Guy Sarver’s first go with investors struck out; now he’s ready to try again
ENCINITAS — Five years ago, Guy Sarver expected his pitching invention to make him millions. But the dream went down in flames.
Life went south during the summer of 2009, during his nationwide RV tour to promote Sarver Strike Zone — his machine that throws the ball back to pitchers. Driving 13,000 miles, he drummed up interest among baseball scouts and sports stores.
When financial backers didn’t get a return on investment as quickly as anticipated, they pulled the plug. Sarver, who also invested his own money in the project, lost the RV and came home to nothing.
“I was in such a depression that I couldn’t function,” Sarver said. “I felt like I lost everything.”
Homeless by 2010, Sarver was admitted to the East County Transitional Living Center. There, he battled his demons for three years, slowly gaining back his confidence. Now a graduate of the center and fresh with motivation, he’s committed to breaking the strike zone into baseball’s consciousness.
Sarver recently bought back his old RV, lost 33 pounds, started talking with investors and once again is due to hit the road on a cross-country promotional tour. This time around, he’s convinced that he’ll succeed.
“It’s going to catch on,” Sarver said. “It’s not a matter of if, but a matter of when. I’ve come too far.”
Sarver’s love of baseball began while playing Little League in El Cajon. He remained in the area, later pitching at Grossmont College, where he caught the attention of baseball scouts.
But a motorcycle accident in the mid-1980s crushed his rotator cuff, slowing down his fastball, and effectively ending his career.
“I would see guys that I played with on TV,” Sarver said. “All these emotions go through your head, like that could be me. I couldn’t watch baseball for a long time.”
In 1991, a former coach asked him to become a scout with the Chicago Cubs. It was the start of a successful career scoping out big-league talent.
Being a scout often entailed crouching behind home plate and catching pitches. One night in early 2009, he dreamt up the invention to give his knees a rest.
“I literally got up late one night and wrote this idea down in a rush,” Sarver said. Somebody told me I should mail it to myself certified to begin the patent process, and so I did.”
Armed with a mechanical mind and electrical engineering degree, he built the first strike zone out of Unistrut and steel. Plenty of tinkering and fine-tuning ensued. The result: a player who tosses the ball against a rectangular target will get the ball back in about four seconds.
There are plenty of machines on the market that toss balls to hitters, but this is the first that allows for a game of solo catch, he said, adding that he’s improved upon the design in recent months.
“I have the patent, and there’s nothing else out there like it,” Sarver said last week from his RV, which is stationed in a mobile home park on Vulcan Avenue. “Pitchers training or those only wanting to throw the ball can use it.”
He was surprised to find out his RV was still in San Diego and for sale when leaving the East County Transitional Living Center six months ago. Even more unlikely, all of his possessions, like pictures of him posing with baseball players Brad Ausmus and Mark Loretta, were still in it.
Seeing the mementos reminded Sarver of his progress.
“I’m more savvy this time around and my approach is different,” Sarver said. “I don’t take setbacks as hard. Through seeking God, and putting my trust in Him, I gained my hope back.”
Ivan Andujar, chief operations officer of the center, said Sarver was battling depression when he entered the program.
“He was quiet and would keep to himself,” Andujar said. “The man I see today is a whole different person.”
Over time, by attending center classes and taking on more responsibilities, Sarver’s outlook improved, Andujar said. At the end of his stay, he helped those new to the center get settled and find their way.
“He’s gregarious, outspoken and a go-getter,” Andujar said.
Sarver’s newfound positivity has been seriously tested in the past few months. After being diagnosed with lung cancer two months ago, he’s undergone radiation treatment.
Fortunately, his right lung has responded to treatment, boding well for his health. Either way, he’s staying optimistic.
“I’ve had radiation sickness, but I’m not going to let it get me down,” Sarver said. “It’s just a bump in the road. I just stay busy and move forward.”
Lately, he’s been giving pitching lessons, coaching youngsters and working as an insurance investigator.
“I’m putting every cent I earn into the strike zone, because I believe in it that much,” Sarver said.
Some are taking notice.
Amid the photos and keepsakes hanging inside his RV, a whiteboard keeps track of sporting good stores that have expressed interest in Strike Zone.
Sarver has lined up a manufacturer, but still needs to secure investors. He’s even pitching the idea to “Shark Tank,” the TV show in which inventors present ideas to business tycoons.
And in the next few weeks, he plans to again travel across the U.S. in his RV and play entrepreneur.
“I’ve been working toward this for so long and I don’t want to leave a stone unturned,” Sarver said.