In the back yard of her grandparents' house isn't the weirdest place Michelle Moodispaw has pitched to Jack Crandell. No, the oddest place the two have met is probably the parking garage of Crandell's office. But it was in that back yard last Friday that Crandell, a local fastpitch softball guru, met his former student.
Moodispaw came to town to play in the ASA Girls 18-and-under national tournament that starts tomorrow in Columbia. She attends South Florida University on a full softball scholarship and now makes her home in the Sunshine State.
Even though she will be pitching for the Southern Illusions in this week's tournament, part of Moodispaw's heart remains in Maryland, where as a Old Mill High standout she honed the skills that helped her post a 9-1 record this spring.
Moodispaw, like so many other pitchers in the Anne Arundel County area, credits Crandell with teaching her the ins, outs, ups and downs of fastpitch pitching. Last Friday Moodispaw needed a cram session with her mentor.
"I came up here, threw with him once, and he was able to fix something that I had been working on for months down in Florida," Moodispaw said.
Crandell couldn't stay too long, however, because he was on his way to water his garden and grab some dinner. He wasn't home more than 15 minutes when the call came from Michelle Nugent, another former standout. So, Crandell was off to a local park to work with Nugent, 25, who is on her way to the Major A national tournament.
"Whenever someone has a big game, they'll call me," said Crandell, a bookkeeper when he's not coaching.
Crandell says he likes the story a young pitcher's father used to tell about him.
"He says, 'Jack's like a mechanic, when you start having problems, you just go to him and he straightens you out. And when you have new problems, you come back.' "
Thus, Crandell is the fastpitch mechanic who not only makes house calls, but operates clinics as well.
Crandell is one of the founders of the Anne Arundel County Fastpitch Softball Clinic, which enters its 10th season this September. The clinic runs from September through April, one day a week, for two or three hours, outdoors until December, indoors until April.
Last year, the 100 or so girls who regularly attended the clinic to learn the intricacies of the windmill pitching style Crandell teaches came from throughout the metropolitan area, the Eastern Shore and from as far away as Virginia.
Crandell is out there early with the girls who come from far away, trying to make sure the long drive is worth it.
For most of the girls, it is.
"With Jack, you were always the best pitcher out there," said Kim Sheridan. "He makes everyone think that she is the best."
Sheridan, who started at the clinic when she was 11, really is one of the best, according to Crandell.
"She is the smoothest pitcher, just so fluid," Crandell said. "She is the kind of pitcher I would have any pitching coach look at and say, 'Show me what's wrong with that girl,' and they couldn't."
This week, Crandell might have to pay the price for making some of the girls run so smoothly. Sheridan is one of a handful of Crandell's students who is going to be pitching against Anne Arundel's Tangerine Machine, who Crandell has helped coach for the last 18 years. Sheridan and Amy Jakubowski pitch for Wagner's, another Anne Arundel-based team in the tournament.
Crandell also has worked with pitchers from the other two local entrants -- the Jay Garden Bandits and the Lewistown Tigers.
It is nothing new for Crandell to see his pitchers go on to great success. In the semifinals of the state high school tournament, it is normal for as many as 15 of the 16 teams involved to have pitchers from the clinic. It comes as no surprise, too, that Anne Arundel schools occupied seven of the top 10 spots in The Sun's softball poll one week last spring.
Crandell estimates that at least three dozen girls from the clinic have gone on to full or part college scholarships. Two of those, Karen Moore of Towson State and Pam Young of East Carolina, were Academic All-Americas.
"Jack is probably the pitching coach in the tri-state area," said Paul Tewey, the Wagner's coach who also teaches pitching at the clinic. "Almost any pitcher in Maryland has had Jack Crandell stamped on her."
According to Joe Cunningham, who is another pitching coach at the clinic, Crandell's expertise comes from his extensive experience.
"He knows what's going on inside the girls' minds," Cunningham said. "Lots of people might teach mechanics and the philosophy of the game, but he teaches the philosophy of pitching."
Crandell first took up softball nearly 30 years ago at the age of 21, when his family moved from Brooklyn to Cape St. Claire. He played outfield, but experimented with pitching on the side.
"Back when I started, fastpitch softball was real popular, and you had to be pretty good before they let you pitch in a game," Crandell said.