where they can come and be with the same people.”

Ottavino doesn’t expect The Lab to disappear anytime soon. The 37-year-old had just signed a two-year, $14.5 million deal to return to the Mets and said he noticed a connection between his game and his time at The Lab.

“My three best seasons have been since I trained here,” Ottavino said. “I don’t know if it’s a direct correlation, but it’s pretty strong. It’s so hard to quit when you’re relying on others, but when you have your own situation, you can quit when you need to, work on getting better.”

This ability to improve with access to more data is what attracted Tylon, who is adding a wide slider to his pitching repertoire this offseason, ending his loan in New York after two seasons with the Yankees. The Trackman data allowed Tylon to work on the release point and get instant feedback on how the ball was coming out of his hand.

“Besides, Otto is just a walking baseball encyclopedia,” Tylon said. “He’s probably better than 99% of the pitching coaches in the league.”

For Ottavino, The Lab has become a childhood dream come true, a place to build a community around the art and science of pitching.

“I know that if I was a young guy and I had the opportunity to watch some major league players grow up and talk to them and pick their brains, I would have loved it as a kid,” Ottavino said. “It would make me work hard every day towards my dream.”

Ottavino never expected that dream to come true in an unmarked store in Harlem, but it doesn’t matter where The Lab is located.

“You could send us in the middle of the damn desert,” Tylon said, “but if we have this information and we have this camaraderie, this conversation, we will find a way to meet.”


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