No matter how you slice it, Joe Whitman is not like the rest of us.
"He’s from a different planet sometimes," Tracy Lewis said.
Unlike other extraterrestrial life forms, though, Whitman isn’t nearly as spooky.
That is, of course, if you’re not standing 60 feet, 6 inches away from him in the seventh inning.
Thanks to this menacing 6-foot-5 space invader, a number of bat-carrying teenage earthlings have learned this cold, hard fact whenever they dare to make their way to the batter’s box.
Whitman, a former closer for the Hudson baseball team, recently signed to continue his athletic and academic careers at Purdue University, a public research university in West Lafayette, Indiana.
The hard-throwing senior left-hander may seem more like a martian whenever he takes the mound. That’s because opposing hitters might see an unidentified flying object whenever the ball leaves Whitman’s fingers.
Whitman, thanks to an upper-80s fastball, proved to be a master when it came to protecting leads for the Explorers.
In 2019, Whitman finished 10-for-10 in save opportunities, while striking out 33 batters in 16-? innings. His walks plus hits per inning pitch was a mesmerizing 0.96 as he allowed just eight hits and eight walks.
As a result of his dominant array of pitches, Whitman’s earned run average was a microscopic 0.42.
"It’s great being a closer because it means that when the game is on the line, you are the person that everyone looks at to end it," Whitman said. "It also means that your coaches have total faith in you to go out there and shut the door and the opponents.
"I really liked the role that I had as the closer because it allowed for me to help the team win more games than I could as a starter."
Whitman, who plans to major in mechanical engineering technology, chose Purdue over George Washington University in Washington, D.C.
Playing in the Big Ten Conference definitely intrigued him. The fact that someone very close to him has a fondness for the Boilermakers proved to be alluring as well.
"The reason why I chose Purdue was because I’ve been a fan since I was little," Whitman said. "My dad went to Purdue and I’ve wanted to go there my entire life. When the chance to play there arose, I couldn’t pass it up."
Purdue, which is led by first-year head coach Greg Goff, compiled a 7-7 record before its season was shut down by a mysterious illness. Due to the deadly respiratory tract infection known as the coronavirus, the NCAA canceled the rest of the season.
The Boilermakers finished 20-34 overall, including a 7-16 mark in the Big Ten Conference, last year.
Unlike his future teammates, Whitman didn’t get a chance to show off his stuff in 2020. The Ohio High School Athletic Association canceled the entire spring season due to the virus, which has claimed the lives of nearly 300,000 people worldwide.
"It’s tough having the season canceled because the whole program worked really hard this year to be the best that we could be," Whitman said. "We had full faith that we were going to be even more special than we were last year."
Hudson proved to be quite special the previous spring. The Explorers finished 23-5 overall and reached a Division I district final.
Whitman certainly hoped to help his team make a deep run in the postseason this spring. He also wanted to enjoy his fellow comrades’ company for one more season.
Sadly, those aspirations were crushed rather viciously.
"The hardest part of it all is not having one last year to play alongside my best friends and the people that I have been around for the last four years," Whitman said.
Like his prized pupil, a certain throwing expert was heartbroken about the news. Lewis, who has been Hudson’s pitching coach since 2017, has utilized a somewhat political and economic philosophy that has become quite popular at The Ballpark at Hudson.
"Joe was going to be our No. 1," Lewis said. "If you throw strikes, we’ll find spots for you. We had no guys pitch more than 35 innings and we had seven guys pitch 15 innings or more.
"Joe is still a neophyte. He has a killer instinct and he knows how to motivate himself. He gets charged up. It’s like he has another gear."
If the season did not get wiped out, Lewis said Whitman could have topped 90 miles per hour on the radar gun. While Lewis enjoys seeing his alien-like closer bring the heat, the longtime pitching guru believes Whitman’s best weapon is a pitch he calls a "slinker."
"It’s sort of a hybrid version of a slider," Lewis said. "When he threw that pitch properly, it did not touch a bat. Even when he hung it, it served as a changeup. Joe always had a live arm. It was about incubating it and turning him into a butterfly."
Besides working with Lewis, Whitman mastered his craft at Grady’s Pitching School. Thanks to his obsession with perfection, Whitman’s work with the Explorers has been downright supernatural.
"It really helped me mechanically and in the weight room," Whitman said of the pitching facility in Canton. "I got a lot stronger and it translated perfectly to the field.
"Coach Lewis is one of the best coaches I’ve ever had. The entire Hudson staff is amazing. Every coach knows so much about the game and they show a total passion and love for the game in the way they coach."
Whitman, who first became a pitcher when he was 8 years old, should feel right at home when he heads to Purdue.
According to www.purdue.edu, his future home in West Lafayette has the fourth largest foreign student population of any university in the United States.
Does this fact include a certain alien pitcher with magical powers?
Either way, it’s a safe bet Whitman won’t be taken by government agents if he happens to stroll around campus.
When it comes to the Boilermakers, their version of E.T. will be allowed to "phone home" anytime he wishes.
"I’m really excited to go to Purdue to play because it just got a new coaching staff and it is an up-and-coming program in the Big Ten," Whitman said. "I think it’s going to be very special being a part of it.
"I don’t know exactly what I hope to do with my time there yet, but what I do know is, I want to play baseball for as long as I can and at the highest level I can."
Reporter Frank Aceto can be reached at 330-541-9444, firstname.lastname@example.org or @FrankAceto_Gannett.