Monday, May 31, 2010

The Greatest College Tournament Starts This Week

That may seem like a biased headline...We won't is. We aren't going to apologize for our love for college baseball. We like this NCAA tournament more than the BCS and March Madness.

Tomorrows future stars will be on display for everyone to see over the next few weeks. I have been going to Omaha to watch the World Series since the 70's and I have never looked back. This tournament just gets better and better.

ESPN is getting better and better with its coverage, but I still think the networks underestimate the sports consumer. You put every round/every game of this on ESPN and cut between regionals like they do in basketball and "they most certainly will come".

There are some games that are being streamed via CBS sports on the internet. But the great college game deserves more. This is a game that has in recent years given us players like Evan Longoria, David Price, Joba Chamberlain, Pat Burrell, J.P. Howell, Ryan Garko, J.D. Drew, Jason Varitek, Troy Glaus, Khalil Greene, Lance Berkman, David Eckstein, Huston Street, Todd Helton, Eric Byrnes, Buster Posey and many more. They all competeted in this tourney and may have not reached the type of success they had in the majors without it.

So set your Tivo or other recording device to catch all of the action. If your son has dreams of playing baseball at the next level...this tournament is a good start to get excited about playing college ball.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Don't Be A Jamarcus

There are dozens of athletes that make great role models. Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Derek Jeter, Joe Mauer and many more.

There are equally many athletes you don't want to emulate. But we are going to just focus on one. He is not a baseball player...but an exceptional athlete nonetheless that is wasting his talent and just cost his ex-team millions of dollars.

His name is Jamarcus Russell formerly of the Oakland Raiders. The other day, I was at a club where a bunch of college and pro athletes work out and I heard the trainer yelling..."Push it...push it...don't be a Jamarcus.."

Jamarcus Russell epitomizes what an athlete should NOT do. When he first burst on the scene as a Number One draft pick a few years ago, he held out of his contract and then...showed up overweight and extremely out of shape. That was Strike One...Athletes take note...Never, EVER, show up the first day of practice out of shape...You should be in mid season shape mentally and physically on the first day, if you want to be taken seriously as an athlete.

Next, he is usually the last to practice and the first to leave. He is a well known clubber...that is, he likes the nightlife seemingly a lot more than the game of football...Strike Two...Athletes take note again. Be the first to practice and the last to leave. If you are in college, remember, you are being paid to be on this team...EARN IT. Your pay is your tuition and books and a little less burden on your parents pocketbook. If you are not giving 1000% to your team, then you need to turn in your uniform to someone else that will. Also...nightlife is OK...IN MODERATION. Every hour of lost sleep, and every brain cell killing extra drink you take WILL affect performance. Can you afford for that to happen? Look no further than Jamarcus to see how it can affect an athlete.

Finally, Jamarcus doesn't seem to get his role or the meaning of team player. After an abysmal outing at the beginning of this season, he was asked how he rated his bad performance. His answer was an embarrassment to the team and athletes everywhere. He thought his performance was good. He stopped short blaming his teammates and the coaches, but it was implied by his answer. Strike THREE...Athletes, always take responsibility for your own actions. Peyton Manning could throw for 300 yard and 3 touchdowns and he will always be critical of some part of his game. That's how the great players become legends. They are always trying to improve their game.

There's no substitute for hard work. The player that relies on his athletic ability to get by hardly ever lasts in sports. Look at Jamarcus...He showed up overweight and out of shape yet again for spring work-outs this year and finally, the Raiders said...Get the heck out of here!!!Gladly, he is out of football. Guys like that are a cancer for sports.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Qualities of a Great Collegiate Coach

This is the time of the year when college baseball coaches get their extensions or walking papers. It seems that walking papers for a coach or two and their staff will hit a few notable programs this year. That bit of gossip prompted a discussion on the virtues of a good baseball coach with a group of friends and, as always, the topic got a little heated. But as with all mature men with a passion for one common interest, we came up with what we feel is a solid and attainable definition of what a great coach should be:

Baseball is a game that really can challenge a player and coach mentally. It's a game of failure. A Hall of Fame player will have failed 7 out of 10 times at the plate over his career. One bad pitch by a pitcher that throws over 90 pitches a game can mean the difference between a win or a loss. It's a grueling game. A good coach needs to be mentally tough himself and teach his players that Tom Hanks was right..."There's No Crying In Baseball". Figuratively, that phrase is the mantra of many top players and coaches alike. They just can't let this game get them down. It will eat them up if they do. Players need a leader as tough as a drill sergeant that they can look up to and lean on for some tough love.

And of all the words to describe the qualities of a coach..."tough love" really hits home to us. A great coach has to unconditionally love the game and it's players first and foremost. And he needs to wear that emotion on his sleeve from time to time to show that his passion is real. Yet, he needs to flash some real fear inducing toughness during basic drills and times of player mental mistakes to show not only who's in charge, but to rub a little of his toughness each day into the psyche of his players. We feel that a tough coach is the best coach and is paramount to a players success. Baseball is a game of mental toughness and players will be better served to have a coach that is hard as nails to the extent and for the purpose of making his players even tougher.

A good coach should always teach and never assume that his players know the game. No matter how many years a players has played, there's always something new to learn. A great coach has to be a student and a teacher at the same time. He must keep in touch with new practice techniques and better ways to hone his players skills. And what that head coach does not know, he needs to hire assistants in specialized areas that do know. It's not all about control...It's about the development and betterment of a student athlete. If a top pitching coach is needed, then one needs to be hired. If a head coach, despite the fact that he may have had a great career batting average as a player, doesn't feel he has time to work with his players for one on one consultation due to his administrative duties as a head coach, then a top notch hitting coach needs to be on board, period. The game is not just about a cohesive team of players...but a unified and productive team of coaches as well, not just one jack of all trades, master of none coach.

There's a difference between teacher and mentor. A teacher shows players the fundamentals...A mentor shows a player how to process that information and become a mature and mentally sound baseball player and person, for the advancement of his place on that teams depth chart. A good mentor inspires players, preaches a can do attitude and will show a player how a great, positive work ethic can result into a great player and team mate. To be a good mentor involves unprecedented communication skills...a topic we will discuss later.

Organizer and Time Management Expert
After being under the control of their parents, many young freshman and JC transfers may have a tough time juggling their new found freedom with their school work and baseball. To become a great student athlete, they need to have a plan and stick to that plan. Good coaches will give players a pre-game, post game and off-season schedule to help make each player the best that he can be both in school and on the field. I know many coaches that keep a daily log to make sure their players are sticking to those schedules. These guys know that they have brought in a lot of diverse talent at different levels of maturation. Good coaches want to make sure that they stay on top of that talent and never let the student athlete get complacent in school or between the lines. If a team has the goal to maintain its winning ways, then the coach has to manage the time of all of its players. It's not considered a control's just good common sense, because the school invested scholarship money to those players and each coach (and player) needs to be responsible for that schools investment. Young players are just months removed from being their parents dependents and a great coach must hold these very young adults accountable for their actions and teach them the consequences of not staying on track.

Situational Master
This is part of the teacher grouping, but great coaches grill and pound into the minds of their players how to react to the multitude of situations a player will encounter during games. This includes drills upon drills...handouts upon handouts and tests upon tests to make sure his players don't get that occasional brain freeze during a crucial inning. I have attended many minor league rookie league camps. This is the first step for players that were recently drafted by a MLB club. I have seen 21-23 year old rookie pitchers and infielders spending 4-5 hour practices on just bunt coverage. There are 3 hours a day, 7 days a week drills working on turning double plays, hitting a cut-off, scooping a hurried up throw to first and how to scoop a throw and tag a stealing runner at second and third. Yet, just like a body builder relying on multiple repetitions and sets to make him stronger, certain situations have to be ingrained in the memories of the players. Baseball is a game of thousands of situations, and split second timing. When a player reaches the next level, a tenth of second mental or physical delay by a fielder will advance a runner that can run a 6.5 second 60 yard dash, an extra 2.8 feet. That is the difference between being safe and out. A player must know the game, the situation and have the muscle memory to perform these tasks at will.

Mechanical Genius
Proper mechanics are the bread and butter of a great baseball player. A great coach will identify a players mechanics as a hitter, infielder, pitcher, catcher, outfielder etc. Every position has it's unique mechanical criteria. Every hitter has a different approach to every pitch in the count. Every infielder has a spot to cover and a stance to emulate based on outs, pitch count and situation. Every outfielder has to have perfect catch and throw mechanics to be able to make those plays to a base or the cut-off.

Some, but thankfully not all coaches assume that when a player reaches college, that he is already mechanically adjusted...that's why they recruited him in the first place. That could not be further from the truth. While there are some players that have had the advantage of working with private instructors on their hitting, fielding and pitching mechanics when mom and dad were footing the bill during their formative years in high school, as we stated earlier, baseball is a game of repetition. Those skills sets and mechanics need to be re-woven into the synapses of their brain everyday during college. A great coach needs to recognize a hole in the swing of a struggling hitter or a whether or not a pitcher is staying tall or balanced in the balance position, gliding outward, directly toward the catcher...etc. Doing so, will advance that player into the type of contributor they expected when he was recruited.

A coach that is tough may not get the respect of the players at the outset of the player/coach relationship, but over time and after the fruits of all of that coaching are seen in the stats and win-loss column, that respect will be recognized. We know of several old school coaches that were hated by parents and young players at the beginning...but over time, the good players always realized the sacrifices and the end game that the coach was trying to mold out of his players. Sometimes it is during the season and sometimes it's after the end of a season...but players that take this game seriously will always have respect for that coach that pushed and pushed to get the most out of his players. A coach that takes his job seriously, will be seriously respected by all that walk through his clubhouse.

Great head coaches should always hire future great head coaches. A head coach can't do it all. He has to know how to identify other talented coaches that can execute his overall mission and plans to be a winning organization. That head coach has to be as tough to his assistants as he is to his players. Jobs and school revenue are on the line...especially in this economy. Everyone has to be held accountable and the head coach has to know when and who to delegate those tasks to and get the desired results from his players. That means sometimes hiring an assistant that has the same qualities and goals as the head coach.

There are some assistants that are just good at what they do and have no aspirations of advancement. They just love the game, love the players and love to teach. Then, there are those assistants that are great for the program as a whole...They also love the game, love the players and love to teach, but they also want more for the program and eventually more for their career advancement. I know of many great coaches that were not hired or were let go because of their ambitions. They were perceived by the head coach as being a threat to their own existence. Well, if a head coach feels threatened by another great coach, then that coach has his own confidence issues, and that has an affect on team unity and morale.

Winston Churchill has some of the greatest quotes in history and said, "One ought never to turn one's back on a threatened danger and try to run away from it. If you do that, you will double the danger. But if you meet it promptly and without flinching, you will reduce the danger by half. Never run away from anything. Never!" Coaches need to stand tall, embrace a challenge and realize that every top quality coach should have ambition...and the more ambitious coaches that are on a team, the more those qualities are passed down to the players. It's about the players first and foremost...they are the benefactors and by embracing another great embracing his ambition...strengthens the team and the head coach's status as well. Great head coaches were usually under the tutelage of other great coaches at another school.

Along with delegating...a great coach and his staff must be the ultimate communicators. No player should ever doubt their standing on the team or their role. Lack of ones standing on the team leads to low morale. If a player is just not living up to his expectation, a good coach will be in his grill to tell that player exactly what he is doing wrong, what he needs to do to fix it to get back on track, and what his present standing on the team is as a result. It's then, up to that player to take that information and process it. He can either sulk or improve his status on the team...but at least the player or players were told the score...and the players that choose to listen and react positively to a coach's comment will become the mentally tough players (the type the coach wants on his team) that will step it up and give the coach what he wants. Great communication also creates great team unity. As long as everyone knows his role on the team and understands and accepts that role, then team unity flourishes. And...hat kind of positive vibe on the bench wins championships my friends.

Talent Scout and Salesman
Above all, a good coach has to identify the athletes from the role players. College coaches have to know their future needs and what holes to fill. They need to manage that talent search...and develop a pitch, scheduled plan and proper follow through to land that talent. Good coaches know all of the high tech social networking sites to communicate that level of interest and sell the program as if it was the only logical choice for that prospect. When a prospect sits in that office for that coach, he needs to have that feeling that this is the perfect scenario for him as a player. That coach should communicate to the player and his parents on that official visit that his team is going places and that the player fills specific needs for his team. That player needs to know at that time, the expectations and work ethic required to be a productive student athlete and how that school will help him achieve his ultimate goal. A great coach needs to be able to look in the eye of a player and tell him and his parents that he will be better man, a more skilled player in the three to four years at that university and say that with truth, passion and conviction. Developing this type of integrity, relationship and trust up front is a good sign that the recruit will get the same treatment as a player.

A great coach's salesmanship shouldn't stop at the recruiting visit. Coaches need to sell their program to benefactors and alumni as well. We are in an economy that requires athletic programs to pay for themselves in so many different ways. Winning increases gate receipts for sure, but it also can increase advertising, outside support from businesses, team and school alumni, and community fan interest. A great coach has to be the ambassador for the school, respected by the baseball loving community and a motivational figure that is sought out for off-season hot stove meetings, radio and TV talk shows, camps and fund raisers. He is not only a leader of young men, but a strong, respected leader of an entire community...willing to work as hard in the off-season as he does between the lines in the spring.

Universities Need to Strive For the Best of the Best
These are the qualities of a coach that each university should strive to hire and develop. Anything less is a terrible reflection on the the school and undermines the trust and commitment that a player made to that school when he chose to sign a letter of intent to play there. These are young men's futures...these are the children of hard working parents that have sacrificed countless hours and dollars for travel ball, private instructors and showcases, just for the opportunity for their sons to get a chance to continue to play at a higher level. And, since collegiate baseball only rewards 11.7 scholarships to be divided among 27 rostered players, parents are still footing a big portion of that bill. And, since collegiate baseball only rewards 11.7 scholarships to be divided among 27 rostered players, parents are still footing a big portion of that bill. If a coach does not have many, if not all of the aforementioned qualities at the school a player will be attending, and their history of that coach is clouded with mediocre results, then more thought must be given on whether or not this school is for those recruits.

For existing players that do not have a coach with these qualities...the players need to rise above it all and don't let it at all affect them...These players need to be the best they can harder, be more focused, be their own team leaders, win because they all are winners, not whiners...It's OK to lose, as long as the thought process defaults to a burning desire that "you'll get them next time". Remember that players under these conditions were recruited because they had talent...Players need to access that time in their lives that got them to this level in the first place and never let go.

Or...someone other than the player can send this article to that Universities Athletic Director. It will at least give the AD food for thought and may be the difference for prospective players and the future of that program.
There's more to great coaching we are sure. These are just our thoughts...Have any more virtues of a great coach that you'd like to share?

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Parents Need To Step Back

I just got back from a long weekend of watching collegiate baseball. Let me tell you folks, like the pro game itself, there's some great NCAA baseball being played in around the country. You need to scout out some of these teams and see for yourself.

But, that's not what this post is about. On our way back home, I saw a sign on the back of a mini-van that said "Baby on Board". Now, I thought that those signs were long gone from store shelves and had gone the way of those Garfield dolls. You remember those too don't you? Those were the stuffed toys that odd people used to suction cup on their car windows, thinking that it was a shout out to everyone on the road that they had a sense of humor. I heard that they are a part of the reason why are landfills are overburdened...but I digress.

The Baby on Board stickers are a sign of the times least the sign of the late 80's and early 90's when they were more prevalent. They now represent the plethora of the same over protective, parents that are ruining sports today.

Most of those child "victims" of their parents advertisement of their presence in a vehicle are grown up and in high school now. Except that instead of being paranoid that every vehicle on the road was out to purposely ram their car, parents are hovering over coaches and administrators making sure that their "baby" is treated with kid gloves on a sports field.

Too many parents are just plain too over-protective when it comes to their child's treatment by a coach. They don't want a coach that yells too much. They don't want their child to sit the bench. They have this perception that right field is a bad position or that seniors should automatically play on senior day in the middle of a conference race and so on. It is getting way, way out of hand and it needs to stop.

We have heard more than a dozen times of how coaches were fired because a group of parents didn't like the way a coach was tough on their kid. And, ironically, it's usually the parents of bench-sitters that complain the most. Here's a news flash parents. Your son is sitting the bench because he isn't good enough to play...period.

Of course, not all coaches have a clue. Some ARE bad, but the majority of coaches that we know that were either fired, quit or retired in the past few years, were great coaches. They all left the game because administrators of schools are caving in to clueless parents that know zero about the world of competitive sports.

Parents today, want high school sports to be an extension of T-Ball. Everyone plays and everyone gets a participation trophy at the end of the year.

What are these parents going to do once their son actually gets to college and then enters the real world? Are they going to call the CEO of a large company and yell at them for not hiring their son? If that kid is lucky enough to find a job, are they going to write a letter to the company saying that their son's self esteem is ruined because he was given a cubicle instead of a corner office?

You know what this country needs? It needs more hard nosed coaches like of Augie Garrido of Texas. Those guys will melt the skin off of a players face with their steely eyed stares and off colored remarks about a players ability. They know how to toughen-up today's soft kids. They know that the world is not a nice place and therefore they can be real mean at times...just like the real world. The guys that succeed in those programs will have a future in life...whether in be in baseball or in business, because they know what it takes to succeed.

These great players know that life isn't an entitlement. It's hard work and a ton of blood, sweat and tears at times. Did you ever wonder why Texas and Arizona State always seem to be in Omaha? It's because this method of coaching works. It may be painful for some of us to watch, but aren't any of us old enough to remember our coaches when they used to say..."no pain, no gain"?

Politically correct isn't always correct. There are times when our children need a good old fashioned kick in the pants. But, don't get us wrong...We encourage parents to get involved in their sons sports...just don't get too involved and try to control the outcome. Only your son and his true ability can do that.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Failure Is Part Of The Game

Baseball endures because its myth and statistics endure. It is constant. Winning 20 games as a pitcher or batting .300 is still the same measure of excellence today as it was before my grandfather was born.

Someone much wiser than I once wrote that whoever wants to know the heart, soul and mind of America had better learn baseball. How true. I doubt that many football fans can say how many touchdown passes Joe Montana threw, or the number of goals Michael Jordan scored. But all real baseball fans know that Ted Williams hit .400, Hank Aaron ended up with 755 home runs and broke Babe Ruth's record of 714 (sorry Barry, 762 hasn't quite sunk in yet) and Joltin Joe had a 56 game hitting streak.

In many ways, baseball is a simple game that anyone can follow and enjoy. It is also a complex game. I once read that somebody computed 18,000 different situations that players have to react to without having the time to think about it.

But like America and it's roller coaster history of stops and starts and ups and downs, failure is an acceptable norm. My former coach used to quote Confucius and state, "A man who has committed a mistake and doesn't correct it is committing another mistake."

Babe Ruth struck out twice in one inning 32 times. Hank Aaron ground into more double plays than any other player. Nolan Ryan lost more games than all but 7 pitchers in major league history. Yet, they are all in the Hall of Fame.

That's the essence of baseball, of life and how you deal with failure. If any of you young men out there are having an off day or summer, learn from it and know that even the greats of this game had much, much worse games than you. They just worked harder and made the adjustments. The harder you work, the easier it can get. Work hard this summer boys and above all, have fun. It's a game, after all.

Monday, May 24, 2010

College Preparatory Should Extend to Sports Too!

Part of the quest for a high school to become a College Preparatory School does not stop with the academic curriculum. Sports can also be College Prep. For instance, many of the top high school baseball programs model their work-outs the way that a Major League club would run their practices. That may seem like an obvious strategy, but believe me, the majority of public and some private school baseball programs are a complete joke. Many coaches just don't understand the bigger picture like some of the top baseball schools do.

There are programs like Brophy Prep(AZ), Bishop Gorman (NV), Owasso(OK) and Moody High School (TX) that are True College Preparatory Baseball Programs. It's that way, because many of these schools have coaches that are former major league scouts and players that understand what it takes to become a player at the next level. They have a focus to help players achieve their dreams to play at the next level. The players that participate in these programs take baseball seriously and have aspirations to play at the next level. But, none of this will come to fruition if the coaching acumen, alumni and administration support is not there.

In a College Prep (CP) atmosphere, the intention is to prepare a student in all aspects of the collegiate experience. A great CP applies the most advanced learning theories and technology that in turn provides a strong learning environment. Good CP's form partnerships with art and cultural organizations, universities, businesses and community groups to give students a breadth of experiences. The mission should be to help students build knowledge, appreciation and understanding of the community and the larger world. Sports is a huge part of that larger world and partnerships with universities, off-season college development programs, trainers, instructors, etc. is all part of the total breadth of the sports experience.

A few years back, my son was invited to an Arizona State Top 50 baseball camp. The guest speaker was Scott Boras. Mr. Boras is considered the worlds best Sports agent and his story is a big part of why I feel this affinity towards the importance of being a student athlete.

Scott Boras, Scott Boras Corp, is a former second baseman and center fielder who played in the Chicago Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals organizations. After four years in the minor leagues, during which he never made it above Class AA, he retired due to three knee surgeries. The Cubs paid for him to attend law school at the University of the Pacific. He also holds a doctorate in industrial pharmacology, and during his law career, he specialized in medical litigation.

He graduated with honors and was recruited by many of the top law firms in the country. Each interview, he would walk into, he was focused on touting his multiple degrees and honors...and in each interview, the first half of the conversation was ALWAYS about his experience with the Cubs and Cardinals.

His speech at Arizona State University was focused on the advantages that Student Athletes have and that doors open wider for those that excel in both. As proud as he was of his Law degree and his firms from New York, DC and Chicago were more interested in his days playing baseball. While he practiced at a Chicago law firm for a few years, he never forgot how it was the discipline of baseball that helped him get a degree, achieve his dreams and open doors for him that he never thought possible.

Today, Scott Boras runs the Scott Boras Corporation, where he employs former major leaguers as scouts in Asia and Latin America. He has continued to negotiate deals for many of Major League Baseball's high-profile players in recent years, including Barry Zito and Alex Rodriguez; Rodriguez's deal, for $252 million over 10 years, is still the most expensive contract in U.S. professional sports.

I say all of this, because it is so important that high schools maintain that College Prep approach to baseball and in a high schools sports program in general. Being a student athlete is an advantage in many cases. Yet, with budget cuts and states running out of money, school districts are unwisely thinking about cutting sports programs and that is wrong. Sports can and has provided a stepping stone to a college eductation and this needs to be nurtured in schools, not diminished.

There are specific steps and strategies that must be taken to achieve the consistency and greatness needed to play at the next level. And that strategy goes beyond the high school season. For instance, after the collegiate season is over, college baseball players are assigned to summer collegiate leagues from Alaska to the Cape Cod League.

The same should be the standard for high school sports. For the true, talented student athlete, the sport doesn't end with the high school season. Each coach should be tuned into to the many elite travel teams and leagues to further develop that athlete and compete against a stronger and more competitive schedule. Many of these off-season leagues are intended to help that athlete gain exposure to college scouts and recruiters as well.

Many recruiters can't see athletes during the prospects high school season because the high school and college season coincide with each other. They are drawn to off-season showcases to view the plethora of talent available to them at one big event. It's an economy of scale that is the norm in collegiate sports today due to tighter budget restraints. Gone are the days when the coach would show up at the door of a recruit and have a talk with the family at the dining room table.

A coach at any sport in high school should be an expert at the recruiting game. They should understand the talents and the level that each of his athletes is capable of. Not every student athlete is qualified to play at the next level, just as every student is not qualified to get accepted into an Ivy League school...but the benefits of running a program that is designed to mirror a collegiate program benefits everyone.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Summer Collegiate League Wrap

Major League Ball clubs are already talking about how the economy will affect their ticket sales this coming summer. Well, they kind of created their own mess of sorts. Gone are the days of $1.00 bleacher seats and $2.00 hot dogs. It costs well over $125to take a family of four to the ballyard these days. At an average of $15 a ticket(twice that at the "new retro" stadiums), $10 to park and $50 to buy food, it adds up quick.

For the price of parking at your favorite pro franchise, we have been touting all week, the Summer Collegiate Leagues. Believe me when I say this folks, it can be a step up to the college game, depending on where you live.

Summer Collegiate Leagues are designed to give freshman and sophomores the chance to hone their skills against other top collegiate players from around the country. It's a lot like the minors in that the players live with host families, and their expenses are nearly paid for by the franchise or League. Like the Minors, the Collegiate Leagues use wood bats.

It's a great opportunity for pro scouts to see these top players perform under conditions that are very similar to the pro ranks. Most of the top college pro prospects were rated as a result of their performance in these Summer Leagues.

The greatest thing about the Leagues is that they provide great baseball for the fans. Many of them draw thousands to every game. For instance, the Madison Mallards in the top rated Northwoods League draws over 6,000 to every game. The LaCrosse Loggers, in the same league and in a smaller stadium, draw over 3,300 a game. An All-Star Game in Chatham of the Cape Cod League in late July turned out to be a spectacular event. Over 8,600 fans attended the contest that was broadcast live on the New England Sports Network (NESN).

The top leagues in the Collegeiate Summer League are The Cape Cod...where many of the top pitching prospects gather...The Northwoods League...home to many of the best offensive players...The Alaskan League and The California Collegiate. There are others like the Cal Ripken Senior League in Maryland and Virginia, just outside the DC area, The West Coast Collegiate in Oregon and Washington, and the Jayhawk League in Kansas and Missouri that provide great competition as well.

Want to find out where your local Collegiate League is? There's a small blog called College Summer Ball that has links to each of the leagues that we list below.

Alaskan Baseball League
Atlantic Baseball Confederation
Atlantic Collegiate League
Cal Ripken Sr. League
California Collegiate League
Cape Cod Baseball League
Carolina-Virginia League
Clark Griffith League
Coastal Plain League
Collegiate Baseball Of The West
Eastern Collegiate Baseball League
Florida Collegiate League
Great Lakes League
Great South League
Hawaii Collegiate Baseball League
Horizon Air Summer Series
Jayhawk League
Kitty League
M.I.N.K. League
Maryland Collegiate Baseball League
Mountain Collegiate Baseball League
New England Collegiate Baseball League
New York Collegiate Baseball League
Northwoods League
Pacific Southwest Baseball League
Prospect League
Sierra Baseball League
Southern California Collegiate League
Southern Collegiate League
St. Louis Metro Collegiate League
Tar Heel Summer League
Texas Collegiate League
Tri-State Collegiate League
Triple Crown League
Valley League
Walter Johnson Baseball
West Coast League
Western Major Baseball League

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Summer, Fall and other considerations

RT Staff Note: Here's an article on Steve Zawrotny's BASEBALL FIT Hitting & Pitching Conditioning -

In most areas of the country, the regular season and high school playoffs are winding down for both baseball and softball. We are just now getting into the conference tourneys and eventually teh NCAA regionals for both sports. In line with this, I recently received this message from a concerned parent of a college baseball pitcher:

“I ordered your throwing velocity and strength/conditioning booklets along with a set of weighted baseballs hoping my son would follow your program this summer. He read the two booklets and is excited about following your guidelines.

“His problem is that he just finished his season and he will go back to college mid August to begin fall baseball. If he takes a few weeks off (which I think he should; he pitches) he will probably only have about 10 weeks to use your programs. Any advice you can give me will sure be appreciated.”

This illustrates the on-going conflict between practice, playing, and improving one’s skills. There is no question that the more one does a thing, the better they will be at it. This is why most (but not all!) of the best ball players come from warm-weather states. Warm weather is conducive to more game-like conditions for practice and playing.

But there are limits to this approach, of course. For some more thoughts on this concept, what business management guru Steve Covey calls, “Sharpening the Saw,” click here.

So what is to be done in the face of these seemingly reasonable but conflicting demands?

It is well known fact in the training community that upon making a significant change to mechanics, athletes in any sport usually experience a drop-off in performance. This decrement is then overcome as the new mechanics are learned and integrated, which takes time – often weeks to months. This is why it is usually not a good idea to make drastic mechanical or skill changes in-season.

A good example of this is with golfer Tiger Woods and the changes he has made to his swing over his career. Several years ago, he felt that he needed to do some things differently in order to achieve his goals. He was criticized in some quarters for this, as his swing seemed to be just fine at the time. Yet no one is critical of what he did now.

I have some thoughts regarding Summer Ball, Fall Ball, and getting better, from the perspective of players, parents, and coaches. At some point in my life, I have been in each of these positions – sometimes in more than one at a time.


I know as a player, you want to perform your best and please and impress your coaches. So when they ask you to play, you feel obligated to do so. Yet playing all the time may not always be in your best interests.

Playing and practicing all the time leaves little time to work on other things. So, you keep doing what you have been doing. If your skills are already at a sufficiently high level, this is not a problem. But if you need to make significant mechanical changes (as most players do), such as learning a new pitch or two, or improving some aspect of your conditioning, doing these things while competing is very difficult, if not impossible. You need some down time – the off season – to accomplish these important objectives.

Is it really a problem if you play Spring and Summer Ball, then take the Fall and Winter off to work on needed areas for improvement? The idea of taking one step back now in order to take two steps forward later is not only a good idea but is vital to your growth and progress as a player. Discussing this with your coach is key. Hopefully he’ll know what you need to work on and will be actively involved in your “improvement plan.” With this approach, both player and coach will benefit in the upcoming competitive season.

Consider undergoing “active rest.” Play another organized sport, or participate regularly in some activity other than baseball/softball. Don’t just lay around during the off-season, but do something different than your regular competitive season’s activities.


Your primary job is to look out for your child’s best interests. Ideally you’re doing this in conjunction with his/her coach. Obviously, things will not go well if you try to tell the coach how to do his/her job. However, you do have the final say on how your child is “used” on a team. If you don’t like how a particular team/coach is doing things, find another program, if possible. Don’t be afraid to speak up if you think something’s not right.

At the same time, DO NOT be one of those parents who questions or complains about every little thing a coach says or does. This is the quickest way to alienate a coach and perhaps send your child to the bench. If you feel you have a legitimate beef, say something to him/her respectfully in private. Otherwise, be supportive and allow the coach to do his job.

If you're the parent of a particularly gifted player, coaches will be tempted to “ride this horse” as long and as often as they can. For parents of pitchers. some good information you should be aware of and use is available courtesy of the American Sports Medicine Institute (ASMI) and can be found here. If necessary, give the coach a copy of the info, and inform him that you will only allow your child to pitch under these guidelines. If the coach has a problem with that, find another team.

Doubtless your player needs some time off from playing games to actually work on their game. Fall/Winter is the best time to do this. Talk with the coach to get your and his ideas together to best advance your child’s skills.


During the season, winning games is your primary goal and responsibility. You well know that it is difficult at best to implement changes to player mechanics during this time. The best time to do this is the off and pre-season. But if you’re playing year-round, when can your players make these key improvements?

My suggestion: play your regular spring competitive season, and another 50-60 summer/travel games. During these seasons, strive to be as successful as possible.

If you have a choice, do not participate in a competitive Fall season. Make this the time for player development all the way through Winter and the pre-season. Emphasize mechanical/skill and strength/conditioning improvements over competitive accomplishments. Go ahead and scrimmage, but make these scrimmages of a more controlled nature that allow you to create and observe the situations you want to develop and improve upon.

Evaluate players on how hard they work and the progress they make in both mechanics and strength/conditioning. You will likely find that players willing to work hard at this time will be your contributors in-season.

The bottom line is this: you can’t get better by simply playing all of the time. Take some time to do maintenance work. You will reap the benefits big-time next season!


My definition of a “young” player for our discussion here is pre high school. Once a player gets to high school, they can get more serious about their sport, whatever that may be.

The way things are these days, players as young as six play on travel teams that are nationally “ranked” by some organization or another. I think this is ridiculous., but it is what it is. But my goodness, if you’ve been a “National Champ” a time or two by the time you get to high school, what do you have to look forward to? As a youngster, newspaper write-ups and awards become commonplace. Been there, done that.

No doubt you’ve noticed how many times, players who are phenoms when younger turn out to be pretty ordinary as everyone grows and matures. Suddenly the "phenom" has to work harder to keep up, and many kids don't want to do this. What was once fairly easy is now difficult.

So, when other things begin to show up to compete with this growing, maturing youngster’s time and interests, is it any wonder that many of these players quit and take up other activities?

Here’s the truth about youngsters and sports: they DO NOT have to begin when in diapers to excel and have an advantage over their peers! What a child is good at at age ten may well be very different from what they’re good at at age twenty. Certainly, many very good players begin playing organized sports at 10 or 12 years of age and go on to achieve at a very high level.

Parents, Players and Coaches: It is not necessary to start your child’s sports training out of the womb. It provides no significant advantage, yet offers the risk of burn-out. So let your children play in the streets and playgrounds to develop their skills and interests without the interference of organized leagues. If they show sufficient interest and ability, you will find this out in plenty of time for them to benefit.
(C) 2008 Baseball Fit, LLC. All Rights Reserved. Quotations with attribution permitted. Cite source as Steve Zawrotny's BASEBALL FIT Hitting & Pitching Conditioning -

The information contained herein is the opinion of the author based on his personal observations and years of experience. Neither Steve Zawrotny or Baseball Fit assume any liability whatsoever for the use of or inability to use any or all of the information presented on this website.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

More on Collegiate Summer Leagues...Alaska

RT Staff Note: The best description I have found on the of the Alaskan Baseball League is a story by SI columnist Luke Winn.

By Luke Winn

"Remember to never take the game home with you."
-- Former major league closer Lee Smith, on how a reliever can maintain his sanity

What, however, is a pitcher to do when his team's bullpen is closer to his bed than it is to the dugout? That was the conundrum facing Kevin Camacho last summer on college baseball's last frontier. At 2 a.m. on June 22, not long after the conclusion of the 102nd Midnight Sun Game, many of Camacho's Alaska Goldpanners teammates mounted bicycles and rode off, still in full uniform. They receded like a gang of supersized Little Leaguers into Fairbanks's Arctic glow, which had made the game -- a 6-1 loss to the visiting Oceanside Waves that had begun at 10:36 p.m. under a cloudy tapestry of blues and pinks -- possible without the aid of artificial lights. On the summer solstice the natural light never dies out in Fairbanks, 160 miles south of the Arctic Circle, and on this night Camacho, a California-raised righty, would never leave the confines of Growden Memorial Park, where the centerfield backdrop is the eight-starred Alaskan flag and Take Me Out to the Ballgame is forsaken during the seventh-inning stretch in favor of the Beat Farmers' 1985 country-punk song Happy Boy. Out with the peanuts and Cracker Jack, in with lyrics about a dead dog in a drawer, as well as the most guttural refrain ever to blare from a stadium speaker: "Hubba hubba hubba hubba hubba!"

While his teammates biked a mile or two to their host families' houses, Camacho had a shorter trip home. He made a left at the batting cage down the leftfield line, then a hard right at the Port-o-Lets. He passed through a chain-link gate, climbed four wooden steps and unlocked a door, marked D4, on a 50-foot white trailer. Camacho tossed his equipment bag on the floor of the 9-by-12 room with a view... of the back of Growden's third base bleachers. "Welcome to the O.V.," he said. "This is how we live."

O.V. is short for Olympic Village, 13 weather-beaten trailers in which visiting teams in the Alaska Baseball League often bunk when in Fairbanks. The vehicles are so named because Goldpanners general manager Don Dennis, a thickly bespectacled 68-year-old who lives in his office at the park, has leased them in the past to actual Olympic teams -- U.S. skiers and lugers, and the Taiwanese and Korean baseball teams -- which have occasionally trained in Fairbanks. During the 2007 season, however, the trailers housed four Goldpanners players, all of them from NAIA national champ Lewis-Clark State in Lewiston, Idaho, who had chosen not to live with host families. In its previous life the four-decade-old O.V. fleet harbored some of the men who built the Trans-Alaska Pipeline near Atigun Pass, 300 miles to the north. Dennis bought the trailers for $125,000 in 1986 and relocated them to an asphalt lot adjacent to leftfield. The amenities are few and dated -- wood-grain paneling, vintage '80s TVs and no AC, which means players often wake up drenched in sweat -- but there is a Last Frontier State authenticity to the spartan quarters that the players appreciate.

"It's kind of like camping," explained one of Camacho's D-block neighbors, pitcher Brad Schwarzenbach. "But I'll tell you this: I've never been late to the field."

The only latecomer to last year's Midnight Sun Game was the sun itself, which in the end never showed at all. A sellout crowd of about 4,000 had filled the park, but the sun stayed tucked away behind a horseshoe of clouds beyond the leftfield foul pole. Camacho threw 6 1/3 innings of one-run relief in the dusk before making the trek to his trailer. When a visitor described his digs as "pretty rugged," Camacho corrected him: "It's pretty Alaska."

The term Alaskans use for the Lower 48 is Outside, and the six-team, four-city ABL is stocked with college standouts who are primarily Outsiders. The league -- founded in 1969 but with roots going back more than a century -- bills itself as an unvarnished version of the more prestigious Cape Cod League, another wood-bat summer league that serves as a showcase for top U.S. college players; last spring Dennis took a jab at the Cape circuit, calling it a "show league" for scouts and tourists compared with the "down and dirty competition among the cities" in Alaska. The ABL is best known for its alumni; it has produced almost 400 major leaguers, including Hall of Famers Tom Seaver and Dave Winfield and stars such as Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Jason Giambi, Randy Johnson and J.D. Drew. The league's character, however, is shaped more by things uniquely Alaskan: pipeline trailers, perpetual summer light and that signature tradition, the Midnight Sun Game, which grew out of a 1906 bet between two Fairbanks bars, California's Saloon and the Eagles Club. Their patrons formed teams called the Drinks and the Smokes.

The ABL has no Hall of Fame, but much of its history resides in the head of an 87-year-old who lives six hours south of Fairbanks, in Anchorage. On the day after last year's solstice Henry Aristide (Red) Boucher, the de facto Godfather of Alaskan Baseball, was convalescing from a stroke in his three-bedroom town house. His wife, Vicky, who's 22 years his junior, apologized to a visitor that her husband's trove of memorabilia was in storage because of a recent flood in the basement.

Red Boucher, in his peculiarly raspy voice, is a charming storyteller, and he explained that he had come to Alaska in 1958 at the urging of U.S. Senator John F. Kennedy. JFK wanted the former naval officer and fellow Massachusetts Democrat -- who'd assisted with Kennedy's '56 campaign -- to get involved in politics in the vast territory that in 1959 would become the 49th U.S. state. Boucher met his first wife, an Icelandic Air flight attendant, in the early '50s at a wrap party for Name That Tune, on which the two had been contestants, and persuaded her to move to Fairbanks, where in 1966 he was elected mayor. Five years later he became the state's lieutenant governor.

Boucher founded the Goldpanners in 1960. He ran the franchise -- which mostly played exhibitions against competition from Outside until the ABL's founding -- out of his sporting-goods store. Boucher was manager, fan entertainer and Alaskan baseball evangelist; he happily recalls how, during the 'Panners' 1963 trip to the National Baseball Congress World Series in Wichita, Kans., he had a black bear tranquilized and flown in from Fairbanks as a promotional stunt. (Boucher proceeded to parade the animal, which was named Midnight, around the field on a chain, "until he started chasing me and nipping at my rear end. I ran toward the dugout, and it cleared out fast.")

He is most proud that the ace of the '64 and '65 teams used his stint with the Goldpanners as a stepping-stone from Fresno City College to USC and later a major league career in which he won 311 games. Twenty-eight years after combining on a no-hitter in the NBC World Series in Wichita, Tom Seaver invited Boucher to his induction ceremony in Cooperstown.

"Red was a character cut from a different cloth," says Seaver, who now runs his own vineyard in Calistoga, Calif. "I remember my first flight into Alaska. I went from San Francisco to Seattle to Fairbanks, and when I landed, they had a uniform waiting for me. I changed in the car and met Red -- in mid-game -- in the dugout. He said, 'Go to the bullpen. Somebody get him ready.' I got called in and met my catcher for the first time on the mound. The discussion went, 'What's your name?' 'O.K., Marty.' 'O.K., Tom. What do you throw?' "

The drive from Boucher's home to Anchorage's Mulcahy Stadium is 10 minutes, spitting distance by Alaskan standards. The facility is home to two ABL teams, the Bucs and the Glacier Pilots, and has become familiar to millions of Outsiders thanks to a surreal YouTube clip. Through May 31, footage of a Cessna Skywagon crashing behind Mulcahy's leftfield fence in mid-inning of an '03 ABL game had been viewed 2,402,436 times. (Although the plane flipped as it skidded, none of its four passengers were killed, and two escaped unscathed.)

Seventy-five-year-old Pilots general manager George (Lefty) Van Brunt, another of the ABL's elder statesmen, is living proof that dive-bombing an outfield in a single-engine Cessna can be less dangerous than warming up Randy Johnson. Van Brunt keeps a desk in the windowless equipment room of the Pilots' first-base-line shed (which also serves as a clubhouse), and from there, a few hours before the start of a game against the Bucs last June 20, he waxed nostalgic about the Big Unit's Alaskan summer of '84. Van Brunt liked to goad the then USC pitcher about mechanics. "I'd say, 'One of these days, Randy, you'll learn how to bend your back,' " he recalls. "That must have ticked him off." Soon after, in a bullpen session at Mulcahy, Johnson broke Van Brunt's right big toe with an errant fastball. The Pilots' G.M. insists, however, that the incident belied the Unit's true temperament. "Randy was just a beach bum who loved his guitar," Van Brunt says. "He played country western, but we always told him, 'Don't sing. You ain't worth a darn as a singer.' "

It is a 3 1/4-hour drive south from Anchorage to Kenai, where the Peninsula Oilers occupy the ABL's southernmost outpost. En route, innumerable signs warn of moose crossings, and drivers are likely to spot Dall sheep on fjordside cliffs as well as anglers battle-fishing for salmon in the Russian River. There is an abundance of wildlife, but a dearth of wild life -- there's a desperate shortage of college-age women in Alaska, which forces ABL players to find other forms of entertainment; one Oiler said that by summer's end, he might "be willing to have sex with a moose." Former Goldpanners southpaw Bill (Spaceman) Lee, who won 119 games in 14 big league seasons, met his first wife, airline greeter Mary Lou Helfrich, as he got off a plane in Fairbanks in '66. The Spaceman recalls that he wooed her in a typically Alaskan way. "I had a pickup truck from my host family, and after games I'd court Mary Lou by taking her out to the city dump," he says. "We'd watch the wolves and bears in the twilight."

Kenai is also home to a bayside Hilton, albeit an unofficial one attached to a bingo hall, with a sign inside that reads, ABSOLUTELY NO CLEATS ARE ALLOWED TO BE WORN IN THE HILTON AREA. In addition to supplying bunks to visiting players and raising money for the Oilers through weeknight bingo games, the so-called Bingo Hilton (which the team owns and runs) features a storefront that displays Oilers trophies and sells "pull tabs" -- gambling tickets with perforated flaps that reveal whether the purchaser has won a cash prize. On a Sunday at 12:30 p.m., 90 minutes before an Oilers-Bucs game, two diehards sat at the Hilton's U-shaped counter, surrounded by clear-plastic boxes of tabs.

Jim Petterson, a 58-year-old retired Unocal loader, explained almost apologetically, "Alaska doesn't have casinos, so this is the only way we can gamble." He and his 46-year-old wife, Betsy, don't attend Oilers games. But given that they buy $200 to $300 worth of pull tabs a week, Jim estimated that "we've probably paid for a few jerseys by now." To which Betsy interjected, "More like, we could have bought the stadium a couple of times."

The vistas beyond the outfield fences at most ABL stadiums are relatively subdued -- there are no calving glaciers or salmon jumping out of rivers -- but the field in Kenai is ringed by 80-foot-high spruce trees, Anchorage's Mulcahy Stadium looks out on a lovely cluster of additional athletic fields, and a curling club flanks Fairbanks's Growden Memorial Park. The state's famed peaks almost always loom in the distance, though at Hermon Brothers Field in Palmer, the home of the Mat-Su Miners, the mountains of the Chugach Range appear close enough to touch. Four hours northeast of Kenai and a half hour northeast of Anchorage, Palmer's ballpark is situated off a road leading to the Alaska State Fairgrounds, marked only by a couple of small wooden signs. The field is dwarfed by the presence of a 6,400-foot crag -- Pioneer Peak -- that seems to rise just beyond the leftfield corner. It is a mere taste of what William H. Seward, who as Lincoln's secretary of state negotiated the purchase of the Alaskan territory from Russia in 1867 for $7.2 million, once described as "scenery which surpassed in sublimity that of either the Alps, the Apennines, the Alleghenies, or the Rocky Mountains."

It is said that Alaska has but two seasons: winter and day. Taking advantage of the latter, Miners assistant coaches Conor Bird (now the head coach) and Nate Thompson headed out for a fishing marathon at sunrise -- 4:11 a.m. -- after a win last June. Bird, 27, who coaches at the College of Marin, in California, and Thompson, 26, now at Nebraska, were perched on a muddy bank of the Eklutna Tailrace, near a power station outside Palmer that is a hot spot for king salmon.

Bird, a dry-witted, soul-patched San Franciscan who was serving as the Miners' pitching coach, rigged up rods with proper weights and baited egg-loops with globs of reddish roe. "The person who does the least preparation is the one most likely to catch something," he lamented, and when the reporter accompanying the two coaches hooked the lone king (and failed to reel it in), Bird's axiom was proved correct. The party went on to earn the angler's equivalent of a Golden Sombrero -- four hours of only nibbles and whiffs -- while tantalizing noises, some melodious, others primal, emanated from up- and down-river. Splashes from leaping salmon. Whoops from more fortunate fishermen. Strangest of all, thuds from the impact of wood against the heads of fresh catch. The salmon must be killed this way and resubmerged in the river; if left out in the open, they are essentially homing beacons for hungry grizzly bears.

The coaches were in little danger, seeing that the only thing submerged nearby was a bottle of Jagermeister, which provided periodic solace. The white flag finally got waved at around six that morning. They had to have some sleep before batting practice began that afternoon. They had come here nearly straight from the field following last night's game and should have been exhausted. But the Alaskan sun over the river was already so bright that it buoyed the spirits of sportsmen who, today, took nothing home with them.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

More On Collegiate Summer Leagues...The Cape

The Cape Cod Baseball League (CCBL) is an amateur baseball league located on Cape Cod in the U.S. state of Massachusetts, in which many college baseball stars play during the summer. Many future Major League Baseball players have started there during their college years; MLB has provided financial support to the Cape League for over 40 years. During the 2008 MLB season, 205 CCBL alumni played in the majors or were on injured reserve.

Additionally over 1,000 CCBL alumni were playing in professional baseball in 2006.[The league is also notable for its continuing use of wooden bats. Because it draws top-tier college players, the level of play is often considered the equivalent of high-A Minor League Baseball. The CCBL Hall of Fame is located in the "Dugout", the lower-level of the JFK Museum in Hyannis, Massachusetts. The Cape Cod Baseball League is one of eight leagues in the National Alliance of Summer Baseball.

Three of the teams in the Cape League are named after MLB teams. However, in late 2008 Major League Baseball enforced its trademark and required teams to either change their names or buy their uniforms and merchandise only through licensed vendors. As a result, the Chatham Athletics changed their team name to "Anglers", and the Orleans Cardinals changed their name to "Firebirds".[6] In March of 2010 the Hyannis Mets joined the Anglers and Firebirds, changing their team name to "Harbor Hawks".

The Cape Cod League in popular culture

The Cape Cod League was the setting for the 2001 Hollywood film Summer Catch. The 2003 documentary film Touching the Game by Jim Carroll chronicled the 2003 CCBL season and explored the league's history.

There are several books on the Cape League. Baseball by the Beach by Christopher Price was published in 1998 and discusses the league and its history. In 2002, writer Jim Collins followed the Chatham Athletics (now the Chatham Anglers) for the season and wrote The Last Best League about the team and its players.

Baseball on Cape Cod (Images of Baseball by Dan Crowley has many photos of the early and modern Cape League eras. The 2004 novel Slider by Patrick Robinson takes place in a Maine summer league, but is actually based on the Cape League. In 2005, Beach Chairs and Baseball Bats by author Steve Weissman and Cape Crusaders by author Mike Thomas were published. The latter focuses on player interviews, while the former goes behind the scenes of a typical Cape League season.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Collegiate Summer Leagues...Baseball At Its Best.

I have mentioned this no fewer than 50 times on this blog that college baseball players have more demands on their time than all of the major sports combined...yet get the fewest number of scholarships. Well, summer makes up for the lack of scholarship love with the Collegiate Summer Leagues. The Big Three are the Northwoods, Cape Cod and Alaskan...The Cape Cod may have the edge in prestige, depending on who you talk to, but the Northwoods has more teams, a whole lot more games, much bigger crowds and a support group of host families that gives players a near cost free experience.

This year, the Northwoods has expanded to 16 teams in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Michigan and Thunder Bay, Canada. The teams will play a record 70 games, excluding play-offs, giving players an ample amount of at-bats to hone their skills for their subsequent college fall work-outs. Teams have rosters of 25 or more...with heavy emphasis on pitchers. With that many games, college coaches don't want their future rotation and bullpen arms worn and weary.

But what makes this summer experience a blast is the love they get from the fans and team management. And this makes it a whole lot of fun for the players. Make no mistake, the Northwoods League is a money maker. Crowds of up to 10,000 fans are common...sell-outs are the norm and zany promotions, funny stadium address announcers and famous Wisconsin brats and beer, make this wildly profitable while also providing an incredible experience for players...For those players that aspire to be collegiate baseball players, one of the highlights, given the chance, will be a summer or two in the Northwoods League.

Yet, this is not just a bunch of fun and games...These teams are assembled to win and winning is everything to many of these fans. There are players that just finished their freshman and sophomore years from the SEC, Pac 10, Big 12, Conference USA, Big West, WAC, Mountain West, West Coast Conference, Big 10, ACC, Big East and more on these teams. Competitive players from top leagues around the country show their stuff and talents to pro scouts, fans and autograph seeking kids. As are all of the Collegiate Summer Leagues, players use only wood bats, making this a good barometer for how a player would stack up in the pro game. Another test for the players is how they will stack up to the rigors of minor league travel. Long bus rides of up to 8 hours are similar to what many minor league players experience. That trip from Minnesota or Wisconsin to Battle Creek, Michigan is a grueling one.

And speaking of the Minor Leagues, many of the promotions are straight out of a Bull Durham scene. Want a chuckle? Here are some of the promotions for a few of the teams...These are grouped into events that are happening on specific nights...There are so many businesses that want a piece of the action, that there are multiple promotions on the same night:

Madison Mallards
The Human Cannonball David "The Bullet" Smith Jr. returns for a post-game launch, presented by the Harley-Davidson Museum in Milwaukee and its exhibit, True Evel: The Amazing Story of Evel Knievel, beginning in July! Harley-Davidson Museum & Evel Knievel Capes.
Charter Communications & Chet's Car Care Magnet Schedule Night
(all fans).'s Bucky Book Night!

Duluth Trading Company "Fix Plumber's Butt" Night with Longtail T-Shirts & Duluth Trading Company Ball Cap Night.
Post-Game Fireworks presented by TDS

Dukes of Hazzard Night featuring the original Rosco P. Coltrane(James Best) presented by Charter Communications.

Wisconsin Rapid Rafters
Payroll Company Whiplash the Cowboy Monkey! Meet Whiplash the dog riding Capuchin Monkey! Post-game he'll herd sheep in the outfield!

Bacon Appreciation Night!...presented by Hormel.

Mr. Potatohead night, presented by NAPA (500F)

LaCrosse Loggers
4th Annual Burrito Eating Championship with Burracho's!..Service Master Night!...Friday Night Fish Fry!..."Logger Hour" with Leinenkugel's - $1, 12 oz. tap beers from 5:30-6:30 p.m.

"TV Tunes" Night with WXOW TV 19! Do you know your TV Tunes? Win Prizes from WXOW TV 19! 95.7 The Rock Night on the Fan Deck! Best Buy Game Night on the Fan Deck!

Green Bay Bullfrogs
Frogtoberfest...It's German night at the Jo. Be one of the first 750 fans through the gates 21 and over and pick up a yard glass presented by Miller. Capped off with a party on the Leinie Deck and a performance by Pat McCurdy.

Jeremiah Bobble Tongue
...Another Jeremiah to add to your collection, but nothing like what you already have. Presented by AT&T for the first 500 fans.

Summertime St. Patty's Day...Celebrate St. Patty's Day in July with specialty Bullfrogs Irish jerseys and green Bud Light.Presented by Shenanigan's Pub and Bud Light. Jerseys will be auctioned off to benefit the Breast Cancer Family Foundation.

This is Americana folks...this is what makes baseball the greatest game in the world. For all of the players going to the Northwoods or any other Summer Collegiate League...Play hard, have fun and enjoy your summer.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Fielding Drills

RT Staff Note: The Following is from Baseball

- Fielding Drills -

Baseball Fielding Drill Countdown Drill
This is a fun drill to help first and second graders develop good hands, and a quick release.

Have the players line up accross from a partner about 20 feet apart. They are to make good throws back and forth as many times an they can while the coach counts down from 30 to zero. The player who does not have the ball at zero wins. (You should see the kids scramble for a dropped, or loose ball.)
(coach Kevin Nickelson)

Baseball Fielding Drill Glove Extention Drill
Young players often make the mistake of fielding ground balls with their glove directly beneath them, rather than extended out in front. This drill helps ensure proper extension.

Lay a bat on the ground perpendicular to a line of players. The first player in line should be 6 feet from the bat in a ready position. The Coach stands about 10 feet away opposite the players, and rolls a ball toward the bat. The pPlayer must approach the ground ball and assume a good fielding position right behind the bat, without his feet touching or going over it. In order to prevent the ball from rolling into the bat the player must have his glove extended in front of the bat. Once the player secures the ball, he sprints forward, places it at the feet of the coach, and runs to the end of the line. The Coach keeps rolling a ball to the next player each time a ball is placed at his feet.
(Coach Colbert)

Baseball Fielding Drill Fence Drill
This drill is designed to quicken reaction time to grounders and line drives using lateral movement. The entire team competes in a contest to see which player can keep the most out of 10 balls from hitting a fence or wall behind him.

Mark an area of a fence or wall about 20 feet wide and 6 feet high. One at a time, fielders stand in front of the fence. A fungo hitter stands about 40 feet away, and hits balls to him. The hits should be to different spots within the fence markings (left, right, grounders, line drives). The fielder has to prevent the balls from hitting the fence behind him. Each fielder gets 10 balls hit to him. The fielder with the most stops of the 10 balls wins the round.

Baseball Fielding Drill Dirt Lines Ground Ball Drill
This drill is used to teach young players to get their hands and glove out front when fielding a grounder. The young player often gets in the habit of catching grounders close to his or her feet or slightly in front of the toes. As coaches, we want infielders to extend their arms and get the glove out in front so that they can see the ball into it. The player should "lay" the glove on the ground out in front of his body . Each players distance will vary. However, a good rule of thumb is to try and extend the length from the players arm or from the tip of the fingers to the armpit. Another good measuring scale is they should be able to extend the length of the the bat they use. This distance is measured on the ground from the back of his heel outward. For this drill we pair two players. The players will roll grounders to each other from about 6 to 8 feet. The coach draws two lines in the dirt about 8 feet apart. The players must catch the ball out in front of this line. The coach will then draw a second line for each player - this is the "feet" line. The players feet must stay behind this line. The players roll the ball and catch it while making sure to:

1. Get extension.
2. Keep the elbows off the ribs.
3. Funnel the ball in using the top "bare" hand.
4. Work their feet as they bring the ball up to the correct "T" throwing position.
5. Roll the ball back to your partner.
6. Repeat the process 50 to 100 times.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Tips from the Pros

RT Staff Note...The following is from Baseball

Tips from the Pros -

First Base Fielding Tips JT Snow: First Base Tips

J.T. earned International League MVP and Rookie of the year honors in Triple-A. He has won 6 Rawlings Gold Glove Awards, and is only the forth player in baseball history to win multiple Gold Glove awards in both the American and National leagues.

"The best way to improve your defense is persistent practice and repetition. My philosophy on defense is practice, practice, practice. There really is no substitute for hard work and practice. Typically, I keep the following in mind when working on my defensive":

* There is no substitute for hard work and practice.
* Whenever you get a spare minute in practice, work on ground ball drills.
* Try to have someone throw balls to you in the dirt.
* When scooping balls out of the dirt, try to keep your glove down.
* If you see the ball bounce, try to raise your glove with the ball and make sure to give with, or cushion, the ball.
* Another thing a first baseman should always do is expect a bad throw from your infielders. It won't always happen, but when it does, you'll be ready for it.

Third Base Fielding Tips Robin Ventura: Third Base Tips

Ventura was the first major leaguer to hit grand slams in both games of a doubleheader. He is a six-time Gold Glove Award Winner. In 1987, he was the College Player of the Year. The following year, he won the Golden Spikes Award (nation's best amateur player), and was a member of the U.S. Olympic Gold Medal winning team.

"Properly positioning yourself is one of the most important aspects to your fielding game."

* Position yourself as far back as you feel comfortable, but take into consideration how fast the batter runs to first.
* If the batter has a reputation of bunting, try to get in close, and be ready for it.
* When in a double play situation and a ground ball is hit toward the third base side, try to wait for the ball to get close enough to you and then start your movement towards second base. Catch it and throw it all in one movement.
* If a runner on second is threatening to steal third, make sure that you keep an eye on him. If he attempts to steal third, wait as long as you can to see if the batter at home plate hits the ball. But try to be close enough to third to get to the base by the time the catcher throws it. You might want to cheat a little bit to third base to play it safe.
* If a runner is rounding third base and heading home, and a ball is hit to the outfield, try to position yourself about 15 feet in from the grass. Make sure the runner touches third base, and also be on your toes for the ball coming in.

Throwing Tips Brooks Robinson: How to Straighten Your Throws

Legendary third baseman for the Baltimore Orioles, Brooks Robinson is tied for the MLB record with 16 Gold Glove awards. He holds 10 career fielding records for third basemen, and led American League third basemen in fielding percentage 11 times.

"Whether throwing to a base, or simply playing catch, the best thing to do is step toward your target. I had an accurate arm, but my arm got stronger just by throwing a lot."

* The best thing to do is to step towards the base you are throwing to.
* Mix in some long tosses to make your arm stronger.
* To straighten out your throw, get on top of the ball.
* If you throw 3/4 over the top, do not let your arm drop to the side.
* Always try to hold the ball across the seam.

How to Break in a Baseball Glove Roberto Alomar: Conditioning Your Glove

Finding a glove that best suits your needs is mostly based on how it feels to you, according to the Mets second baseman Roberto Alomar. "My gloves usually last two to three years," he said. "I always have a glove that I only use in games, and one that I use during batting practice that I break in to eventually use in games. The glove I'm using now is two years old. I started using it in spring training two years ago, and I've kept it since then."

* I like my glove to be very flexible so I like soft leather.
* I do not like a glove with a deep pocket because when you are turning a double play, the ball can get lost in a deep pocket. I like a relatively flat, shallow glove, which allows you to find the ball quickly.
* Tying any of the laces that stick out from a glove makes it tighter and more rigid. Since I like my glove to be flexible, I just let the laces dangle. When I get the glove new, all the laces are tied up in knots but they eventually work themselves loose and then I just let them stay that way.
* My glove is pretty small, even for a middle infielder. Second basemen usually have the smallest gloves of all the fielders, and in most cases, shortstops will have slightly bigger gloves than second basemen.
* All of the guys in the clubhouse know that I also don't like anyone putting their hand in my glove. It's built for my hand, and if someone else puts their hand in it to try it on, I can usually tell, because it will feel looser on my hand when I put it back on.
* It's hard to say exactly what makes a good baseball glove, but mostly it has to feel right to you.
* In cold weather, sometimes I will spray some stick-um on the inside of my glove to give my hand a better grip on the inside of the glove. I spray it on the outside of the thumb so I can rub my throwing hand on it for a better grip on the ball for throws.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Pitching Arm Care

By Pete Navich; Interview with Steven Ellis, former Chicago Cubs pitching pro

PN: How does a pitcher improve internal arm strength and endurance? Primarily, meaning those muscles which give endurance and stability to the shoulder and elbow.

Former pro Steven Ellis: As a starter, there are two things I always refer to. First, be sure that the shoulder always works properly and there is good muscle balance and flexibility around the shoulder. Part of that can be done via conditioning programs. On the other hand an enormous part of that comes from good coaching. If you just let pitchers loose, they develop bad habits and it reinforces poor mechanics. You can do all the conditioning you want- if they have poor mechanics it’s for naught. Basically, it’s a combination of the two.

Frequently I am asked "How many pitches per week and how many games per season should my boy pitch." In trying to answer those questions I refer to ‘It’s not how much you throw, its how well you throw.’ I think it’s important to reinforce having good videos of pitchers who have had success with good mechanics and to show them that. We have hours of high speed films to help study this. When I deal with the major league guys, I often sit with the pitching coach and look at films to see what is going on mechanically that might be causing the problem. How do we improve it? Bring the Doctor and coach together.

Shoulder Conditioning

Conditioning the shoulder. The shoulder is linked to the trunk primarily by muscle and ligaments. The only bony connection is your clavicle and it’s not much. You are asking the muscles to do a lot. The program for conditioning muscles must be directed to all the muscles involved with throwing. So specific exercises are important. Specific exercises in part, have to be directed by pattern but also by weight.

If you try to go to a heavy weight then you overwhelm some muscles and you don’t condition them all. I don’t know any pitchers I deal with, who, during the season, lift more then five or six pounds. It’s the pattern of exercises. In the off season they will lift a little heavier, but not in-season. The exercises have to be done properly and monitored so that the athlete is not substituting as he goes along.

Strengthen the Scapula

So, the initial exam starts with an assessment of proper shoulder function. Secondly, start identifying 7-10 different exercises. I tend to prescribe more exercises in the position they are going to throw as opposed to lower down exercises. I focus a lot on the scapula because it controls the socket. If the socket is misdirected, then they (the pitcher) get into trouble with how the humerus works and it gets out of sync (with the rest of the motion). It’s important to have strength in the cuff, but it’s important to have the function of the different muscles in the scapula. Those little guys are very important (teres major and minor, supra and infra spinatus)

Throwing Endurance

When people talk about endurance, they usually mean the heart. I’d like to talk about endurance of specific muscles. Some of that you get from exercise and some through throwing. That’s the only way you get endurance- to simulate the activity you want. That endurance is very important. Not every shoulder is born the same way. They might have the same anatomy but the way it all works is quite different. Sometimes you have to look at the individual and work at it that way.

There are some pitchers who go out and throw 100-130 pitches. They are tired and they are sore, but 5 days later they are ready to do it again. Then there are those who throw 40 and they are dead. The anatomy just doesn’t hold up. Part of that is their conditioning and part of that is the genetics of how they are put together. You don’t have to be huge either to be a power pitcher: Ron Guidry (former NY Yankee star pitcher) the Perez brothers, and Randy Johnson are players like that.

Complete range of motion is very important. Without it, a pitcher will not be effective because something is going to change. Either they are going to fatigue their muscles, or they are going to, in some way, end up with an injury acquired by the limited ROM.

If you do not have a normal shoulder pattern you will put more stress on your elbow. When kids get tired, they start dropping down and get in trouble with their elbow. The shoulder has a lot to do with the elbow. There are some elbow things that are independent of that, but a bad shoulder will cause elbow problems.

PN: Are there specific kinds of pain and locations that indicate a certain injury or condition?:

Former pro Steven Ellis: Where and when the player perceives pain is very helpful in starting to focus on where the problem is. If they are feeling discomfort on the top of their shoulder it is usually more a direct rotator cuff injury. Whereas if the pain is in the front of the shoulder, that is more likely to be some tendonitis. But the likely cause is that the front of the shoulder is taking more stress and is stretched out a little bit.

The back of the shoulder is usually not well conditioned and pain in that areas means they are having trouble with deceleration. Or they recoil, partially throw, and that puts a little more pressure on the back of the shoulder or cuff. Those locations are important.

Little League Elbow

Inner elbow problems are determined specifically by where they are on the inner elbow and the youth’s age. If they are right on the bone and they are still growing, then that’s more the little league elbow. Traditionally, the kids are growing and the pull they put on the particular bone causes the trouble. If they are having pain in the muscle belly down below the elbow, then that is more muscle soreness and pain. If they have pain that’s sort of behind the elbow or comes down into their forearm and hand then that’s more likely the ulna nerve and on the inside. Usually it’s an inflammatory problem or it can be they have a little congenital difference and the nerve takes more stress on the "The Funny Bone."

Some youngsters, in the age you are dealing with (12-17), usually don’t stretch out the ligament on the inside of their elbow, that’s something we usually see tearing out in a little older group.

The back of the elbow is a rare pain, usually an older group would experience this. If they do experience this pain it’s what we call "Tennis Elbow" and is due to poor mechanics where they put more stress on the outside of the joint.

PN: Can you describe the difference between pain, discomfort and soreness and what they mean to the young ball player?

Former pro Steven Ellis: Everyone is going to be sore the day after they throw. If you talk to major leaguers the day after they throw and ask how they feel- they usually say "I have the usual soreness." It means they are sore, there is some swelling but they don’t mean it as if they are hurt. Anytime you throw in a repetitive activity, there is a certain amount of muscle breakdown, tissue breakdown and that’s what the soreness is. Sometimes this tissue breakdown can be a little bit more then you would like and you start to worry about it if it is more then the normal day 2 or day 3 soreness

When doctors do MRI’s (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) today they can pick up more of this then they could ten years ago. So its not uncommon to see a different MRI picture when comparing muscle soreness vs. when someone has torn a muscle. There is more damage and more bleeding etc.

Performance Pain

When someone is having pain that increases with a particular performance, mainly a pitch, then you start to worry a little more. If they have pain with performance or if their performance is changing and painful then you have to be careful. If ever a kid comes up and has had the normal 4 or 5 days rest and says, gee I just can’t pitch, then you have to pay attention to that.

PN: What should a young pitcher do for arm care after he pitches and what are your age suggestions for starting to throw breaking ball?

Former pro Steven Ellis: What do you do after pitching? Traditionally we have them ice it down for about 20 minutes and that helps the metabolism, increases oxygen to the area etc. The other thing that can be helpful is to go through your light exercises, have someone perform gentle massage just to get things moving and even play some light catch to increase the blood throw.

Thoughts On The Curveball

Breaking balls. At some point kids have to learn how to throw a breaking ball. I don’t know when it is effective for them to throw one. At one point there was the opinion that breaking balls caused elbow problems and I am not sure that this is truly the case. As people are trying to use this theory when training young pitchers, I guess it possibly gets down to the number you are throwing. In a game, I think more pitchers will work on location and velocity then they will on breaking balls. They use the breaking ball 15-20 % of the time. The other 80% is movement and velocity.

If your shoulder is not good to start with and you are not throwing well ... that’s going to hurt you. Too often we focus on "THE BREAKING BALL" as a problem and that’s not necessarily true.

PN: What is Little League Elbow?

Former pro Steven Ellis: LL Elbow happens to growing kids, is on the inner side of the elbow, and is mostly related to a certain stage of development. At that particular stage the pitcher is throwing too frequently and there can be pain. Parents and coaches have to decided what is more important, losing a year of development vs. losing a career.

If the player is complaining of pain you have to listen to them. Its either pain for anatomical reasons or pain for whatever reason he doesn’t want to play. Once the pain is evaluated and someone tells you that you can’t find any cause then you have to sit back and have a heart to heart talk.

On the other hand if there are anatomical things, and it is not looked into, and people continue to force the kid to go out there, then you might be into something much worse that will threaten a career.

Playing Too Much

There are a number of kids who I see at 14 or 15 that have good skills and potential but are blown out because they were forced into it. They were kids who were very good in Little League. However, in LL there was control over pitches and innings. They get above that, and there are so many options to play, if they are good everybody wants them, and they end up playing on two or three different teams. Unfortunately no one puts the whole package together. Everyone thinks the more he plays the better he will be, the better he is the more people will want him. But you might be doing more damage then good in terms of development.

PN: How much should a player throw. For example, if an athlete pitches from April - August and then plays QB for the HS until November, he is throwing for eight months. Any danger?

Former pro Steven Ellis: Generally I advise people that once they get out of LL they really shouldn’t change the number of pitches they throw for the next year or two. They should stay at the same number and the same frequency because, frequently they are going to a bigger distance and a whole bunch of other things that change about the game. And so they better adapt their body to the other changes and gradually come along in terms of pitching. Specific pitch counts should stay around the Little League counts for a while.

Arm Development Schedule

The philosophy in the pro camps is that the first year a drafted pitcher comes into camp they spend the next two to three months making sure their arms are strong and that they pitch effectively, with good mechanics. Don’t worry about competition. And then each year, monitor the competition because they are all a little different. Because while Carl Pavano (top Red Sox pitching prospect recently traded to Montreal) is a big strong individual he became stronger recently. A lot of these guys are 18 yrs old and still maturing. So you want to be careful to let that go through its normal sequence. We have a couple other pitchers who have been with us for three years who for the next season we are keeping them on a very limited schedule. It varies quite a bit by their maturation level, but also development during that time is important.

PN: How does an injury such as the one which occurred to Red Sox prospect Chris Reitsma occur? Can it be prevented? (Broken arm suffered during a pitch)

Former pro Steven Ellis: The Reitsma thing was a freak injury. Who knows! He is a very well conditioned athlete and has done everything he has been told. So sometimes things happen. He’s doing well and will be pitching again.


An overall conditioning program is important. Starting with nutrition, ideal weight, body fat, etc that are important to watch. Flexibility and cardio-vascular conditioning stuff is important. Strength training : the everyday players are on a standardized program. We send out a booklet taking them week by week from October to Feb/March. Pitchers are very different in that they do. All the things for running and weights from the rib cage down are similiar to everyday players. Above the rib cage it is a very different program. We keep them away from heavier weights and have them more in a throwing, not a pitching program, more of a long toss program to work on mechanics, really get the arm back and decelerate, and learn how to use the muscles around their shoulder. And then in January we take them to the mound and start working them a little bit.

Long toss and mechanics should be worked on first for around a month just to get them to be ready to go to the mound and throw. Strength training for the upper arm/shoulder is mostly done with hand weights and rubber tubes. That’s all they need, Bio-dex and Cybex are fine, but they are expensive and you can do the same with hand weights and tubing.

Dual Sport Athletes

Frequently there is such an emphasis on strength and conditioning for each team that football could be bad for baseball in that conditioning for strength and bulk is not the best for baseball. Going from football requires significantly more transition time to play baseball then a sport like basketball. On the good side they are most probably more of a natural athlete any ways, that’s why they are able to do it. On the bad side they can get into trouble from the different philosophy’s of preparation.

PN: When should a parent take their son to a doctor for an evaluation.

Former pro Steven Ellis: Repetitive pain, pain that lasts from one outing to the next, performance pain that deteriorates your ability, localized pain that persists. Those are all things that parents want to pay attention to.

PN: As a consumer what’s the best way to shop for the right physician.

Former pro Steven Ellis: You would like to see someone who understands pitching (or whatever your sport is) . The title or background information does not necessarily tell you what they know about pitching. You really want someone who deals with teams and players and who was a player themselves. There are some outstanding physical therapists and excellent athletic trainers. But then there are some of these individuals that operate sports medicine clinics and they deal with football players. They are not going to be quite as effective dealing with a baseball player.

PN: What are your feelings about ice and heat?

Former pro Steven Ellis: Ice them down for 15-20 min. No longer then that. To a certain extent it’s correlated with how much they pitched. An inning or two is not such a big deal. It’s done as routine- maybe more tradition then routine. Once the swelling is down then you go to heat to increase blood flow and get things going which permits the muscle to work more efficiently during that period of time (throwing).