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April 21, 2018

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Like any angel worth its weight in divine guidance, Angel Borrelli cares far more about those she takes under her wing than about herself.

Borrelli knows more about the baseball pitching motion and how to fine-tune it to maximize performance and reduce injury than anyone you could name. She should be far more well known. Those who have come to know her and her work believe she should be working for a major league team, or perhaps for Major League Baseball as a roving troubleshooter.

But for now, the Pleasant Hill kinesiologist prefers working selflessly behind the scenes with pitchers themselves -- from major leaguers to youngsters just starting their careers at age 9 or 10 -- who have come to understand and appreciate her extraordinary gifts for providing specific biomechanical tips and progressive training advice.

"I've never asked anything of any of my pitchers," Borrelli said. "I never ask them to mention my name. It's about the pitcher, not me. But I want to empower these guys. At the higher level, I want to help them save their jobs. At the lower level, I want to help them get the scholarships and stay uninjured."

Although she has convinced many ardent supporters and clients of her qualifications in minutes, Borrelli knows she has some strikes against her. First, she does not come from a baseball background in a sport that values old-school experience over new-school applied science. She also is a woman, trying to upturn convention in a male- dominated profession.

But she isn't bashful about the heat she can bring to the mound.

"I'm a detective," she said. "My job is to do qualitative analysis and look at where the errors are created. A pitcher can have eight to 10 errors, but knowing which error you have to start with and not waste time is the important thing."

A former Olympic weightlifting coach and a specialist in strength and conditioning who started her GymScience business in 1995, Borrelli has been intensively studying the pitching motion since her college days at San Francisco State. As she has gained even more knowledge and witnessed the extraordinary results of her clients, she has realized she needs to speak louder.

"If I had as many injuries as the major leagues have with their pitchers, I would lose my job," she said bluntly. "Something needs to be broadened, because there are simply too many scientific ways to eliminate many of the problems baseball is having."

A few tapped into her expertise early on. When Borrelli wrote a letter to Barry Zito in 2005 while he was having pitching issues with the A's, he was intrigued enough to seek her out and hire her.

"She had some really good stuff that we worked with based around training and hip rotation," Zito said. "She opened my eyes to the rotational aspect of the pitching delivery, really more than I'd ever known."

It's quite an endorsement, but Borrelli's real breakthrough may come through an epiphany she had in 2007 -- to start working with young pitchers. In addition to taking on a number of area high school, college and minor league pitchers -- one of her clients is former De La Salle High pitcher Tyler Hess, currently drawing raves in the Atlanta Braves chain -- she simply walked onto a baseball field one day and volunteered her services to the Pleasant Hill Baseball Association Condors U-10 team.

She filmed the team's pitchers and taught them proper mechanics. She gave them post-outing exercises to do, put them on detailed recovery schedules and also put them in goal-specific offseason strength and conditioning programs.

One of her most noteworthy pupils is Sequoia Middle School eighth- grade pitching prodigy Joe DeMers, who earned a spot on the USA Baseball Under-14 team last year and pitched a perfect game in the Pan American Championships in July. DeMers is not only already over 6 feet tall, he gained 40 pounds this past offseason working with Borrelli.

DeMers' parents, who have known Borrelli for four years now, wholeheartedly believe she has their son on a great course.

"His mechanics are probably textbook perfect, but most importantly for my husband and I is the injury prevention factor," said Lisa DeMers, Joe's mother. "He's pitched a lot and in some big venues and high pressure, but he's never had even an inkling of an injury."

Another devoted disciple is Rob Bruno, general manager and longtime coach for NorCal Baseball, which over the past 20 years has produced more than 300 college players, 90 professionals, 11 first- round draft picks and 25 major leaguers. When a struggling pitcher of Bruno's who'd worked with Borrelli on his own came back remarkably transformed, he had to meet her.

"A short conversation turned into about a three-, four-hour dissertation," Bruno said. "That was a year ago, and at this point for me now, I would say she knows more about pitching than anybody I've ever met."

Bruno featured Borrelli at a January camp for 20 elite young Bay Area pitchers and a group of top NCAA Division I coaches. Among them was University of Washington coach Lindsay Meggs, who was bowled over by her.

"When Lindsay started asking her questions and totally buying into what she was saying, I knew she was special," Bruno said.

Bruno believes major league teams should seek out Borrelli, noting that she predicted the injury setbacks of several major leaguers -- including A's closer Andrew Bailey -- before they happened, simply based on what she saw from film and still photos.

"She's that kind of person who can fix guys before they get broken," Bruno said.

But will anybody listen? Borrelli hopes so, since few if any MLB teams have anybody doing hands-on evaluations of pitchers' biomechanics. But until the curious seek her out, her call to arms will be to continue working with youngsters. She'll stand on their results for now.

"They are having success, they are uninjured and they know more about their bodies than guys that have been pitching for 20 years," she said. "The body always tells you something's going on. It doesn't just break down. It talks, and my job is to listen. And I'm pretty good at listening."

Contact Carl Steward at [email protected]