A career-changing pitch can be learned under the tutelage of a high-priced individual instructor. In can be developed reading about a certain grip, emulating a favorite pitcher's motion, or on a tip from a friend on a practice field.
Sometimes, there simply is no rhyme or reason to such discoveries.
It is the latter explanation that Torrey Pines grad Scott Schneider offers for a power slider that he says he developed the feel for playing summer ball in between his sophomore and junior years at St. Mary's University of Moraga (near Oakland) in 2008.
The pitch helped catapult an unheralded high school player to professional stardom.
Schneider, a 6-foot, 175-pound right-hander selected in the 20th round of last year's amateur draft by the St. Louis Cardinals, was named to the Class-A Midwest League All-Star game after going 5-2 with a 3.11 ERA at Quad City (Iowa). He was promoted to high-A Palm Beach (Fla.) in the Florida State League before the midsummer minor league classic.
"I don't know what happened that summer, but I came back to school in the fall and I was throwing my slider 85 mph," Schneider said. "I was topping out at 87 (mph)."
Schneider played shortstop most of his career at Torrey Pines and was recruited by St. Mary's mostly for his athleticism and competitiveness. He didn't learn to throw a slider until his freshman year.
Schneider threw a fastball, curveball and a changeup in high school. He throws a slider that darts away from right-handed hitters and bears in on lefties at velocity significantly above average even by major league standards.
"To be perfectly honest, I think that pitch gave me a shot to get drafted," he said.
Schneider has made the most of the opportunity.
He was a combined 3-3 with a 2.04 ERA in stints at Batavia (N.Y.) in the short-season New York-Pennsylvania League and Quad Cities.
In three starts at Palm Beach, he's 2-1 with a 2.37 ERA, and holding opposing hitters to a paltry .176 batting average.
The numbers suggest he's advancing faster than the more polished professional hitters he's facing. As a junior at St. Mary's, he was 6-4 with a 4.54 ERA in 12 starts.
He attributes his success as a professional partly to committing exclusively to pitching after splitting time between the mound and shortstop in college.
Schneider said he's had to make several adjustments along the way. He's throwing his fastball with greater frequency because of an organizational emphasis on building arm strength in the minors. He admits he's lost some feel for the slider this season and focuses on pitching to location.
"It's more about being economical with your pitches and taking pride in going deep into the game," Schneider said of the difference between amateur and pro ball.
Another adjustment is lifestyle.
Whereas he enjoyed some stability throughout his amateur career at Torrey Pines and St. Mary's, he's living amid constant uncertainty of where he'll pitch his next game.
When he learned of his promotion to Palm Beach, he had less than 12 hours to gather his belongings for a 10 a.m. flight. The promotion came just days before the Midwest All-Star game his parents planned to attend — and while his girlfriend was visiting in Iowa.