Tag Archives: baseball

Pitchers and Catchers

“Put me in coach. I’m ready to play.” – Centerfield by John Fogerty

Pitchers and catchers.

This is a magic phrase for an old baseball soul. The phrase “pitchers and catchers” uttered through weather-chapped lips tosses fuel on our ever-shrinking flicker of summer hope, which has struggled to survive the cold, dark times of winter, to become a flame once again. Baseball season has officially begun.

I can feel it. Spring is on the horizon. Baseball is coming. The past month, the weather has been rough. I know it’s winter. I know it’s Kansas. But, seriously, single digit temperatures? With below zero windchills? And an obnoxiously mediocre amount of snow which does nothing positive except make life more miserable.

But, we had a a few highly uncommon, 50-degree January days recently and the grip of Winter on our hearts and our souls is loosed. The local baseball folks have emerged on perfect cue from forced hibernation with a series of text messages, phone calls, and meetings being scheduled on the upcoming baseball season.

It’s almost time. The official Town Crier of Spring, dressed in his regal best, stands tall and proud and proclaims the battle cry throughout the land, “Pitchers and catchers!”

Put me in coach. I AM ready to play.

HomePlate0115

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Hitting Position: The Hosmer Breakdown

Hitting Position

Hitting position is a fundamental common to every good swing. The stances may vary, the styles may vary as much, or more, than the individual fingerprints of each and every batter, but HITTING POSITION IS A FUNDAMENTAL

A batter who gets to hitting position EVERY PITCH, no matter where their stance starts, makes for a consistent hitter. It’s important and it’s vital, and it’s simple. Hitting position consistency is key to being a consistent hitter. The best hitters in MLB get to hitting position every single pitch.

What is hitting position?

Hitting position starts the moment the stride (front) foot hits the ground. If you freeze frame this moment, this are the factors necessary for a proper hitting position:

  • Eyes level.
  • Front arm square or about at a 45° angle.
  • Stride foot landing of ball of foot and with a solid “stick” to stop forward slide of body. Outside of foot should be facing the pitcher.
  • Bottom hand stays in loaded position (at back shoulder level and over the back foot no more than 6 inches away from shoulder) with no lift of slide forward as weight shifts forward with stride.
  • Bat at 45° angle, do not wrap bat behind head.
  • An imaginary line drawn from the left foot to the neck to the right foot and back to the left foot should form a nice, isosceles triangle, indicating a balanced body.

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Load

In order to swing with a quick and powerful hitter’s swing, the body and bat needs to be loaded properly. Technically, it is a plyometric, pre-stretch of the muscle groups which allow for an explosive muscle fiber contraction and a quick, powerful swing. I tell hitter’s in my coaching sessions that it’s like shooting a rubber band at your sister. Do you take that big, thick, Sunday morning paper rubber band and only pull it back an inch before firing it in the direction of their beloved sister? Heck no! You pull that rubber band back as far as you can so you can fire it at that beloved sibling with explosive speed and power.

A baseball swing is just like this, and with a bonus. You can not only hit the ball hard every time at bat, but you can sleep well knowing that sister is not planning late-night revenge upon your person. Win-win situation.

The Load

  • Loose, relaxed grip on bat from a loose, relaxed body.
  • Bouncy – Athletes move on the balls of their feet, not flat-footed or with weight on the heels.
  • Hitter’s rhythm – rock side to side, when one heel comes off the ground the weight shifts to the other heel on the ground. Hitters should naturally rock with this rhythm almost unconsciously, even when just standing around. (It’s how we find each other in the crowd…look for the guys rocking back and forth in hitter’s rhythm).
  • Load – When weight rocks to back foot, the hands load to the back shoulder and lock into place. The rubber band has been pulled and now you are ready to stride and stick the perfect hitting position.

Offseason work

The great thing about these simple drills is the young hitter can perform them over and over and over again in front of a mirror from the comfort of the house all winter long without fear of breaking the new lamp or swinging a bat into the family’s new 52” HD television in the living room.

  • Bouncy Feet vs. Flat Feet – feel the difference between athletic feet (on ball of feet) vs. Coach Hays’s fat, old man feet (flat feet) as you hop 10 times with each style. Then do 10 side-to-side hops with each style.
  • Rock and Rhythm – a relaxed back and forth movement to train body the quiet weight shift of a hitter.
  • Rock, Rhythm and Load – check for proper load position, especially with lower hand to back shoulder.
  • Load, Stride, Freeze – check yourself for proper hitting position in the mirror.

 Hitting Position Breakdown of Eric Hosmer

 HosmerFrontViewHosmerSideView

Here are a front and side freeze frame from the Vine video of Eric Hosmer’s home run in the 12th inning in the ALDS against the Angels. Hitting position. I froze the video when his stride foot hit the ground. Almost perfect. He naturally loads his bat a little further back than his shoulder, which runs a fine line between his compact swing when he’s hot and if he loads the bat even an inch or so further back. The further back a hitter loads, the straighter his arm becomes in the load beyond 45° the longer and slower his swing.

He is also shown here landing on the ball of his stride foot. As he swings and opens up the weight shifts back to his heel. His style, but one thing Hosmer does when he’s in a slump is land more on his heel than ball of his foot. When he does that his back shoulder dips, his arm straightens and his swing is long.

Right now, he’s money. Right now, he’s sticking his hitting position.

Hitting a baseball is not rocket science.

But, hitting with a fundamentally sound, consistent hitting position is the science of hitting rockets.

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Scoring Position

Most people think this base,

Home Plate
is the most important base in baseball. Home plate is where you score the runs, isn’t it? So, it has the be the most important base on the field, right?
Wrong.
The most important base in baseball is this one,

Second BaseSecond base.
What?
Second base?
The one base, which doesn’t even rate high enough to get decorated base lines, is the most important?
Yes, it is.
Second base has another name in baseball–scoring position.

The key to successful defense is to keep runners out of scoring position; keeping the opponent from reaching second base. My philosophy has always been unless the outcome of the game is on the line, everyone on defense focuses on keeping the runners off second base. Give up a run, to save a bunch of runs later.

Pitchers need to throw strikes and avoid walks. They need to hold runners close on first base to make it difficult to steal second base. Catchers need to make it hard to steal second with quick, accurate throws and blocking balls in the dirt. All the other fielders need to communicate when the ball is in play and be intent on keeping runners out of scoring position.

The key to successful offense is to get runners into scoring position and beyond. Hustle ever batted ball to first base. Round the base hard with every single and look to take that extra base. Run the bases aggressive, but smart.

So, keep the most important base in your mind at all times when you play or coach this great game. The true battle in baseball is the battle for scoring position.

Take care of that lonely, unadorned base isolated in the middle of the infield; it’s critical for baseball success.

Good luck!

Play hard, play the right way, and have fun.

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Throw & Catch

Throwing and catching a baseball. It is about the most fundamental baseball skill there is. It is also probably one of the most ignored. It is one of my baseball coaching, check that, it’s one of my biggest, most grating-on-my-last-nerve, plain coaching any sport, pet peeves.

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Baseball is generally broken down into three major parts: Pitching, Fielding, and Batting. In case you didn’t notice, throwing and catching a baseball comprise two of those three major parts.

Pitching is throwing to a catcher, right? And fielding on defense is catching baseballs and throwing baseballs. Like I said, skills that encompasses 66.66% of the game.  In my opinion, being able to throw and catch a baseball are the most vital skills you can possess as a team, or as an individual.

Poor catching and throwing often means poor baseball skill, which often translates to poor quality of team. As a player, take pride in how your throw and catch a baseball. As a coach, take pride in how each player of your team throws and catches a baseball.

Nothing puts a burr in my backside faster than watching a baseball team warm up before a game and seeing the ball hit the grass more than it hits gloves. Nothing is more embarrassing as a coach, than to watch your team running around the outfield chasing baseballs in some sort of demented circus routine. I’ve pulled teams off the field in pregame and pre-practice before due to playing chase, instead of catch.

Learn to throw and learn to catch. Find help if you need it.

For the coaches, hold the line and be firm and consistent from day one. Demand that your team throws and catches a baseball appropriate to their level. The simplest, single thing you can do to make your baseball team more successful is to improve throwing and catching a baseball.

Here is my basic coaching and teaching plan:

Daily Throwing
Focus on every throw and catch.
Consistency – Hit your partner in the torso with every throw.
Mechanics:

  • 4 seam grip
  • Throwing Arm -Elbow above shoulder, wrist outside of elbow,  hand with ball pointing back.
  • Lead Arm – Shoulder and elbow pointing at target.
  • Front Foot – Slightly open with outside stepping to target

Throwing (5-6 throws from each distance)

  • 30 feet apart
  • 60 feet apart
  • 90 feet apart
  • 120 feet apart (Long Toss = Builds arm strength)
  • Sprint to 30 feet for 5 quick throws

Catching

  • Keep it simple with a soft glove to the ball. Go and get it.
  • Where you glove goes, your off hand follows.

Take pride in your throwing and catching skills. Work on it every day. Focus and concentrate when you play catch. Talk, joke, or have all the fun you want, but remember the focus needs to stay on throwing and catching the ball.

Never forget this: If you can effectively throw and catch a baseball, you will be competitive in every game.

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Freaking Ready

Take Me Out to the Ball Game
“Take me out to the ball game,
Take me out with the crowd.
Buy me some peanuts and cracker jack,
I don’t care if I never get back,
Let me root, root, root for the home team,
If they don’t win it’s a shame.
For it’s one, two, three strikes, you’re out,
At the old ball game.”

It has been years since I’ve been this close to baseball this late through autumn and into winter. A long time. Too long, maybe.

The fever didn’t die this year when the World Series trophy was safely tucked into its new home in Boston. Perhaps it is the warm weather, perhaps it is something calling and pulling me in the direction of baseball.

Something pulling at me which has always been there. Every year, every fall, beckoning me like it did when I was a kid.  Calling for me to come back every year, but left alone with its voice echoing off the barren canyon as I pursued other endeavors. Maybe.

Maybe I’ll get the bat out of the closet and take some swings in the garage. Oil down the glove with some shaving cream, or work on the power curveball by throwing the ball into the sofa. Baseball.

Keep rolling along football, I’ll still be your fan. Hurry on your way basketball, make way for pitchers and catcher.

I think that is Spring I hear in the air. Then again, it could be Kiel Unruh’s first (and only) home run shot finally returning to Mother Earth.

Unruh Home Run Ball

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Perception is Reality (via Baseball Excellence)

From Baseball Excellence Tip of the Week newsletter 4/15/13

Perception is Reality– (A Tip for players) The way you act is how others perceive you. The way you conduct yourself on a baseball field in practice and games goes a long way as coaches determine how you will benefit the team. Your talent level “is what it is.” You can improve your skill level and you can have a positive approach. “It takes no talent to hustle.”

Respect the game.

Play with class.

Take Pride in the way you play the game.

Show an aptitude to learn. (Be Coachable)

Understand that failure is a part of baseball and learn to react in a mature fashion.

Always try to contribute something positive to the team (no matter how small)

Remember, you never know who is watching.

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Baseball Excellence is the best baseball, perhaps the best all-around coaching, resource I know. It has been integral to my development as a sports coach and defines who I am as a baseball coach. Most of the drills we did in our programs came from the Baseball Excellence Practice Planner. With the articles on their Instructions & Fundamentals web page, one can become a pretty damn solid baseball coach and a better baseball player. Simple, common sense, and effective methods.

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Stan “The Man” Musial

“It is a very sad day for me. I knew Stan very well. He used to take care of me at All-Star games, 24 of them. He was a true gentleman who understood the race thing and did all he could. Again, a true gentleman on and off the field — I never heard anybody say a bad word about him, ever.” – Willie Mays commenting to ESPN on Stan Musial’s death.

Willie Mays and Stan Musial Standing in Locker Room

Unfortunately, I missed Stan Musial’s active playing days in baseball. I have seen film of him. One of the sweetest swings I’ve ever seen and, arguably, the best left handed swing of all time. Musial is consistently ranked among the top five professional baseball players in the history of the game, but, I remember him more as an ambassador of the game. He represented himself, the Cardinals organization, and the city of St. Louis with dignity and class until the day he passed last Saturday.

Stan Musial did magnificent things on the baseball field, but perhaps his greatest contribution to the game came in helping to change the racial atmosphere of the 1950’s baseball clubhouses. Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in 1947, but there was still a racial divide among the players in the clubhouses long after. An ex-baseball coach of mine posted the following story yesterday recounting how Stan Musial played a key role in the acceptance if the negro baseball player into Major League Baseball.

 “Mays , Aaron , and Campenella were playing cards in a NL All-Star clubhouse in the mid-fifties and Musial came over and sat down and said to deal him in . As the foremost NL player of the time , it validated the black stars in their fellow all stars eyes . I have seen both Mays and Aaron say they thought it was classy and they were very grateful to Musial for the gesture.”

I think the greatest lesson Stan Musial leaves us with in this age of modern sport is that the individual, no matter how good, should live to serve the sport. We acquire great things from our sports and too often we expect the sport to serve us, instead of us serving our beloved sport.

Stan Musial, 1920-2013

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The Game Perspective

It’s a game.

It’s a game.

It’s a game.

Truly, it is only a game.   Not that you can’t take the game seriously. Not that you can’t work you buttocks to the bare bone to prepare to compete. Not that you can’t compete with the very marrow of your human existence. All of those things are good. But, in the end, it is only a game.

I am a competitor. I will scrape and scrap for any victory, no matter how insignificant the victory or the competition can be. If there is a contest to be had, my game face sits constantly at the ready. Whether organized sports, recreational sports, family game night or kicking/blocking 32 oz plastic cup field goals through my president’s room door off the living room of the fraternity house, it is game on. But, it always remains a game. No crying, no whining, no takeover of one’s life…It’s a game.

After my eighth grade year, we had a very good summer baseball team. We were too cool for school in the late 1970’s. As recent graduates of Catholic school, we were good and we had uniforms fashioned after the old rainbows style of the Houston Astros, only with a blue spot on the front of jersey instead of a star. Our head coach worked as a salesman for our team sponsor, Spotbilt (hence the blue spot) and with his job it meant he was out of town sometimes for games. When he was gone, our gruff assistant, Ray, would take over. Ray was a much-older brother of one of my teammate friends and a friend of my oldest brother.  He was a mountain of a man, with a hippie inclination, who loved music and sports. He was a great influence on me while I was growing up, needless to say.

One night, right before the championship game of the end of season tournament, Ray said one of the damnedest things I had every heard. His wisdom that night has stuck in a prominent place in my brain all these years. It is the perfect thought for a rant on perspective and sports.

Before our games, our very Catholic head coach would do the very Catholic sports thing of praying for the quick and bloodless domination of our upcoming opponent.  It was always one of those awkward moments in which newly minted teenage boys found difficult to keep from giggling and laughing, but the head coach made us do it with religious purpose and consistency.

The championship game rolls around and, lo and behold, the head coach is out of town on a sales trip. We warm up, take pregame infield and meet down the first base line for the usual “biggest game of your life, now let’s pray an Our Father for the complete vanquishing of our opponent” speech our head coach always gave. Coach Ray fills in for the head coach. Ray talks about how much fun it is to play a championship game, how hard we have worked to get here and how we need to go out, relax and have a good time. But, when we all put a hand in the team circle to say the prayer, Ray turns and walks toward the dugout.

We look in confusion to each other. After a few seconds, one of our real smart asses on the team (one of many smart asses on that team, I assure you.) says, “Hey Ray Ray, aren’t we going to say a prayer?”

Ray stops dead in his 6’ 4” 280 lb. tracks, pauses for a moment of thought, then returns to the team huddle.  The look in Ray’s eyes spelt doom for the young smartass who had the nerve to speak up and say what we were all thinking, but with the “Ray Ray” thrown in. Ray stops, looks each of us squarely in the eye and says,

“Boys, this game tonight is important. This sport of baseball is a great game, it is important. But, if God gives a shit about the outcome of this baseball game, we are all in a hell of a bad way. Now go out and play goddamn baseball while you still can.”

Perspective and sports. Not always an easy marriage. But, it is just a game…

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#MostUnlikelySportsHighlightEver

Seven years ago, on July 7, 2004, THE SHOT HEARD AROUND CLAY CENTER occurred.  A home run was hit in a summer American Legion baseball game at Kelly Campbell Field.  I can’t remember who we played that night. In fact, I can’t remember any details from that doubleheader. I can usually remember those details a coach is programmed to remember, but I can’t on this one, too traumatic I guess.  Honestly, I searched for the original scorebook in my collection of artifacts to help trigger memories, but it was nowhere to be found.  These seven years have passed with an epiphany of my acceptance of the reality IT actually did happen and IT was not a dream or heat-induced hallucination.

Kiel Unruh hit a home run.

There it is, the most unlikely sports highlight ever. I admit it is still shocking, even more shocking than SpellDog’s walk-off blast in another game that season.  Both those home runs were the only home runs either of those men hit in their entire baseball careers.  SpellDog’s was impressive (and a walk-off), but since he had actually hit several pop flys to the outfield in his illustrious career, a coach knew it would only be a matter of time before he hit one.  But Kiel, not even close.  I guess I need to give a little physical background on Kiel.  He is skin and bones.  There is nothing to this kid.  We had to keep the hanger in his jersey just to keep it from falling off over his shoulders. That’s skinny!  He was a wizard with the glove in the outfield, though.  He and his outfield mates cut the open outfield space down to a bare minimum, he just couldn’t hit a baseball to save his life.  He was our permanent nine-hole hitter, he was our walking sacrifice bunt and he was only a position player if we could use a DH.

Kiel has gone on to great accomplishments as an adult. He is assistant women’s basketball coach at Stephen F. Austin University, fresh off being a staff member of the 2010 National Women’s Basketball Champion Emporia State Lady Hornets.  He has enjoyed many successes in life and in sports,  but…

One night in early July seven years ago, Kiel connected.  The ball jumped off his bat and sailed over the Campbell Field Green Monster and into the kiddie playground.  Someday we will build a monument in the playground to this event.  Someday we will gather as old men on the field and sing songs of glory.  Of all his life accomplishments, I sure hope THE SHOT HEARD AROUND CLAY CENTER will always rank right up near the top.

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Royals, Flush by Joe Posnanski

Rest Day Read (Sr-79)

Royals, Flush by Joe Posnanski

“You have to go back, in fact, to 2011. The Royals were dismal that year. They were also dismal the year before that and the year before that and the year before that and … well, you get the idea. Kansas City lost 100 games four times in the 2000s. And, oh, the stories from that time! The Royals once had a runner simply fall off first base, like a statue tipping over, and get picked off. They once had a player lose a fly ball in the sun because his prescription sunglasses had not yet arrived. They once had an outfielder who climbed the wall to catch a fly ball only to see it land on the warning track and bounce over his head. They once had their first batter of the game bat out of order.

The biggest problem then, strange as it may seem now (we are talking about the three-time-champion Royals), was that Kansas City had trouble finding, developing and affording good players. How did it turn around? How did the Royals reach the playoffs in 2013, win the World Series in ’15 and then dominate the latter part of the decade? Well, it was that minor league system … that amazing Kansas City Royals minor league system.

Believe it or not, back in those days when human beings played Jeopardy! and people thought LeBron James was going to win championships and Tiger Woods was going to break Jack Nicklaus’s career majors record, people also thought Dayton Moore was a complete failure. Moore will tell you this was mostly his fault. He made mistakes, and he did not explain himself well enough.”

I love the Royals. OK Mrs. Hays, I know I shouldn’t say “love”, especially about my hometown team, the Royals and the Chiefs, but…

Hope spring eternal.  Thanks, Joe P. for this article and providing hope.  This is going to be a rough year to be a Royals fan, but we are what we are.

If you, dear reader, are also a Royals fan, leave a comment with your favorite Royal memory.  Good luck in 2011 to the Boys in Blue!

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