It’s that time of year again. It is the time of year that brings out the worst in adults. It is the time of year that destroys friendships, hinders development and ruins the greatest game in the world for our kids.
Tryouts get posted on the internet earlier every year. Coaches have been flooding the Columbus Travel Baseball Facebook group since the middle of May. Think about that…the season is just over a month old for some teams and “coaches” are already gearing up for 2018. I use the term “coach” loosely because if you are already searching the state for next year’s flamethrower, the kids on your current team are probably getting the short end of the stick.
It’s not just the coaches. Parents are just as responsible for making this time of year miserable. The whispers and seemingly subtle glances you give aren’t at all. You might as well carry around a sign that says how great your kid is and he is on the free agent market.
We are forgetting about one crucial ingredient to this mess adults have created.
Isn’t this supposed to be about the kids anyway? What do they think? Have you asked? Do you care?
Have they improved? Are they learning? Are they having fun?
Sure, we parents pay the fees. We provide transportation to games and practices. We are responsible for our children. If you are a travel ball parent, you have and will continue to adapt and make sacrifices.
Listen to your kids. Evaluate more than what position your son plays or where he hits in the batting order. You might be surprised at what they have to say.
Former Baltimore Orioles manager and Hall of Famer, Earl Weaver, was quite the character. Browse the web and you will find many entertaining quotes and stories about Weaver. Here is one of my favorites.
“You can’t sit on a lead and run a few plays into the line and just kill the clock. You’ve got to throw the ball over the damn plate and give the other man his chance. That’s why baseball is the greatest game of them all.”
The problem is that in today’s world of travel ball tournaments, this is not the case. You can try and kill the clock. The catcher can go out to the mound. The coach can go out to the mound. A player can take a little extra time finding his glove between innings. The batter can talk to the third base coach because he isn’t sure of the signs.
People can argue all they want about whether or not these methods are ethical. My point is that this can all be avoided by eliminating time limits.
Tournaments are about one thing – money. There is an entry fee for each team. Some charge an admission fee for spectators (parents). You have to stay in certain hotels because the host organization has a deal. Don’t even think about bringing a cooler because there will be a concession stand.
I have no problem with someone putting in the work and making some money for their program/organization, but don’t let what should be the most important aspect suffer – BASEBALL.
Take away the time limits. Let the kids relax and play ball. Let everyone get a fair chance. Play the game the way it was meant to be played.
Not enough field space? Start the tournament on a Thursday or Friday evening for local teams. If you have lights, play some night games. You can also reduce the number of teams in the tournament. Go ahead and charge more if you have to. As a coach, I wouldn’t mind paying a little extra if it meant I didn’t have to tell my kids to swing at the first pitch because we are short on time.
We live in a world of pitch counts and innings limits. Most of the time, these rules are set by tournament and league officials with the good intentions of protecting young arms. Coaches usually keep a close eye on pitching limitations. Some do it because they don’t want to see a young player get hurt, while others do it so they don’t get kicked out of a tournament.
So, if coaches are monitoring pitch counts, then what is the problem? The problem is not many coaches or parents take into consideration what the pitcher does when he isn’t on the mound.
If a 12-year old travel ball pitcher is your “ace”, then he is probably a pretty good all-around player. Let’s assume he starts the game on the mound and throws 40 pitches in three innings. That is perfectly acceptable by MLB/USA Baseball Pitch Smart guidelines. By those standards, he should rest two days before taking the mound again.
Here is the issue and I have seen it happen over and over again. The kid with the rocket arm leaves the mound and heads into the dugout – TO PUT ON CATCHER’S GEAR! Are you kidding me? The reverse is just as bad.
Pitching and catching in the same day borders on lunacy. Catcher is the most physically demanding position on the baseball field. Coaches forget that when the pitcher throws a pitch, someone usually needs to throw it back to him. Sure, those aren’t terribly taxing on the arm but combine that with attempting to throw out baserunners and you will be surprised how much the catcher throws.
Pitching requires you to use your legs. A kid with tired legs who just took off the catcher’s gear will involuntarily transfer that stress someplace else. That’s right…his arm.
Check out this statement from the American Sports Medicine Institute.
A pitcher should not also be a catcher for his team as it is the next most throwing-intensive position and results in far more throws than players at other positions. ASMI found that amateurs who played catcher while not pitching were 2.7 times more likely to suffer a major arm injury.
Don’t be an idiot.
In the world of travel baseball, one can easily get caught in the whirlwind of chasing trophies. Chasing trophies is the idea that winning trumps development at the youth level. It usually ends up with talented players eventually hitting a wall and not being able to compete as they get older. This happens because their coach wasn’t really coaching. He was simply filling out a tournament lineup card with the best nine players he could find.
If loading up your son’s bookshelf with trophies at 12-years old is the goal, then have at it. Who am I to tell you what is right for you and your child?
If your son loves baseball and wants to play it as long as he can, find a coach that will help him develop, both as a player and a person. A good coach is a teacher. Not only do they need to have the knowledge but they also need to be able to teach it to young players.
You should ask yourself periodically if your child is becoming a better player and person. Also, remember that the answer to this question has nothing to do with their position or where they hit in the batting order. A kid who bats leadoff and plays shortstop may dominate at 10 years old, but if he isn’t improving, he will eventually hit that wall. A kid who plays a utility role and sometimes struggles at the plate will continue to get better if he has a good coach.
Anyone can throw batting practice or hit ground balls. Make sure your child’s coach is actually coaching.
Baseball is a great game. I love to get outside, feel the heat of a warm summer sun, smell the freshly cut grass and listen to gloves pop as players play catch. I have been around the game my entire life, starting as a player and now coaching my son’s travel baseball team.
My son and I play ball all the time, whether it is a formal team practice or just the two of us. From the first time he ever threw a ball, I vowed to never force or push him to play. I wanted my children to develop their own interests and personalities. I suppose you are a product of your environment, but my son is 11 years old with a passion for the game that seems to grow every time he laces up his cleats.
My dad was not a “baseball guy”. Sure, he played Little League just like everyone else but that was about it. He didn’t play in high school or college. He didn’t have an intricate knowledge of the game to pass on to me. What he did have and what he did pass on to me was the characteristics of being a great father. Take an interest in what your kids enjoy, whatever that may be.
I developed a love for baseball. My dad already had a love for me.
My mom and dad came to every possible game they could, right up until I stopped playing about 12 years ago. They would do everything in their power to see their grandchildren play as well.
Call me conceited if you like, but I know baseball as good as anybody. My body might not be able to play anymore, but my mind is sharper than ever when it comes to mastering this game.
I recognize that I have a tremendous opportunity to teach the game to my son and his teammates. More importantly, I have an opportunity to be a role model. I can show an interest in a child. I can listen. I can care. I can love.
Like my dad.
The pitcher’s mound is one of the loneliest spots in all of sports. It’s very easy to get overwhelmed and anxious. One of the biggest things a pitcher can do to combat these unwanted emotions is breathe. Yes, just breathe. Proper breathing helps you relax and concentrate.
Remember that it is harder to hit than it is to pitch.
Never step on the pitching rubber until you are completely ready and focused on the task at hand. Imagine a place behind the mound where you can “take out the trash” before stepping up to get the sign. You are in control. The game cannot start until you throw the ball.
Do not show emotion on the mound. Demonstrate your mental toughness by keeping a level head during success and failure.
Focus on the task at hand – one pitch at a time. You cannot go back and change the last pitch. The only thing you can control is the pitch you are about to throw. Focus on the target and purpose of that particular pitch.
Try to avoid crooked numbers. You won’t get beat by giving up 1s and 0s.
Trust your catcher!
Many youth pitchers try and want to strike everyone out. If you want a recipe for disaster, go ahead and try it. Sandy Koufax said, “I became a good pitcher when I stopped trying to make them miss the ball and started trying to make them hit it.
Do not give away free passes. There is no defense for a base on balls or hit by pitch.
Being a successful pitcher means getting outs. To do that, you must be a smart pitcher. Focus on getting ahead of the hitter. Throwing the first pitch for a strike is extremely important. A hitter with an 0-1 count has a batting average much lower than with a 1-0 count.
Focus on pitching to advantage counts. Get ahead (0-1, 0-2, 1-2) and keep the count in your favor. Throw a strike on 1-1 and swing the at-bat in your favor.
Trust your catcher. Don’t worry about throwing to a hitter. Don’t throw to home plate. Throw to the catcher’s glove. Be a mitt hitter.
Assume you are going to hit every pitch. If you don’t, it is virtually impossible to hit a fastball even at the youth level. I like to teach the YES-YES-NO theory. Think YES when the pitcher starts his motion. Think YES when he is at his release point. Prepare to swing hard unless a NO visual cue pops up. Those cues are a pitch being up, down, in or out.
If you think “maybe” in the batter’s box, you are not being aggressive and won’t be successful.
The key is to hit the ball hard. To do that, you need to put the barrel of the bat on the ball. You have to swing at strikes to drive the baseball.
In a six inning game, the defense must record 18 outs. Make them earn every single one. Run the bases hard. Don’t swing at a pitch outside of your zone with less than two strikes. With two strikes, choke up and put the ball in play. Make the defense worry and hurry.
Warren Spahn said, “Hitting is timing. Pitching is upsetting timing.”
All pitchers need to have a pitch they can consistently throw for strikes. This is usually a fastball. To really be successful, a second pitch needs to be developed that can be used to mess up the hitter’s timing.
Smart coaches and players will watch pitchers to see if they are tipping their pitches. Be sure that your motion and arm speed are exactly the same no matter what pitch you are throwing.
Work on your off-speed pitches. Play catch using your changeup grip. Develop enough confidence in your changeup that you can throw it in disadvantaged counts (1-0, 2-0, 2-1, 3-0, 3-1).