Thursday, February 23, 2012

Switch Hitting Tips

Nobody enjoys attempting to participate in a game, especially a "Team" sport, which your skills are far below the other participants, it's just not any fun being an automatic out. Therefore, for personal reasons, increasing our fun and self respect, we strive to improve and add to our skill sets, but there is another very important reason to improve.
In little league there are always your naturally larger and stronger kids which dominate hitting and pitching, but as kids grow into young adults the strength and ability gap narrows as the serious athlete hits the weights for strength, spends hours in the batting cages and seeks professional tutorage.
Not only do the athletes change, but the game itself and how decisions are made changes drastically as Coaches begin making position moves during a game based on percentages and odds rather than gut feelings. He'll bring in a left handed pitcher to face a left handed batter, although his right handed reliever was throwing well, based solely on percentages.
When analyzing talent during tryouts a Coach and his assistants, will grade the performance of each player as he performs such tasks as hitting, fielding and throwing. This grade card is then tabulated into terms of what benefit would this player be for the Team.
This is the point where being able to proficiently Switch Hit could very well be the determining factor if you make the team or not, as the ability to switch hit increases a player's value by adding options for a coach to draw upon.
I don't know any Coach which, all other factors considered between two players being equal, who wouldn't choose the player who could switch hit to be on the team.
So how do we go about learning to switch hit?
Mental preparation is the very first thing we must do. Mickey Mantle is the only player I'm aware of who hit consistently the same whether hitting left or right handed, and he's in the Baseball Hall of Fame.
The very first thing to be aware of is You will NOT feel the same when hitting from the opposite side of the plate. Although this should be obvious, I've know many players who I believe had the talent to become very good hitting from either side, who quickly discarded the idea because they felt awkward hitting from the opposite side.
Another, what should be obvious difference except in very rare cases, you'll be a different type of hitter as you switch hit. In almost all cases you will have more power hitting from your natural side, not to say you can't hit a home run from your opposite side, but it's not as likely. Why?
Theoretically, the body's entire hitting system, muscles, eyes, and mind have been trained one way to react as you hit, but turn the body around backwards and this entire system must immediately adapt new memory.
Because of the complexity of this memory adaptation, the mind quickly reverts back to basics, make contact with the ball.
I've known of coaches, (me) who have forced a star hitter, mired in a hitting slump, to hit from the other side during practice and by going back to the basics of intently watching the ball and swinging for contact instead of power, the hitter becomes better.
Sometimes you have to go backwards to go forward, therefore here is the system I used for my players when learning to switch hit.
1. They began by hitting off a batting tee extensively as this began to somewhat acclimated their body and mind to the new and awkward physical task of hitting from the opposite side.
This drill was used until the hitter could solidly hit ten balls in a row off the tee. After all, if you can't hit a ball setting still you definitely won't hit one moving.
2.Once they demonstrated they could perform this drill (which also increased their confidence immensely) they moved to taking swings in a batting cage.
3. Establishing a reasonable skill level at making contact with a moving ball, they began switch hitting during batting practice. The first few times they batted from the opposite side only, then they'd hit from their natural side, then switch and hit five pitches.

How To Become A Complete Ball Player

Anyone involved in the world of baseball has heard the phrase "5 tool player", based on the 5 most recognized skills which an all-around good player should possess. Obviously, physical skills are extremely important in playing any sport, however I believe a player without these 5 necessities is much more likely to fail.
I once had a Coach tell me " Knowledge is Not power... Applied knowledge is Power. In other words, it doesn't matter how much knowledge you have about a certain thing, or how much physical ability you posses, not applying or applying those skills in a haphazard way will result either in failure or mediocre success.
Which leads me to the 5 tool player who will either fail or achieve limited success without having, what I believe are these 5 critical necessities.
1. Love of the game.
Call it tenacity, drive, motivation or just plain old craziness, but a player must be totally devoted to learning his craft. This is not quite as easily defined as one may initially think, as there is a fine line, gray area if you prefer, between perfectionism and the drive to be perfect.
The burning desire to become a perfect ball player is what motivates a player to stay after practice shagging another 150 ground balls, another half hour in the batting cages or 75 double play attempts refining the timing between second baseman and the shortstop.
Perfectionism, is the slow eroding attitude which in nearly every case, results in the player becoming frustrated, ill tempered and eventually dropping out of the game, because if they can not be the best...they will not play.
Coaches are not psychiatrist, therefore there's very little they can do to alter the emotions or mental attitude between the two players, and for the most part don't have the time to try.
2. Knowing how to be a Teammate.
This, at first, may sound a little odd to add this to a "must have" list, but how many times have you heard "The team chemistry was everything," and this is at the MLB level where everyone is suppose to be an adult and a professional.
Don't believe that for a second and don't believe that one negative or disruptive player can't destroy a team's moral. It doesn't matter if the player hits.450% or has a 0.05 ERA, if the player disrupts the team's ability to win... he's gone. Knowing how to be a teammate is important.
3. Ability to learn.
The ability to learn begins at a young age, but the middle, 14 to 16 years old, will demonstrate the true ability of a player to learn. What do I mean by that?
By this age a player's natural talent level is somewhat established, as he is either a mediocre player, relegated to the general draft teams, or a top prospect heavily recruited by traveling teams. Coming from the large pool of players, where he was a very large fish in a small pond, he wasn't really pushed to perform or learn in order to be the best player on the field.
Suddenly, he's a little fish in a big pond, thrown together with players bigger, stronger and better than he is. Will he maintain his same work ethic, ignoring coaches' advice, while maintaining in his own mind he's still the best? Or will he realize he's a very good player with a whole lot to learn and had better step his game up by training harder and picking every coach's mind for information? This demonstrates his ability to learn.
4. Respect.
A player must have a respect for the game, and what is that? The game has an unwritten code of ethics which has ruled the game for a 100 years, and similar to a Knight's code of honor, the ball player will not break or disrespect the moral code of the game.
For instance, a player will run and slide hard into second base with the full intention of knocking the shortstop down, or otherwise force the altering of his throw to first base, in order to break up a double play. However, he would Never go in spikes high in an attempt to injure another player. Thus the code of respect.
5. Pay it forward.
This re-touches on being a good teammate, but defines it in detail and for the most part is nearly impossible to detect, only the player knows if he possesses this quality.
Does the player have the courage to teach a possible opponent, although a teammate, how to solve or improve a skill issue, although it may have a negative effect on his playing?

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Pre Game Evaluation

You're on the bus traveling to a brand new opponent's ball park, of course you have the normal pre-game jitters, your stomach is queasy and you can't stop tapping your foot. Taking a deep breath to calm the nerves, you mentally go through your first task upon arriving, which if you think is analyzing the opposing team, you'd be wrong.
As soon as you step off the bus and walk to the dugout your senses of sight, and hearing should become acutely aware, familiarizing yourself with the environment. Familiarity, subconsciously, breeds comfort and you want to quickly become acclimated to the environment so you can focus on playing baseball.
1. Prior to beginning your warm-up tosses, slowly and carefully take a wide scan around the entire field, foul pole to foul pole, making a mental note of anything which could come into play that could affect the ball. Ask yourself a few questions as you look.
B. The most important thing to inspect is the playing field, especially the texture and make up of the playing field. Nearly all amateur ball parks have a dirt infield, but every now and then you'll run across a grass infield with sliding pits around the bases. Most importantly look at the outfield grass, is it thick or tall, as this will definitely have an impact on ground balls through the infield, such as you'll have to automatically charge a ball if the grass is high, or you may be able to stretch a hit into a double.
C. Observe the field layout including foul territories and corners. There may be a slight dip or ditch 25' outside the left field foul line, which would most likely be out of play, but if you're running full speed chasing a foul ball fly in that area, you'll need that subconscious note to pull up before falling or tripping in the ditch.
Or you may notice a weird angle at the right field foul pole area created by an awkward connection of fencing of the field and the parking lot, where a ball could get trapped in that area if it bounced a certain way.
Now that you have a mental picture of the playing field and any quirks which may cause a problem, analyze the natural conditions.
A. Wind or no wind today and if there is, which direction is it blowing? A Strong wind to a particular field, or blowing straight out from behind the plate, could cause a high fly ball to travel 10 feet or more further than it normally would, but in the case of a strong wind blowing in towards the plate, it'll hold the ball up longer and decrease distance of travel.
B. Is there a sun problem? Where's the Sun located, which of course will change during the game, but you need to know what affects, if any, the sun plays in the first inning. Is it a High Sky, where I'll need to wear sunglasses or cloudy and overcast.
*** Remember... there's a Huge Difference between Looking and Observing. ***

Thursday, February 16, 2012

The Red Sox Owner Who Sold Babe Ruth To The Yankees

Harry Frazee was a New York theatrical producer who, after an unsuccessful attempt to purchase the New York Giants, bought the Boston Red Sox in 1916 from Joseph John Lannin, a real estate mogul who had made his fortune in the commodities market. The deal was a complicated one and amounted to $1,000,000 to be paid to various interested parties. Frazee had to borrow money to consummate the deal, and this led to some of his financial difficulties as the Red Sox owner.
Frazee's tenure as Red Sox owner was complicated by his relationship with Ban Johnson, President of the American League. Johnson had angered Frazee by shortening the 1918 season because of World War I and the diminished gate receipts were and additional setback to the cash-strapped Frazee. Johnson, for his part, accused Frazee of permitting known gamblers to set up shop near Fenway Park.
By 1919 the embattled Red Sox owner was barely keeping his head above water. Turnout had fallen at the baseball park during the war and attendance at Frazee's theater ventures had suffered as well. Selling off some of his interests in these Broadway productions helped to pay off only a small part of his loan, and Frazee began to turn to his talented baseball players as a source of income. During the next four years, catcher Wally Schang, infielders Joe Dugan and Everett Scott and pitchers Carl Mays, Sam Jones, Herb Pennock, George Pipgras, Waite Hoyt and Joe Bush would soon all be traded - usually for cash with some mostly 2nd tier replacements added as part of the deal.
The most infamous transaction, of course, was the sale of Babe Ruth to the Yankees in early 1920 for a record-setting $100,000. The deal was sweetened by a $300,000 loan from Yankee owner Jacob Ruppert. This only brought the beleaguered Red Sox owner temporary relief, as Lannin and other lenders were becoming impatient with the pace of Frazee's debt payments. Lannin sued for ownership of Fenway Park as collateral and, in the ensuing court settlement, Frazee had to pay Lannin $265,000. The revenue from the Babe Ruth deal and Ruppert's loan were used to meet this obligation.
Contrary to popular legend, the financial records make it clear that Harry Frazee did not sell Babe Ruth to the Yankees to finance No, No, Nanette, but rather to meet his debt obligations to previous owner, Joseph Lannin. His sale of the Red Sox in 1923 for $ 1,150,000 is the more likely source of the Broadway musical's successful Broadway debut in 1925.
It must also be mentioned that Babe Ruth's playing days with the Red Sox were not the happiest of relationships. He was often drunk and unruly and had abandoned the team on more than one occasion. Additionally, as his fame as a home run hitter began to grow, he no longer wanted to pitch and he became involved in various schemes such as becoming a prizefighter or an actor. Lastly, his demands for a 100% salary increase in 1919 probably pushed Frazee over the edge, as he had been more than generous with his temperamental star during his tenure as Red Sox owner.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Youth Baseball Coaching Techniques That Work

I love and appreciate great coaches in all sports and at all levels. I love to make notes of coaches who think outside the box and take chances. I remember years ago the baseball manager Billy Martin put a game under protest because the pitcher took one extra pitch to warm-up between innings. He was probably the only one in the ballpark who was counting. I remember when they first put in the rule in major league baseball about pitchers going to their mouth in a game the pitch would be called a "ball." The manager Leo Durocher at the time ordered his pitcher to go to his mouth four times when he wanted to intentionally walk a batter. There was a basketball game years ago that Paul Westphal, a player at the time had called a time out knowing his team had none left to purposely get a technical foul. His team was down by one point with one second on the clock and the illegal time out would grant the opposition a free foul shot which they made but it gave Westphal's team, the Phoenix Suns, the ball at half court. So instead of his team trying to get a full court length 80 foot shot in for the win, they buried an 18 foot shot after getting the ball out at half court to send the game into another overtime period.
In all my years coaching youth sports, I have always tried to be flexible and have an open mind learning coaching and motivational techniques from other coaches. It doesn't matter the sport, I am always observing these other coaches and how they speak to their players. I watch football coaches yelling at individual players and make note of how close the coach's face is to the player's. I watch youth coaches and see how they speak to young players getting down on one knee just to be at the same eye level to make a point. The littlest things go the longest way. I learnt long ago that when speaking to my players outside, I make sure I am the one facing the sun. If the kids are facing the sun, chances are they will cover their eyes and maybe half will get the point you are trying to get across. Here are some other tidbits I've learned.
I am one of those people who have a hard time remembering names. Hearing your own name heard is one of the best ways to gain one's attention. At the beginning of each season I struggle just to learn everyone's name as soon as I could. To me it is a little bit of work but well worth it. Also I make sure I tell my players that I am not good at names and to be patient if I call someone the wrong name. This is especially true if I have a brother of a former player. As coaches we must take the time to learn player's names as soon as possible. And once we learn their names, we must learn and be familiar with their parent's name or how they want to be addressed.
A number of years ago I use to give out what I called a Tenth Player Award. The award would have nothing to do with batting averages or pitching performance. The award would be given to the player who exemplified sportsmanship, cheering on their teammates and helping coaches with the equipment. I was sure to make this trophy the largest one given out to any individual even if we won the league championship. This worked great! It motivated the players to be good teammates. It also made for an easier time for the coaches when the players would help with the equipment. If you decide to try this, make sure you are able to give the award to more than one player if there is a tie. I remember one year I had a special team. We won only about half our games but what a great enthusiastic bunch of kids we had on one team. At the end of the season, we coaches decided to give all twelve players a Tenth Player Award trophy. The coaches chipped in but with the size of the trophies we got, it set us beck a few dollars.
Another technique would be to give out extra swings for batting practice. I learned that in youth baseball, the players live for batting practice. So why not reward good deeds with extra swings? If we finished a game and I needed help with the equipment bag and John and Mark are the only ones putting the equipment away, I will yell out.
" John and Mark will get one extra swing each during batting practice tomorrow for helping with the equipment."
I make sure I say it loud enough so the whole team hears me. A lot of times after I say it, a number of other players will also help with the equipment.
Make sure when you do this, you don't say,"Whoever helps with the equipment gets an extra swing at batting practice." You want to be somewhat stingy with the extra swings and only announce it after someone is helping. This adds value to the swings you are giving out and players will help out not knowing if they will get extra swings or not. This works great and when the players take batting practice, the first thing I ask them when they get into the batter's box is, "How many swings do I owe you?" The player might say seven. I'll say we'll use two of those. I put my players on the honor system. This has even carried over from season to season when we are at our first practice of the year, a young veteran will make sure to tell me, "Coach, you owe me six extra swings from last year."
I make sure to make good on those extra swings. When kids are determined to remember something that will benefit them, it stays with them.
As youth coaches many times we will take some of the personality and techniques from the coaches we had as youngsters and in school. The best advice I can give is to take bits and pieces from other coaches but you have to develop your own coaching personality. If you end up coaching over a long period of time you will learn what works to motivate your players and what works when you want to have a little fun.
Just make sure you realize that what might work for one group of kids may not work the following year. Be enthusiastic and be flexible to make changes as a coach! And whatever anyone may else tell you, you are a role model!