Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Practicing At Game Speed

One of the bad habits that players can develop is practicing at a different tempo than the game. While some sports – football most noticeably – are almost impossible to practice at game speed, baseball, for the most part, is not one of them. 

It is hard for hitters to get to face live pitching every day, especially as you climb baseball’s ladder, but almost every single aspect of the game can be duplicated in practice.

I have found myself a little frustrated with some of my players recently. Our college season is close to wrapping up the regular season. I am primarily focused on the pitchers and many of the fielding drills we do are repetitive. From their body language and the way they carry themselves after not making a play; it seems some of our guys either think they are too good to be working on fielding drills or it isn’t important.

With pitchers, you have to be careful of arms – you simply can’t throw off the mound four or five times a week for long periods. Although they work on their pitches and mechanics daily, the majority of our time is spent on fielding. 

Pitchers work hard on recording outs. The last thing I want is to have a batter hit a ball back to one of our pitchers and we fail to make the out. So we practice covering first base, making throws to first and second base, fielding bunts and making throws to all bases, including home in the event of a squeeze. 

I have found myself reminding our players more and more of late of the importance of practicing our fielding drills at game speed. Not only I am a little irritated that I have to ask 20-year old athletes to do this in the first place, but I have to remind some of them over and over. 

Or when one of them makes a bad throw, I guess it is pretty funny because of the laughing and smiling that ensues. What players should realize is that the old cliché of you practice how you play is true. Would the same throw be funny if you overthrew the first baseman or flipped a ball over the catcher’s head during the game and the winning run scored? 

Many players don’t think of practice as game situations. Do you? 

If you overthrow a fielder during practice, do you realize that the runner just reached second? If you aren’t focusing and drop a fly ball, does the fact that the same play in a game could be devastating to your team cross your mind? 

You play the same way you practice. Do you practice hard? Do you go through the motions or do you try to replicate game speed? 

The earlier you can figure out how to practice at game speed – and do it consistently - the quicker you will develop, the better you will become and more success you will have.

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Saturday, April 23, 2011


The university that I coach has had a pretty up and down season. However, we are .500 in our conference and still control our own fate as far as the postseason tournament is concerned.

Today, we won 16-1 in a big game and our biggest game of the year is this coming Wednesday.

My experience is that either one of two things will happen. We can come out with the same attitude and focus. Or we can expect that because of our last outing, by simply showing up, we will cruise to victory.

Here's hoping that our players look to the former and realize that, while today's success may bring confidence, we still have to show up ready to play.

Confidence is one of the best attributes to have in a baseball player. Overconfidence is the worst.

Friday, April 22, 2011

I've Never Seen This Before

I've been around the game of baseball for about three quarters of my life at a variety of levels - youth, high school, college and professional - and in several roles - player, coach, fan. But last week, Justin Verlander was attempting a pick off move, when he threw to the wrong base. 

Some of my players asked me about it and why it was a balk. I guess the reason is if it wasn't, the pitcher could step off the pitching rubber and hit every batter that came to bat. 

If you haven't seen it, it's pretty funny.

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Friday, April 15, 2011

Jackie Robinson Day

April 15 is a great date for Major League Baseball. Today is the date that Jackie Robinson broke baseball's color barrier for the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Branch Rickey was the Dodgers' general manager and was instrumental in integrating Major League Baseball.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Sliding Head First

Reigning AL MVP Josh Hamilton of the Texas Rangers injured his shoulder yesterday on a bizarre play. There was a pop up near the third base dugout. Both the third baseman and catcher ran to catch it, with the third baseman eventually making the play.

But on the play, neither the pitcher nor first baseman never covered home plate. Josh Hamilton was on third base.

Once the out was recorded Josh tagged up and sprinted to home. The third baseman flipped the ball to the catcher who raced Josh to home. The catcher won.

Josh slid head first trying to avoid the tag, but was unsuccessful. And in the process, he broke a bone in his shoulder and is expected to miss six to eight weeks.

Most youth leagues have outlawed head first sliding. Once you reach senior leagues, high school and beyond, head first sliding is legal, but is it safe?

And while head first sliding is part of the game, it should always be avoided at home plate. Josh Hamilton wasn't injured because of the catcher. It looked as though he was injured because of the slide itself.

Catchers wear shin protectors for several reasons, but one is to allow them to block the plate IF they have the ball and a base runner is trying to score. If a runner is heading home, the catcher is allowed to stand in front of the plate and block the runner from being able to touch home plate.

Your fingers and wrists are a lot more fragile than your feet. Try to always slide feet first, especially into home plate.

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Are You Sure You Know Everything?

One of my good friends is a high school coach and he was telling me about a conversation he had with one of his players recently. The player is an upperclassman and had been one of his better players for the last couple of seasons. 

Not satisfied with his success – which is a good thing - the player and his father decided to seek private lessons. Again, I have no problems with a player or parent seeking the outside help of DVDs or lessons. With the restrictions some states have on high schools and the limited amount of time they can practice, if a parent isn’t comfortable with teaching the game, someone has to be consulted. 

Now, my friend was a pretty good NCAA Division II pitcher. He was an all-conference selection multiple times. He doesn’t claim to know everything, but is a wealth of knowledge for the kids he coaches. 

But practice didn’t start so smoothly this year.

He said this player that his team was relying on had a different attitude. The player didn’t want to do things the way the coaches wanted and showed a lack of respect. So they finally sat the player and his dad down for a meeting to address the issues and try to get everyone on the same page for the team’s sake. If all the other players had to follow a practice plan and a philosophy, this player was going to as well. 

Here’s the learning lesson. When the player was asked what the problem was, he said that he pretty much knows everything and he didn’t think that there was anything else that he could be taught to improve his game (I don’t have both sides of the story, but my friend has no reason to lie to me). He had learned everything there is to know about pitching and he is his best teacher because he knows his body better than anyone else. 

Think about this for a moment. A 17- or 18-year old kid knows everything about the game of baseball and there is nothing else he can learn. 

I understand that this isn’t ground breaking news. Many teenagers know it all. 

My response was simple and I will ask you to consider the same (or if you are a parent, share it with your child who may be giving you fits).

Why do Major League organizations employ hitting, pitching, infield and outfield coaches at not only the minor league level, but in the big leagues? If a professional making millions of dollars needs someone there watching them and pointing out their flaws, doesn’t a high-school or college player?

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