Monday, September 29, 2008

Another Travel Ball Convert

We received a series of e-mails from a reader in Tennessee that said that his son just recently converted to travel ball after playing in local rec leagues from an early age through his sophomore year in high school. The readers son was always a dominant pitcher/ infielder in his local rec leagues. He had a mid to upper 80's fastball that rec ball players couldn't touch. His son was in a mediocre high school league and the success continued through his freshman and sophomore years on the freshman and JV teams.

The player was frustrated that he didn't get called up to varsity with his success, but his high school coach was an upperclassman supporter and rarely, if ever brought up young underclassmen. The rec season had ended and he wanted to play more so that he could make an impact at varsity the next year. At the suggestion of one of his neighborhood friends that attended a local private high school, he filled in as a pitcher in a weekend tournament on a well respected local travel team in the last week of June of this year.

At that tourney, the dad told me, he acted like one of those typical blow-hard dads that thought his son was the next Nolan Ryan. When other parents on his new travel team wanted to know about his son and the teams he had played on, the dad told him of his sons multiple no-hitters and sheer dominance at the league he had played in. The parents were nice to him and told him that they looked forward to seeing him pitch.

The travel coach was a good coach and didn't throw his newest player into the fire until the third game that weekend, which at the time, angered the father of the new player. His son did get to play some second and had a few at bats to get himself acclimated. He always led his rec leagues in Home Runs, but in five at bats, only managed an infield hit.

The father WAS impressed at the level of play and was amazed at how well coached each of the teams were and how well they executed. Still, he was confident that his son would enjoy the same results as a pitcher that he always had. He didn't see too many guys out there that threw as hard or harder than his son. There would be no problem, he rationalized.

When his son pitched in his rec league, kids would always stand up against the fence when he was warming up and he would hear the oohs and ahhhs as his sons fastballs popped the glove of the catcher. He looked for that same kind of response from the team from Knoxville that they were about to face in that third pool play game, but instead, he saw the first five batters out of the dug-out watching his wind-up, swinging away as he delivered the pitch. They seemed locked in. That's something he never saw in his sons rec league.

Right before the throw down to second, the opposing coach gathered his players and evidently had a plan on how to approach our readers son, because what was about to happen that inning was "a Welcome to Travel Ball" awakening.

The first batter took the first pitch deep for a home run. That was the first home run, our readers son ever had hit against him in over six years of pitching. The second better got a single up the middle, the third batter walked, the fourth batter also went deep and the fifth hit a triple. The coach called time, went to the mound and calmly had a chat with his new pitcher. The next two batters walked and with the bases loaded, the eighth batter of that inning hit a grand slam. With no outs and eight batters faced, the score was 8-0 and our readers son had a look of shock and embarrassment on the mound. The coach called time, and gave his new pitcher a pat and replaced him.

After the game, the dad was full of excuses, blaming the catcher, the coach, the pitches that were being called and grabbed his son and said that they were leaving. He didn't want to see his son humiliated like this again and ruin his confidence.

What happened next was a total shock for our reader. His son, said no. He liked the team...liked the coach and was not as discouraged with his performance given the circumstances. "Circumstances...what were shelled...that outing was a disaster."

"The coach says that I have potential. He likes my delivery, my size, my velocity and he says that I have an...upside?" Our reader didn't know what that meant at the time, and then asked his son what the coach had said to him on the mound.

"He asked me how many pitches I had."

"That's all...I mean you have a curve ball, but you never really had to use it much"

"Well, it wasn't working and he wanted me to locate my fastballs and asked if I had a change-up."

"What did you say?"

"I dunno, I said I would try and then I walked the next two guys. So after that I just wanted to get it over the plate and that's when the guy hit the grand slam."

"And you still want to play in this league? Don't you feel humiliated?"

"No, a lot of the guys on the team that pitch said that they started out slow like me and that our coaches are really good and will teach me how to pitch."

About that time, his sons coach came up and introduced himself. He said that he was impressed with his sons fastball and that it was a good base to build on. He went on to explain that his son is now just a thrower and that over time, he will learn how to pitch. He stated that anyone can hit a 88mph fastball, but a real pitcher keeps his hitters off balance and always guessing. He wanted his son to learn how to throw and master a change-up, a curve and really learn how to locate his fastball. His philosophy was that a located fastball was the most devastating pitch in a pitchers arsenal. That's the first thing his son needed to work on.

The reader said that although it has cost him a few extra hundred dollars that he never had to spend when his son was in rec ball...the transformation that has happened to his son has been nothing short of phenomenal. His son's next few outings progressively got better and better and he stated that last week, his son pitched a 7 hit complete game in the semifinal of a regional tournament that was attended by scouts. And more important...his son received his first letter from a major college.

Of all of the no-hitters, one hitters and games where he consistently struck out the side in rec ball...our reader was never more proud of his son that the performance he had against a very good team from Georgia in that 3-1 win. He was proud because the competition was real...his son learned to pitch and above all, his son had new found competitiveness that was based on players that all started out being better than him, but that gap was closing. His son has aspirations of being a big fish in a bigger pond...and doesn't miss one bit the small pond experience he had at the rec level.

Folks...this is what travel ball is all about. It's about learning, growing, competitiveness, confidence and facing reality. That's why we write this blog and why you all read it. Good luck to all that are traveling to the Arizona Fall Classic in the next few weeks, as well as the big Jupiter, Fl. Tourney. Don't forget to send us your sons verbal commitments too!

No comments: