Monday, October 31, 2011

How to Keep Your Players' Attention

Here's a good two-part series of articles by Doug Abrams on how coaches can hold their players' attention during practice. A coach's knowledge of the game may be impressive, but it doesn't matter if he can't deliver his message. This is why former players don't always make good coaches. There are some useful tips below on how to communicate with young players.

Part 1
Part 2

Field of Dreams Sold

Dyersville - the next great youth baseball complex. In 2014, even more people will "come to Iowa for reasons they can't even fathom."

The "Field of Dreams" movie set and farmland is being sold to a Chicago attorney and youth travel ball coach who plans to develop the surrounding property in a "small and simple" way with 12 baseball fields built to Major League standards, and of course, an indoor training facility. Here's an inside look at the negotiations.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

ESPN's Swing of Beauty

I came across this swing analysis on "Swing of Beauty" breaks down the mechanics of Michael Young, Curtis Granderson, Dustin Pedroia and Chase Utley. It includes some good shots of what professional hitters do so well. Check out the braced front leg of Young; the back knee bend of Granderson; the swing plane of Pedroia; and the compact swing of Utley. These are regular-sized guys who are able to put up big numbers because they have great mechanics.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Off-Season Training For Youth Players

Here in the Carolinas, fall baseball is wrapping up. Spring ball begins around March 1. What can a committed youth player be doing in these four months?

1. Rest from throwing.  The American Sports Medicine Institute (ASMI) recommends that youth pitchers abstain from overhead throwing for 2-3 months (preferably 4 months) per year. Especially for pitchers and those who throw a lot otherwise during multiple seasons, a self-imposed shut-down period is very important. That could mean November through January, or maybe August, December and January. Each player's schedule is different. But allowing the arm to recover from the repetitive stress of each season could prevent a serious injury years down the road.

2. Play another sport.  Youth baseball practice rarely provides enough aerobic exercise. It's a sport of quickness and short bursts of power. Playing basketball or participating in another aerobic activity to stay in shape and develop core strength and athleticism is great for young players. It also provides a nice mental break from baseball.

3. Get strong. Developing core strength and support for the joints most stressed by baseball is important for players at any level. Winter is a good time to begin a training routine. Here is a brief example of one such routine young players could do on an every-other-day basis:

  • Warm Up - Get the blood flowing with a jog.
  • Dynamic Stretching - Stretching while moving - arm circles, walking lunges, trunk rotations, etc.
  • Core Exercises - For stability and power. Stomach crunches, back exercises, etc. Here are some examples of core exercises from a good website, The Pitching Academy.
  • Resistance Band / Elastic Tubing Exercises - A low stress way to strengthen the arm's support system, especially the shoulder muscles. Speaking from experience, weak shoulders can lead to elbow injuries. Resistance bands are cheap, easy and effective.
  • Light Weight Training - You can also build strength with 2-3 lb. light dumbbell exercises.
  • Static Stretching - "Stretch and hold" to regain lost range of motion. Flexibility helps avoid injuries and aids performance.

4. Learn. Serious players (and coaches) should always strive to increase their knowledge of the game. The off-season is a good time to learn proper mechanics: how to swing correctly and eliminate individual flaws; how to pitch with mechanics that will increase velocity and help avoid injuries; and how play specific defensive positions with the proper glove work, foot work, throwing mechanics and mental strategies.

5. Prepare for spring ball. Once a player's shut-down period has ended - maybe around early February - it's time to start throwing a little to get ready for the season. Gradually work up to a long toss routine to help increase velocity. Make sure to warm up properly with a jog and some dynamic stretching before throwing. Players who wait and begin their throwing routine at the first team practice are usually the ones with sore or injured arms. Those who throw more often and get ready for the season arrive with stronger and healthier arms. February is also a good time to get some batting and position practice, and shake off the rust - especially if there is a tryout coming up.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Senators Push For Major League Tobacco Ban

A group of US Senators led by Dick Durbin of Illinois is pressing the Major League Baseball Players Association to ban smokeless tobacco in the big leagues. MLB Commissioner Bud Selig is already on board with the movement, but says a ban would have to be agreed upon this offseason in the next labor deal.

The Senators are concerned that kids watching their baseball heroes play this week in the World Series will also see players dipping or chewing. This wouldn't have been an issue a few years ago, before the Series' start times were moved up in 2009 in an effort to allow young fans to actually watch some of the games. But now with 8:05 start times, and with the popularity of the DVR, kids will get to see baseball's good side and also its not so good. So what's new?

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Tragic Batting Practice Injury Kills Florida Teen

This is a sad story about about a 17-year-old Florida baseball player who recently died from head wounds suffered in an accident while throwing batting practice. This is yet another reminder of how dangerous throwing BP can be, even with an L-screen.

Harrison Jones from our own league learned this the hard way last spring while throwing a Junior League batting practice. He was rushing to finish up the last couple of hitters and didn't take the time to follow through well enough behind the screen. He took a line drive to the head, lost conciousness and fractured his skull. This was actually Harrison's second injury behind an L-screen. Ten years ago a line drive slipped through a hole in the netting. He broke two ribs and later developed pneumonia. He says he thankful to be alive and wants others to learn from his experiences.

Some important safety tips to remember the next time you throw BP:
  • Make sure to always check the netting for holes or weak spots.
  • Back up and follow through behind the tall part of the screen.
  • Wear a helmet. Many coaches and players at all levels do.
  • Consider all possible hard surfaces a ball can bounce off.

Miguel Cabrera Swing Mechanics

Miguel Cabrera is a hitting machine. The AL batting champ hits for power and average - .344 avg, 30 home runs and 48 doubles this year. This season should be his 5th time in the top 5 in MVP voting. He is batting .357 in the ALCS.

Here's a timely MLB Diamond Demo about how well Cabrera "stays inside the ball".... or as Mike Lowell says, how well he takes a direct path to the ball, keeping his hands close to his body. This allows him to take the outside pitch the other way and keep the inside change-up fair.

And you can see in other videos: more on the direct path he takes, his weight transfer to the front side (while keeping his upper half back), and his impressive hip rotation.

Whatever It Takes To Play Baseball

Here's an inspiring story from ESPN E:60 about what a youth player diagnosed with bone cancer went through in order to keep playing the sport he loves.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Staying Inside the Ball

Professional hitters talk a lot about "staying inside the ball." This means that by tucking their back elbow and pulling their hands through the hitting zone, the barrel takes a direct path to the ball and the hips rotate quickly. The batter generally makes more solid contact and is able to hit to all fields. He avoids rolling his wrists too early and casting the barrel around the upper outside part of the ball, which results in pulled ground balls.

The benefits of staying inside the ball came to mind when watching a couple of at-bats from the past two ALCS games. Both batters faced faced pitchers trying to bust them inside with fastballs.

As you can see in this Game 2 video from, Ryan Raburn stays inside the ball, tucking his back elbow, taking the knob of the bat through first and clearing his hips quickly. The result is not only a fair ball, but a 3-run homer that was nearly enough for a slumping Tigers offense.

Last night in Game 3, Tigers pitcher Doug Fister went inside all night. As good of a hitter that Adrian Beltre is, he likes to get his hands extended. He got the barrel around those inside fastballs and literally got beat up with foul balls off his legs all night long. Two inches more toward the center of the plate, and those balls may have been parked in the seats. But instead, it was a rough night for Beltre and a sore knee for today's Game 4.

Pitching Is "Ninety Percent Half Mental"

Yogi Berra once said, "Ninety percent of this game is half mental." He also said Little League is good because it "keeps the parents off the streets." So true, but that's another story.

Pitching certainly makes up a large part of that 90 percent half mental. You can have great mechanics and natural ability, but none of it will matter if you have a "ten cent head." Learning how to think on the mound is a significant part of a pitcher's training. I have a couple of standard lessons devoted to the subject myself, covering such topics as thinking simple, focusing on the task at hand, dealing with negative thoughts, blocking out emotions, developing routines, etc.

Here is a recent article from the Youth Sports Psychology Blog about helping young athletes focus and block out distractions when competing. It also discusses the advantages of having a pre-game routine. Routines, before or during competition, lead to comfort and confidence (no matter how ridiculous they may seem).

Blocking out distractions is a necessity. NLCS Game 3 starter, Chris Carpenter, will work around the distractions tonight, despite the Brewers' best efforts. According to Carpenter, "It's about eliminating the distractions. If you can't eliminate those on your day, you're going to have a difficult time. I'll go out there an have my game plan and execute the best I can." Last time out Carpenter found the "zone" he needed to shut out the Phillies and send his team to the next round of the playoffs.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Moneyball Stats on FOX

FOX Sports, with help from Bloomberg Sports, has announced a new statistical feature for its broadcast of the ALCS and World Series - Moneyball stats.

Viewers will begin to see what FOX is calling a "pre-play" of each pitch before it happens, at least in terms of allowing the audience to make a prediction based on up to the minute statistics. If C.J. Wilson has Magglio Ordonez down 0-1 in the count, FOX will be able to tell the viewer what Ordonez's odds are of getting on base. (Or you can listen to the expert analysis of guest announcer, Terry Francona, who just accurately predicted a ground ball double-play, based on Ordonez's recent downward swing mechanics.)

The more sabermetrically inclined managers look at this stuff all the time. They plan their matchups around seemingly endless amounts of statistical information. Once FOX unveils its new stat features, fans at home will have access to a small portion of this info, and will have a better idea of just how good a chance their team has of coming up with that big hit they need.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Steve Jobs Changed Baseball Too

Here's an article from about the profound impact that Steve Jobs had on the game we love. The late Apple co-founder's consistent stream of ground-breaking and user-friendly tech devices have brought baseball to our fingertips. Whether we are researching obscure player info on an iPhone, jamming to pregame tunes at the batting cage on an iPod, or keeping the score "book" on an iPad, none of it would be possible without the vision of Steve Jobs.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Power of Adrian Beltre

Impressive performance by Adrian Beltre yesterday, single-handedly hitting the Rangers back to the ALCS with 3 home runs against the Rays in Game 4. His display of power even overwhelmed a TBS camera man, who got snipered trying to keep up.
Beltre's power comes largely from his explosive hip rotation. He also keeps his weight back as well as anyone in the game, bracing the front leg and sometimes taking the back knee bend to incredible extremes in order to get behind the low offspeed pitch - his signature "marriage proposal home run."

Beltre's swing reminds me of another guy that once hit 3 bombs in a postseason game - my first memory as a Yankee fan. He is a great hitter and a stellar third baseman. Just don't touch his head.