Preparing To Hit

Preparing for an at-bat does not start when you get in the batter’s box. It does not start on your way to the plate. It starts long before the first pitch of the game is even thrown.

Before the game starts, find out who is pitching. If you have faced them before, visualize their pitches. Watch them in the bullpen if possible to look for movement and release point.

Watch the opposing pitcher while you are in the dugout. Talk to your teammates and discuss each other’s at-bats. Look for patterns and signs that might indicate the pitcher is tipping his pitches.

In the on-deck circle, be aware of the situation and have a plan. Follow your routine, relax and breathe. Find the pitcher’s release point and follow the baseball.

Once you get in the batter’s box, your approach and routine should be automatic. You just need to relax and breathe. This is not the time to work on your swing. You have done that in practice and are prepared. Trust your ability and have confidence.

Quality At-Bats

Many people say that you can fail 70% of the time in baseball and be successful.  The thinking behind that statement is that 3 hits in 10 ten at-bats makes you a .300 hitter.  That problem is that it only counts getting a base hit as being successful.

Let’s say you are up to bat with one out and a runner on third base.  You ground out to the second baseman and the run scores.  As a coach, I definitely consider that a quality at-bat and successful trip to the plate.

I set a team goal of 14 quality at-bats per six inning game.  What are some ways to achieve a quality at-bat?

  • base hit
  • hit by pitch
  • base on balls
  • sacrifice bunt
  • sacrifice fly
  • suicide squeeze bunt
  • reach base on an error
  • move a runner to 3rd base with less than 2 outs
  • score a runner from 3rd base
  • 6 pitch (or more) at-bat

Thanks, Captain Obvious

I have seen and heard a lot of ridiculous things over the years while coaching and umpiring youth baseball games.  The overwhelming majority of which come from the mouths of adults.  I will list two of the most cringeworthy examples of “baseball wisdom” and beg you to never say these things to your child.

  1. “Just throw strikes!”  Just once, I would like to see a kid step off the pitching rubber and ask the genius offering up the advice to come out and give it a go.  The kid is standing in one of the most lonely spots in all of sports.  He is the pitcher and everyone has their eyes on him.  The game cannot start until he throws the ball.  Don’t you think he is trying to throw strikes?
  2. “Get a hit!”  Really?  Are you sure?  Thanks, Captain Obvious.  I would have never known you wanted me to get a hit if you hadn’t just shouted it out as I stepped in the box.  I can just imagine a youngster’s mind when their parent or coach starts barking out this type of expert analysis as they try to do the hardest thing in all of sports.

Do the young players a favor and don’t shout out these ridiculous statements.  Please, do it for the children.

The Catcher/Umpire Relationship 

As soon as his team takes the field, the catcher has a very important job.  Before he receives a single pitch, a good catcher introduces himself to the umpire and shakes his hand.  This should be done at every level from youth baseball to the Major Leagues.

This simple gesture shows the umpire respect as a person and game official.  Addressing the umpire by his name instead of “Blue” shows that you recognize him as a human being, not some machine calling balls and strikes.

Talk to the umpire. Where is he from? How long has he been umpiring? Was he a player? What position did he play? If you were taking a girl out on a date, she would appreciate you wanting to get to know her. It’s the same principle. 

If you establish a relationship with the umpire, you will get that close call. You can ask him questions about a call. It’s not just when you are behind the plate either. The umpire knows who is stepping into the batter’s box. 

Call it gamesmanship if you want. I call it smart baseball. 

Travel Ball Tryouts: Advice for Parents

For travel baseball parents and players, some very hard decisions will have to be made in the coming weeks.  All across youth baseball websites and social media, there will be posts announcing tryouts for 2017 teams.  Kids will go to baseball fields all over the place to show off their skills for coaches with a clipboard and a stopwatch. Some may even have a radar gun.

If your kid can play, he will be courted by many coaches and teams.  Some coaches will promise fancy uniforms, road trips and playing time. They will pump up your kid by telling him how he has a cannon and can mash the baseball. They will tell you how he should be a star pitcher and bat in the three-hole.

That’s all great to hear.  But what do you and your son want to get out of this process?  What are your goals?  Why are you spending huge amounts of time and money with travel baseball?

Every parent should sit down with the coach ask how he can help their son become a better baseball player.  Instead of clamoring over his positive attributes, focus on areas of needed improvement.  The coach should be someone who can teach the game, not just fill out the lineup card.

Talk about the team.  Where does your son fit in?  This has as much to do with his personality as it does his baseball skills.  Are the boys together off the field?  Does the team do a lot of non-baseball activities?  If you know someone who plays for the team, ask them about their experience.

Do your research.  Ask questions.  The bottom line is you want to find a place where your family will be happy and your son can become a better baseball player.

I Hate This Time Of Year

It seems to begin earlier and earlier each season.  Some parents begin to separate themselves into groups.  The whispers are aplenty.  You can feel the tension and anxiety.  All travel baseball teams go through it and it all comes down to one question.

What about next year?

Some parents love the team and are hoping their son is asked to return next season.  Some parents have blinders on when it comes to their son’s playing ability and are looking for what they perceive to be a better opportunity.  Some parents and coaches may agree that the team just isn’t a good fit for the player.

The coach feels the anxiety as well.  If a family wants to leave the team, he will wonder what he did wrong and why that family didn’t have a good experience.  There is the pressure to improve the team by finding new players to join the families that will be staying around.  The absolute worst part of the entire process is cutting a kid.

As hard as it is on the parents, I am sure the kids feel the most pressure.  During a tryout, hopefully, the kids are not trying to impress their parents.  I don’t even think they should try to impress the coach.  Kids should just go out and play the game during a tryout the same way you should play it everyday – have fun and give your best effort.

So, as a person who has been on every end of the tryout process (parent, coach and player), I would advise you to just relax.  If your son loves the game and hustles all the time, he will find a place to play.  If your son is currently on a team, the grass isn’t always greener on the other side.  Switching teams can be tough on a youngster.  Have several conversations with those involved before making any hasty decisions.  Always remember, this is ALL ABOUT THE BOYS.

Why do coaches put up with it?

I used to think umpiring youth baseball games was tough.  You get to the field 15 minutes before the game, listen to adults complain for two hours and you go home.  My dad and I used to umpire together.  We did it for several reasons.  We both had a love for the game and enjoyed being a small part of allowing kids the opportunity to develop that same passion for baseball.  Also, it allowed us to spend time together and the little bit of money we made meant we could go out to dinner on the way home.

Being an umpire is nothing compared to be a coach.  As a coach, you don’t go away.  You have a cell phone that will ring constantly.  I get more text messages than my teenage daughter.  I need to create a “Hate Mail” folder in my email inbox.  I have coached baseball at the recreation level through high school and have seen it happen at all levels.

I don’t need to list specifics because it’s ridiculous.  I am sure you have heard them all anyway.  Obviously, the most common complaint is about playing time.  People will do and say anything they can because of a perceived vendetta against their son.  It truly brings out the worst in people.

By now, I am sure you are thinking, “Why doesn’t this crybaby just stop coaching?”

The kids.

When you watch the kids celebrate a victory with huge smiles on their faces, it’s worth it.  When a kid comes up to you and says, “Hey Coach!  I tried the thing you showed me at practice and I went 4-for-4”, it’s worth it.  When you see the kid that sits the bench more than anyone come through for his team, it’s worth it.

Most coaches will try to keep a positive attitude even when dealing with negative adults because the reward is worth it.  Call it selfish, but seeing the kids enjoying success and developing a love for the game makes me smile.  That’s why I coach.

Follow Your Throw

To start the drill, one player plays a normal third base position.  One player will be stationed at each remaining base, straddling the bag, as if they are ready to make a tag.  Extra players will line up in foul territory near third base.

 

  1. Coach (C) hits ground ball to third baseman (P1)
  2. P1 fields ground ball, throws to P2 and follows his throw, replacing P2 at second base
  3. P2 throws to P3 and follows his throw, replacing P3 at first base
  4. P3 throws to P4 and follows his throw, replacing P4 at home plate
  5. P4 flips the ball to the coach and goes to the back of the line in foul territory near third base

Baseball Magic Trick

If you are around this game long enough, you will pick up little tricks of the trade.  Small modifications that can be made to give you even a slight advantage are part of the game.  But have you ever used a magic trick?

What if I told you that I could make home plate grow and/or shrink?  A good magician never reveals his secrets, so be thankful that I am not a good magician…and that this really isn’t magic at all.

A post by Baseball Toolshed was making the rounds yesterday addressing players and their body language.  I completely agree with the article, stating that poor body language will have a negative impact on your performance and send you spiraling downward.  Having a positive attitude and reaction toward failure will allow you to be more confident.  That confidence will help translate into production.

Now, let’s take it a step further with Player A vs Player B after striking out looking on a questionable call.

Player A
Immediately turns and jogs back to dugout
Sets his bat and helmet down
Gets ready to play defense
Encourages teammates
Player B
Turns to look at the umpire
Shakes his head as he slowly walks to dugout
Throws bat or helmet
Pouts alone on the end of the bench

Umpires are human.  They see how players and coaches react to their decisions.  When Player A comes up for his next at-bat, the umpire may really bear down because he knows he missed a call last time.  Player B will not get the benefit of the doubt.  That borderline pitch will definitely be a strike.  The pitch two or three inches off the plate will probably be a strike too.  Player B’s home plate just widened by about six inches.

How can home plate shrink?  Let’s compare Pitcher A vs Pitcher B after a borderline pitch is called ball four.

Pitcher A
Receives ball back from the catcher
Focuses on the next batter
Pitcher B
Stares down the umpire
Shakes his head or makes a gesture with hands

Pitcher A realizes that the umpire might have made a mistake, but it happens.  There is nothing he can do so he focuses on the next batter.  Pitcher B won’t get another call if he keeps up that behavior.  In fact, his plate will shrink.  That fastball two inches off the black that has been a strike might be seen a little differently next time by the umpire.

Umpires are not cheating.  Most of the time, these situations aren’t even intentional.  An umpire can see home plate in different ways depending on the actions of those around him.  It’s human nature.  Or is it magic?

The Tournament System is Broken

Chances are, there will be a youth baseball tournament held near you this weekend…and next weekend.  Tournaments take on all shapes and sizes…from end of the year local recreation league tournaments to week long excursions against teams from all over the world.

The most common type of tournament is the travel ball “3-Game Guarantee”.  Travel teams within a couple hundred miles will face off with two pool play games on Friday and/or Saturday.  They are then seeded and begin single elimination bracket play on Sunday.

So, teams could play anywhere from three to six games in a weekend depending on how far you advance.  Most travel teams in the 9-14 age range carry about 12 players.  Let’s say you go the distance and end up playing approximately 36 innings.  By the time you reach the championship game, your kids are dragging.  Pitchers are limited to a certain number of innings, but with 11 or 12 players on a roster, those pitchers have to play another position.

How many catchers do you carry?  That eliminates another kid from taking the mound.  Unless one player is capable of catching three games in a day, it probably eliminates two kids from pitching.  Now you are down to 10 pitchers.  I have yet to see a team with 10 different kids that can toe the rubber and consistently get outs.

My point is that you don’t get a true representation of who the best team is at the end of the tournament.  Baseball isn’t meant to be a single elimination game.  Anybody can beat anybody on a given day.

What is the solution?

I know this won’t happen because of the almighty dollar, but humor me for just a minute.  Have a three week tournament with eight teams.  Each round will be a best of three game series.  All teams would play a minimum of six games.  This would give a true representation of which team is clearly the best.

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