Tim Goodrum and Don Lemon will team up to sculpt top pitching prospects at Fayetteville’s Hit-N-Run Batting Cages. Lemon br
By John Keuler
Donald Lemon, a right-handed pitcher who was originally signed by the Atlanta Braves in 1989, competed in five different countries over 16 years and will be bringing his pitching expertise to Fayetteville.
Love of the game took Lemon around the world pursuing his baseball dreams. Now he's ready to bring the messages he learned to our own homegrown pitchers.
Lemon will be joining Tim Goodrum and the Hit-N-Run staff as a pitching instructor. Lemon’s journey to this point was anything but typical or predictable. First of all, Lemon left high school with no intention to even play collegiate baseball.
Lemon enrolled at Tuskegee University in Alabama and was subsequently talked into playing baseball at the school by a couple of the other players, joining as a shortstop. “I didn’t plan on pitching, but they were like you’re going to pitch. We’re short-staffed with just six pitchers,” Don Lemon said they told him.
Pitch he did, but not until the following year when he made his debut in a start against Chicago State where he didn’t give up any earned runs and got the win in a 10-2 victory. Over the next few years at Tuskegee, Lemon threw well but did not catch the eye of any scouts and went undrafted.
However, at the urging of his mother, Lemon attended a workout that ended up becoming the start of his professional baseball career. “My mom kept telling me to try it. I went to a camp that had 500 people and I was the only one to walk away with a contract,” said Lemon.
That contract was a reward for the many hours that Lemon spent tweaking his mechanics by himself, “I drew a catcher's mitt on a brick wall with my sister’s mascara and I kept breaking the wall as I got stronger. That’s how I trained myself before I got to the professional level,” Lemon said.
In his younger years, Lemon was a three-sport athlete, transitioning from season to season without much of a break in between. That left little time for sport specific training. “I never really had anyone to train me. After baseball season ended, I went to football, after football I went straight into basketball, and so on. There was no indoor facility, no fall ball, so my thing now is that if you want to learn it, I’ll teach it to you,” said Lemon.
Lemon is looking forward to passing on what he learned over his career to eager players at the Hit-N-Run facility, but he will not give players more than they are ready for. “We’re going to take this one step at a time like going through school, step by step. I’ll teach you one thing and once you can handle that, I’ll show you something new,” said Lemon. "Giving a pitcher too many things to focus on such as adding new pitches and grips before his mechanics or body is ready for it can be detrimental to the player."
Recently, baseball is seeing a record amount of shoulder and elbow injuries in younger players, with some even having Tommy John surgery to repair the injured ligaments. Lemon makes sure to keep the player’s health a priority; “There’s no reason for a kid from 10-to-15-years old to be hurting. That comes from when a pitcher tries to throw curveballs when they are too young. No, you need to be throwing fastballs and changeups until your ligaments can take that beating, around 14 years old,” Lemon said.
Lemon’s coaching will go beyond the physical side of pitching, not only focusing on technique but also on the mental aspect.
Goodrum was enthusiastic about the prospect of Lemon sitting down with kids and teaching them how to properly think through pitching and situations. “The classroom part really intrigued me about Donald because we have a meeting room where he can teach them HOW to pitch,” said Goodrum. Lemon supported that thought saying, “I’m going to mess with your mind. I’m going to give you theory, because once scouts start coming to you they’re going to watch you in certain situations and when those situations happen, you’ll learn to keep calm and keep your mechanics.”
Teaching kids the proper way to react during adversity is a focus for Lemon. When fielders begin to make errors behind their pitcher, it is easy for things to spiral out of control. “Your first initial reaction in that situation is to hurry up and try to blow a ball past the hitter. No, you have to step off. Slow it down and go back to your training,” Lemon said.
Baseball is a game that takes pride in its history. Lemon wants his players to understand that the game needs to always hold its integrity. “I don’t want you to get over here and let your head swell, because something will happen to deflate it. Every cap I had I had two things written inside. ‘Peace and humble.’ Peace because I had to be calm in what I did and humble because the game is bigger than you.” Lemon said.
Lemon experienced the highs and the lows of the game. His proudest moment was throwing a no-hitter through eight innings until a scorekeeper changed a ruling on a play from earlier in the game from an error to a hit. He spent four seasons in AAA and many more at other levels, but never got the opportunity to throw in the majors. His talent took him around the world, even playing in leagues in Australia, Japan, Taiwan, and Mexico. It was all about playing the game he loved.
With the installation of the pitching curriculum at Hit-N-Run, Lemon hopes to give kids in Fayetteville the professional instruction that they need to achieve the goals that they have for their playing days, whether that be to earn a spot on their high school team, a college scholarship, or a contract from a professional team.
However that road and the work that will come with it will not always be easy. “There are going to be some days where your kid’s going to be mad at me because I'm going to push your child and not allow them to be lazy,” Lemon said. Lemon does not want to push players too much or overwork them to the point of injury, but he will also not allow pitchers to slack under his watch.
That combination is what Goodrum hopes builds a strong baseball program at Hit-N-Run for years to come. “You can pay someone to do something but you can’t pay someone to care. That’s why Hit-N-Run has waited until this point in time to start this, when the right person comes along."
Tim Goodrum and Hit-N-Run may have found the perfect candidate for the job in Donald Lemon.