Thursday, September 3, 2009

Pre At-Bat Preparation

By Jalal Leach

Over my 15 year career, I was very good at preparing both mentally and physically before my games and my at bats. When facing an opposing pitcher, I really wasn't too concerned about what he did over the course of the season, or even his last start.

See I'm old school, and I knew every pitcher had some days better than others.

In my final year of Spring Training with the Cubs, I had an opportunity to be in the same hitting group as the future Hall-of-Famer Greg Maddux. One thing I heard him say was over the course of the season his arm really only feels good one start per month. Now for those of you just getting started in the game of hitting and baseball in general, what he said next is all that really matters when you are playing this game.

Heck, one of my BMP Trainees, Logan James used a quote from Yogi Berra that really explains it all. Baseball quote to live by: Baseball is 90% mental. The other half is physical. See Greg Maddux and any other good player are tremendous competitors. Before the game, the only way I knew I had a chance to hit was to compete. I didn't care who was pitching. I told myself I was going to get him. In all honesty, I had my times when I was intimidated (like when I got a start against Randy Johnson one Spring Training game. Remember the game when he hit the bird? I started in RF) He quickly disposed of me in 3 pitches. I was all caught up in the Big Unit throwing 100 mph thing. But I got mad at myself and brought out the competitor in myself and my next 2 at bats were solid. A line-out to center and I just missed hitting a homer to right-center on a hanging slider.

Throughout my playing career, I was an outstanding fastball hitter. That means, I could turn on just about anybody's heater. During the World Series I was telling someone about Damasco Garcia, one of the hard-throwing relievers for the White Sox. In one game when we were in Trips, I hit a ball so hard back up the middle towards him, that I yelled, "look out!" Remember when a pitcher is throwing hard, all you have to do is touch it, because he's supplying all the power. That's why hard throwers give up a lot of long homers.

Well getting back to the pre-hitting preparation.. whoever I was facing, I liked to get a birds-eye view of him when they were warming-up. I would run out to centerfield with my bat in hand, and time my opponent. Now you might ask what was I looking for?

Basically 2 things, release point and how does he make the ball spin.

Man, I've been fortunate! No lying, but I got to hit one spring training with Pete Rose.

All he talked about was seeing the ball. What he meant was release point and how does the guy make the ball spin. Hitters - if you can pick this up from a couple hundred feet away, imagine how you will own him when he's 60' 6".

For me, if he couldn't get his breaking ball over in the bullpen, I wasn't going to look for it in the game. I would eliminate pitches before the game even started. Some time this plan could backfire because I've seen guy's warm-up horribly and come out and deal. Does that sound familiar hitters?.....You take perfect batting practice, and then in the game you go 0 for 4!!!

As my college coach, Andy Lopez use to say, "is it lack of effort or concentration?" More times than not, it's concentration.

See as I got older and wiser, I had a "Leachy" preparation time, which started some 30 minutes before the game. When my alarm went off all I would do is sit-in my locker and get my head right!! I would visualize myself hitting an assortment of pitches to all fields.

Hitters if you don't do this I totally recommend you do. I don't know how many times I sat on the bench for several days, then I was able to jump back in there and hit like I didn't miss a beat.

Once I went out to the field I performed my routine of stretches, sprints, and tracking the opposing pitcher. After that I would stand in on my own pitcher to see velocity.

Hitters I totally recommend this, but don't get too close (because the pitcher is warming-up) and you may get hit like I did on several occasions. Oh, and wear a helmet!

Also, I would recommend asking your starting pitcher if it's ok, because frankly some pitchers don't like it, and don't get too close to the plate. A little story, in 2002, when I was in Spring Training with the Yankees, I asked Roger Clemens if I could stand in on him. See for those of you who don't know, I'm good friends with Derek Jeter and he told me Rocket would be cool with it, but you need to ask him really early, because this guy goes to a whole new level when he's preparing for his starts. I totally know why he's able to still dominate at his age. He wants it more than anyone else!! Well, Rocket said no problem, so before the game I trotted down to the bullpen and assumed my position. When Roger Clemens warms-up, he warms-up almost like he's going to war. I mean he had the "look", grunting and so. While standing there I gave my usual distance off the plate. Rocket didn't like that, he yelled this at me, "Hey Leachy if you are going to stand in on me, get in there like it's the game!"

Man I jumped in there kind of taken off guard; also, I was a little concerned, because the bullpen area of the Toronto Blue Jays' was a very tight quarter. If one would have got away from Rocket, I was toast because the fence was right behind me. Remember what I said earlier about pitchers warming-up. Not Rocket!! Jorge Posada said, "don't worry he rarely misses". Man, he hit every spot perfectly. Now I know why he's a first ballot Hall-of Famer.

Hitters, just like any other pitcher I've ever stood in on, I was looking for his release point and how he made the ball spin. I firmly believe the sooner you figure out the opposing pitcher the easier it will be to hit him. Hitters, have you ever asked yourself why you hit a certain pitcher better than others?


Jalal Leach, a former SF Giant, has recently retired from professional baseball to pursue a career mentoring youth in the game of baseball.

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