interview conducted by todd starowitz
LIn this installment of “My Baseball Journey,” NPA introduces Mark Moclair. A product of the University of Tampa, Mark was a 12th-round selection by the Houston Astros in the 2018 MLB Draft.
The Astros released Mark in 2022 after reaching Double-A. In 2023, he pitched for Sussex County in the independent Frontier League. As of November 2023, Mark is playing for the Canberra Calvary in the Australian Baseball League, the only professional baseball league in Australia.
Mark began working with Atlanta-based coach and NPA Vice President Robert Ambrose before the 2023 season.
Mark is still on his baseball journey back to affiliated ball. He is now healthy, and has developed into a solid starting pitcher.
How did your baseball career begin? “I grew up in Tampa. I went to high school there, and I went to college at the University of Tampa before being drafted by the Houston Astros in the twelfth round my junior year.”
When did you first encounter Robert Ambrose, NPA Vice President, and coach: “That’s actually a really cool story. In August 2022, I was released by the Astros. Every year I spent in pro ball was difficult. I got hurt my first full pro season. We then missed a season because of COVID. 2021 was really my first season, and I never felt like myself. I was trying to come back from the injuries and overcome some performance anxiety issues, such as fear of failure, which affected my performance on the field.
In 2022, I strained my teres major the week before spring training. It’s an injury similar to what afflicted Max Scherzer this season. I thought it was my lat, but I never got imaging, and it was a tedious rehab process. It took me a couple of months, but I returned healthy. I was throwing pretty hard, and my stuff was pretty good.
Instead of releasing me then, the Astros felt like keeping me on standby. I finished the 2021 season in Double-A. In 2022, our Double-A team was playing very poorly. They had four pitchers in the bullpen go down, and I figured they’d need a boost, and I’d go there. That wasn’t the case. They told me I would stay at the complex and pitch with the rookie team. I told myself to make the best of it and be a leader for the young guys. I had all the resources I needed at the spring training complex—food, recovery, and training. I just decided to go to work every day and get better, which is what I did. I put together some good numbers, albeit in rookie ball, but pitching is pitching. I kept sending my performance numbers and stats to our pitching coordinator every week. He just told me to hang in there. When August rolled around, I was getting the picture that I wasn’t going to be promoted and that I was going to spend the entire season in rookie ball. That year’s draft class had to be activated, and I was holding up a spot, so they let me go. I finished the season playing in an independent league.
In independent ball, I pitched three innings in a month and didn’t pitch well. I say all that to show that I was in a period of frustration, and I thought I was going to retire. Mentally, I was in a deep, deep hole about how my career had gone. I had worked so hard and made great sacrifices, and I didn’t feel that my career was over. I thought about quitting because I couldn’t take it anymore. I was doing everything I could, and I wasn’t getting a shot. I moved to the Atlanta area because my brother, Matt, lives here, and I didn’t know what to do with myself or what was next for me. I told myself I’d move closer to my family and keep training because I didn’t know what else to do. But I felt good and believed I had more to give this game.
I was driving around and looking for a field and a net to throw into. Many pro baseball players’ offseason consist of finding a net to throw into. It’s not as structured as when you’re a kid. I saw Robert training a few guys at a local field. I saw an L-screen there, and I started warming up. I asked him, ‘Hey man, I see you have an odd man out. Do you mind if I play catch with them? I’ve got to get some work in, and it will help you guys out.’
I noticed and said, ‘Hey, you guys are doing Tom House’s stuff.’ I saw the towels, bands, weighted balls, and the walking flex-Ts. He began giving me the NPA pitch. I’ll be honest, I thought it was complete bull—-. I’m not going to lie to you. I had heard about this stuff and what everyone says about it, and I thought it was nonsense.
I ran into one of the guys that Robert was working with at the gym. He told me about his injury and his history with walks, and he asked me to come out for a week. He said, at the very least, you’ll come away with some good arm care and a new warmup. I thought, ‘I’ve tried Tread, Cressey, Driveline, Baseball Ranch, and I’ve tried my own stuff, and I’m here in pain with a great arm and no idea where the ball is going and no job, but with big league dreams and a big league work ethic. I finally determined I had nothing to lose, so I’d try it.
After that first week, I said, ‘Man, I feel pretty good.’ What Robert was picking out in my delivery to work on made sense. I had been trying for several years to figure this stuff out, but I was never able to put the pieces together. I came back out for another week.
Two weeks later, I went to Virginia for Thanksgiving to visit my aunt. It was the same story; I was driving around looking for a field to get my work in.
There was an older guy there running sprints. This guy looked like he was in his sixties, and he was running sprints. This guy was Jack Moore, a friend of Tom House. He asked me my story, and he saw me throw. He said, ‘You’ve got a good arm, but has anyone ever told you about this, which I think was my glove side.’ I said, ‘Yes, a couple of weeks ago, a guy did.’ He asked, ‘Do you know who Tom House is?’
I told him I did. He told me I needed to go to one of Tom’s clinics because he helps guys like me. I told him it’s funny that you say that because I met Robert Ambrose two weeks ago, and we had the same conversation. He said, ‘Yes, I know Robert.’ It was crazy.
I’m a man of faith, and I cried out to God, and he put these two men in my path. I told myself I’d be foolish if I ignored this.
LWhat was your first encounter with Tom House?: “Robert told me if I could get to the camp, NPA would cut me a discount. Robert knew my situation and that I wasn’t making money as a minor leaguer. Everything changed at the camp. I was still skeptical. My arm was still bothering me, but I was starting to make incremental improvements. I was fortunate enough to be in the car when Robert went to pick up Tom. Tom was in the car talking about human psychology, Nolan Ryan, Randy Johnson, and Hall-of-Fame pitchers, and I was listening to arguably the best pitching coach who has ever lived. Tom is a guy who has seen more high-level pitchers and quarterbacks than anyone else. I thought, ‘I don’t know why I’m here, but I’m sitting in the car with Tom House right now, and he’s talking about Tom Brady.’
At the next clinic I attended in Dallas, there were a lot of NPA coaches who came up to me and said, ‘We’ve heard your story and how you’ve gotten here, and we’re pulling for you. We think you’re going to make it.’ I was so humbled by that. I’m at the clinic playing catch with Shane Greene, a Major League all-star, and Brandon Finnegan, who pitched in the College World Series and then in the same year the World Series. I looked at them and told myself I could do everything that these guys were doing.
I had really struggled with self-doubt and lack of confidence, and I didn’t have a strong foundation in terms of my baseball career. I don’t want to sound like I’m playing the victim or feel sorry for myself; it’s just the nature of life in baseball. There isn’t always rhyme or reason.
I was at the NPA camp, and I was making noticeable progress. It was the first time in a long time I’ve observed and felt myself get better at the craft. I was getting better at the art of pitching and making progress with my mechanics. The work was starting to pay off, even if it was just a little bit every day.
I was so humbled to be a part of the clinic. I met (former World Series MVP) Cole Hamels at dinner. I was like, ‘Where am I? What is this?’ Cole was such a humble, sweet guy. I couldn’t believe that these guys were willing to invest time in me and believe in me. I knew that whatever happened in my baseball career, this opportunity was special. Robert’s a fantastic man. He’s very driven. When he believes in something, he fully commits, and he doesn’t allow doubt to dissuade him.
What were a few of
the significant mechanical changes you needed to make when working with NPA?:
“I had to relearn how the glove side works when I throw. The way I learned growing up resulted in velocity, but it was very, very hard on my arm, and it was very inconsistent to command;
I didn’t know where the ball was going. Maintaining a firm front side and rotating the body to deliver the ball, instead of just using my arm and brute strength to throw, was significantly different.
That has taken thousands of reps, and I’m still not there. I learned to pull my glove from long toss. It felt good, and I felt like it made my arm stronger, but it messed with my mechanics because I was pulling the glove.”
How have Tom and Robert helped you with the mental side of sports performance?: “I don’t think Robert could specifically identify with my performance anxieties because of his military background. He’s had a different life experience. Any sport can’t replicate the flight or fight response that Robert experienced during his military career.
But Robert understands the science and benefits of flow state. He knew he could train me to get into flow state. One of the things that I’ll never forget and that I still use every day is mental discipline. I used to be a high-anxiety guy who was an overthinker. People are telling me ‘not to think about it so much’ NEVER helped. It was the most unhelpful thing anyone could say to me.
Robert helped me understand what will help my brain get to where it’s only occupied by one thing. A lot of it I had to figure out myself, but the thing that helped me the most was Robert said, ‘Put it in the box.’ If you have any thoughts that are not conducive to the task at hand or will not help me execute this pitch right here, put them in the box, close it, and don’t let them out. That resonated with me. It’s okay for me to have all of these thoughts, but for the two hours I’m pitching, I’m putting them in the box, and I’m not letting them out until after the game. From the time I began to warm up, it’s ‘This pitch. This moment!'”