Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Joey Bats is Where It's At

Jose Bautista of the Toronto Blue Jays is the man to watch in 2011. Albert Pujols may be the greatest hitter of the past decade, but Bautista is the best in the game right now. His numbers make that obvious. After two months, he is 1st in home runs (19), on-base percentage, runs and walks. He is 2nd in batting average at .353. Since the 2010 season began "Joey Bats" has hit 73 bombs. This year he is on pace for 65 - an unheard of number in the supposed post-steroid era.

How does he do it? Just watch his swing over and over. Notice the violent hip turn, the firm front leg, and he doesn't swing level to the ground, kids - he's level to the pitch with a high finish, and then some.

Let's hope Bautista doesn't go the way of Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire and now apparently Lance Armstrong. Because this is fun to watch:

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Analysis of a Youth Sports Social Experiment

The Sports Letter blog recently interviewed Doug Merlino, author of the book, The Hustle: One Team and Ten Lives in Black and White. In the book, Merlino has followed up on a social experiment he was a part of while in the 8th grade in 1986, in which his basketball team was created specifically to mix players from different racial and socio-economic backgrounds.

I found this interesting because of some general similarities to our own league. We are not a social experiment, but we do have a healthy variety of families.

Merlino says that in order for kids to truly benefit long term from such an experience, it must extend from the playing field into other areas of life. He says, "We went to play basketball because we liked to do it.  In that sense, it was very useful in bringing these two different cultures together. On the other hand, if things are just about what's happening on the court, you can start to fool yourself.  If you say, it's integrated on the court, therefore everything's fine, you're missing something.  As I point out in the book, sports has its limitations."

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Playing Catch With a Purpose

I read a good post at The Pitching Academy about the benefits of throwing often when done with a purpose. Baseball is fun, and it's fun to just go out a throw the ball around. But when teams are warming up for practice, players - especially pitchers - can gain a lot from working on their mechanics.

Far too often I see a kids that have been taught to pitch or throw correctly, some by me, go out and warm up for practice with poor mechanics - not closing up, glove flying out, no follow through. They get nothing out of those ten minutes other than getting their arm loose. But if they would focus on what they're doing during that time like they would the rest of practice, they could improve their arm strength, their mechanics, their control, their various fastballs and their changeup or other offspeed pitches.

Mechanics can be learned at an early age. Once players get in the habit of throwing correctly, they'll never lose that skill. It's like riding a bike. But until the good habits fully take over, players will continue to fight against the bad habits on the mound and in the field. If they don't close the shoulder, or tuck the glove, etc., during those 30 throws before practice, how can we expect them to do it in a game?

And that changeup grip takes months, if not years, to get comfortable with. Pitchers who practice it during long toss or while cooling down can speed up that time significantly. Play "catch" with a purpose and some focus and the progress will show.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Recommended Reading for Serious Pitchers

Here's a link to a NY Times article on Harvey Dorfman, former MLB "Mental Performance Coach" who helped the careers of countless pro baseball players. Dorfman lived in North Carolina at the time of his death in February. He authored one of my favorite baseball books, The Mental ABC's of Pitching, which is guide to controlling your thoughts and emotions as a pitcher. I highly recommend it.

Monday, May 2, 2011

No Hands, No Arms, No Problem

This is impressive. Check out how Tom Willis throws out the first pitch at Dodger Stadium with no hands or arms. An inspiration indeed.