Friday, April 30, 2010

The State Of Stats


How much do you think you really know about the game of baseball? How much do you really WANT to know? If you are the type that needs to break down the game ala Billy Beane and his Jamesion style of quantifying before qualifying prospects, then we have the book for you. The Book...Playing The Percentages In Baseball...This isn't another book review...It's an opinion on why numbers can be important and maybe even timely.

You see, we live in a tweener time in baseball. That is, the time between the juiced era and a yet to be determined era...Well, maybe that future era is the "numbers" era. Instead of gaining an edge with just pure strength and brawn, how about if a player separates himself with the help from a scientific calculator and his brain? Don't stop those work-outs just yet...physical specimens are still needed and we aren't quite yet condoning all of this Geeky approach to baseball...but, it does make for interesting conversation. Just think if baseball just replaced those juiced up cartoon like bodies with sci-fi like intelligence of the game? Could that be the edge that defines the future of baseball?

Written by three esteemed sabermetricians, The Book continues where the legendary Bill James Abstracts and Palmer and Thorn's The Hidden Game of Baseball left off over twenty years ago.

They challenge the perceptions that we all think we know to be true. Is a sacrifice bunt really smart or is it sacrificing the teams chances? What does an intentional walk really prevent? Is anyone ever really fooled by the pitch out? Where should a coach put his best hitters in the lineup? Does platooning work? The information hits the reader with stats that WOW and is very useful for anyone that makes strategic decisions, or for that fan that just likes to dissect the game for what it is. From their web site, we have included some excerpts from their book...

Excerpts from The Book
Batting Order: If nothing else, we will consider this book a true success if all thirty teams were to never put a below-average hitter in the second spot. While the proper strategy will only gain you a few runs, why do something that is otherwise clearly wrong?

The Sacrifice Bunt: If you were to ask almost any manager whether he would rather advance the runner to second in exchange for an out, or have the batter attempt a sacrifice, how do you think he would respond? If you answered, “Take the guaranteed sacrifice,” we think that you would be right. What a poor decision that would be. It's not even close!

Batter/Pitcher Matchups: Luis Gonzalez, against the one guy he owned in the previous eighteen PA, the one guy that he took to the cleaners more often than any other pitcher he's faced, the one pitcher that any hitter has taken advantage of more than any other pitcher in baseball, crumbled in his sight for the next twelve

Good late spring book to get those brain synapses firing in anticipation of a great baseball season ahead!!!

RT Staff

Thursday, April 29, 2010

D-I, D-II an D-III


Division I
Division I member institutions have to sponsor at least seven sports for men and seven for women (or six for men and eight for women) with two team sports for each gender. Each playing season has to be represented by each gender as well. There are contest and participant minimums for each sport, as well as scheduling criteria.

For sports other than football and basketball, Division I schools must play 100 percent of the minimum number of contests against Division I opponents -- anything over the minimum number of games has to be 50 percent Division I. Men's and women's basketball teams have to play all but two games against Division I teams; for men, they must play one-third of all their contests in the home arena. Schools that have football are classified as Football Bowl Subdivision (formerly Division I-A) or NCAA Football Championship Subdivision (formerly Division I-AA).

Football Bowl Subdivision schools are usually fairly elaborate programs. Football Bowl Subdivision teams have to meet minimum attendance requirements (average 15,000 people in actual or paid attendance per home game), which must be met once in a rolling two-year period. NCAA Football Championship Subdivision teams do not need to meet minimum attendance requirements. Division I schools must meet minimum financial aid awards for their athletics program, and there are maximum financial aid awards for each sport that a Division I school cannot exceed.

Division II
Division II institutions have to sponsor at least five sports for men and five for women, (or four for men and six for women), with two team sports for each gender, and each playing season represented by each gender. There are contest and participant minimums for each sport, as well as scheduling criteria -- football and men's and women's basketball teams must play at least 50 percent of their games against Division II or Football Bowl Subdivision (formerly Division I-A) or Football Championship Subdivision (formerly Division I-AA) opponents. For sports other than football and basketball there are no scheduling requirements.

There are not attendance requirements for football, or arena game requirements for basketball. There are maximum financial aid awards for each sport that a Division II school must not exceed. Division II teams usually feature a number of local or in-state student-athletes. Many Division II student-athletes pay for school through a combination of scholarship money, grants, student loans and employment earnings. Division II athletics programs are financed in the institution's budget like other academic departments on campus. Traditional rivalries with regional institutions dominate schedules of many Division II athletics programs.

Division III
Division III institutions have to sponsor at least five sports for men and five for women, with two team sports for each gender, and each playing season represented by each gender. There are minimum contest and participant minimums for each sport. Division III athletics features student-athletes who receive no financial aid related to their athletic ability and athletic departments are staffed and funded like any other department in the university. Division III athletics departments place special importance on the impact of athletics on the participants rather than on the spectators. The student-athlete's experience is of paramount concern. Division III athletics encourages participation by maximizing the number and variety of athletics opportunities available to students, placing primary emphasis on regional in-season and conference competition.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Amateurism Certification Process FAQ's


Amateurism Certification Process Frequently Asked Questions

Do I have to register with the NCAA Eligibility Center?
Yes. If you want to compete in NCAA Division I or II athletics in your first year of college, you must register with the Eligibility Center and be certified academically and as an amateur.

When should I register with the Eligibility Center?
Register for the Eligibility Center at the beginning of your junior year in high school. The athletics participation section should be updated regularly so that institutions recruiting you will have up-to- date information about you. Be sure to ask your high school guidance counselor to send your high school transcript to the Eligibility Center after you have completed at least six semesters of high school coursework.

Is there a registration deadline?
No. However, you must be certified both academically and as an amateur before you are eligible to compete at an NCAA Division I or II institution during your first year of enrollment.

Is the registration form available in languages other than in English?
At this time, it is only available in English since that is the primary language needed to complete academic work at American colleges and universities.

What is the cost of the registration fee?
The registration fee is $60 for domestic college-bound student-athletes and $85 for international college-bound student-athletes. There is only one fee to register for the Eligibility Center, which covers both the academic and amateurism certifications. In addition, there is no reduction of the fee if the college-bound student-athlete does not need an academic certification (e.g., has already served an academic year in residence at a collegiate institution).

May I receive a fee waiver?
Yes, you are eligible for a waiver of the initial-eligibility certification fee if you have already received a fee waiver (not a state voucher) for the ACT or SAT. If you have not been granted a fee waiver by ACT or SAT, then you will NOT be eligible for a waiver of the certification fee. If you are seeking a waiver of the certification fee, you should confirm your eligibility with your high school guidance counselor. Your high school guidance counselor MUST submit an electronic fee waiver confirmation before your registration may be processed.

Who can help me complete the amateurism registration process?
Anyone can assist you in completing the process. However, when you have completed the registration process, YOU will be the only person allowed to submit the information to the Eligibility Center.

If I complete the registration process but don't attend a Division I or II institution immediately following high school, do I need to complete the registration process again if I want to attend a Division I or II institution later? Before being certified for a Division I or II institution, you will be required to update the information you provided for the amateurism questions. You will not be charged a registration fee to update your file.

Do transfer student-athletes also have to register with the Eligibility Center?
Every college-bound student-athlete who is attending an NCAA Division I or II institution full time for the first time must be certified by the Eligibility Center.

If I am transferring from a junior college to either a Division I or II institution and all I need is my amateur certification, do I need to pay the full amount to register?
Yes, the fee is a flat rate: $60 for domestic college-bound student-athletes and $85 for international college-bound student-athletes.

If I am transferring from a junior college to either a Division I or II institution, do I have to receive an academic and an amateurism certification?
You will definitely need to receive an amateurism certification. However, you may not need an academic certification. The institution that is recruiting you will be able to advise you on this matter based on your specific academic record.

What if I enroll in an NCAA Division I or II institution and decide to participate in a sport other than one of the three I had listed on the amateurism certification registration form?
If you decide to participate in a sport other than one listed on the registration form, the Eligibility Center will need to be contacted so you can add this sport and be certified under the amateurism certification process.

Will a paper copy of the amateurism form be available?
No, the registration form will only be available on the Eligibility Center Web site and must be completed online.

If I have been participating in events related to my sport for a significant period of time, what events do I need to list on the amateurism registration form?
You should include all events in which you participated, beginning with the ninth grade and thereafter.

Once I complete the amateurism questions, how long will it take to find out if I am certified as an amateur?
After you complete all of the questions, the length of time it will take for you to receive your "preliminary status report" will depend on the answers you provided.

Can I receive different amateurism certifications for Divisions I and II?
Yes. Divisions I and II have different rules, so it is possible that your certification status may be different for each division.

How often can I update my information?
You can update your information as often as you need until you request a final certification of your amateurism status. At that point, you will no longer be able to update your amateurism information.

When can I request final amateurism certification?
Beginning April 1 for fall enrollees and beginning October 1 for spring/winter enrollees.

How do I request final amateurism certification?
1. Log in to your account at www.ncaaclearinghouse.net;
2. From the menu options, select “Enter/Update Amateurism Questionnaire";
3. Enter or verify the accuracy of your answers;
4. After you have correctly and honestly answered all questions, scroll to the end of the page and click the “Final Authorization Signature” button. Enter the information requested, read the statement and click “Submit” to request final certification;
5. After you have completed these steps, your request for final amateurism certification has been made and no further changes to your questionnaire can be made; and
6. Before logging out of your account, make sure your e-mail and other personal information is current should the Eligibility Center staff need to contact you for additional information.

Who will be certified?
Every college-bound student-athlete, both domestic and international, who is attending an NCAA Division I or II institution for the first time, must be certified by the Eligibility Center. This includes college-bound student-athletes who are transferring from any two- or four-year institutions (including international institutions) that are not members of NCAA Division I or II. Thus, if an individual wants to participate in athletics at an NCAA Division I or II institution, the college-bound student-athlete must register with the Eligibility Center and submit the appropriate documentation to receive a certification decision.

Am I automatically ineligible if I violated the amateurism rules?
No. The Eligibility Center will review your athletics participation history. If there are violations of NCAA amateurism rules, the Eligibility Center may certify you with conditions, which must be fulfilled before you are eligible for competition. The conditions will be set based on which rule was violated and the severity of the violation. Such conditions may include repayment of money or sitting out of competition for a specified number of games, or both. In some cases,
the Eligibility Center may determine that the violations are such that permanent ineligibility for competition is the appropriate penalty.

Can I appeal a certification decision regarding my amateur status?
Yes. The NCAA has an appeals process in place if you choose to appeal the certification decision. You will need to work with an NCAA institution since all appeals must be filed by a member institution.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Pitch To Go To College


The past week or so, we have had a pitching theme of sorts...Well, I'd like to pitch an idea...The idea for high school players to opt for college instead of the pro's.

Now there are exceptions. Bryce Harper is making a mockery of JC ball as a 17 year old. He already has 21 Home Runs 3/4 of the way through the season. He is the LeBron James of baseball. If he goes to a 4 year college, he'll hurt somebody with those metal bats.

The rest of the mortal baseball playing public is better off physically and mentally maturing in college, whether it be a 4 year (preferable) or a JC. The end result will be much more beneficial. Here are my list of benefits...

Smarter and Closer to a Degree
That's the number one reason to go to college. The chances of having a lengthy career in the pro ranks are slim. Some do well, but a majority do not. If a player goes to a 4 year college, he is not eligible for the draft until after his junior year or until he is 21...whatever comes first. Three years of college is significant. If that players fails to make it and decides to call it quits, he has the satisfaction of knowing he only has one more year to get his degree and is closer to another career to have some success in.

Mental Maturity

One prominent scout told me that after high school, many kids are thrown into the adult world and have a tough time adjusting to a meaningful and productive schedule. Imagine being 18, just out of mom and dads home and thrust onto a team full of legal age adults that have no daytime responsibilities and whose free time consists of...well...enjoying the night life.

Yes, it happens in college too. However, student athletes have that 6:30am wake-up call for strength and conditioning...Why do you think coaches schedule at this time? Players then, have school after that, followed by a 4 hour practice and study hall til 9:00. Their schedule is chock full of responsibilities morning, noon and night. Three years of that ingrained into your routine, will result in an incredible work ethic and mature outlook for the game of baseball.

Physical Maturity
When it becomes mandatory to be at the athletes work-out facility, the result is a more finely tuned and better prepared athlete. I look at some of these college baseball players and they look so much more in shape than many professional players...especially when compared to Prince Fielder, Pablo Sandoval, Bengie Molina and the like. You would never see a collegiate athlete with a build like that...the trainers and coaches wouldn't allow it. That daily routine becomes second nature to these players. When they get shipped of to their summer collegiate leagues in the Cape, Northwoods or Alaska, the first thing they do is seek out the local gym.

More Reps at the Plate

The 56 game regular season schedule is just one part of the equation as a collegiate player. Summer collegiate leagues have anywhere from 45-72 games. The Northwoods has expanded this year and has 72 regular season games to play. Add the play-offs and players in that league could play more than 80 games. Combined with the college season, that's more reps and more games than the players would normally get on a pro team. And, if they were good enough to get drafted out of high school, chances are that they will play in college. There are no such guarantees for a high school kid going pro.

Year Round Mandatory Conditioning
In addition to all we said above, college baseball is a year round activity. Starting in the fall, the NCAA allows 45 days of official, coach led practices. The other days, players have "captain led practices" and can be seen at the cages everyday. The strength and conditioning is ramped up and a bit more intense during the fall practice season as well. In the minor league off-season, there are very little managed days of practices, conditioning programs or instruction...there is the Arizona, Mexican, Carribean or Venezuelan league, but that has to be negotiated with each player.

Scouts like College Players For All of The Above Reasons

Wouldn't you?...Unless of course, you are the next Bryce Harper.



Monday, April 26, 2010

The Pitch Count


RT Staff Note: This is an excellent article from BeABetterHitter.com

The pitch count should have a direct impact on each swing you take at the plate. Certain pitch counts favor the hitter and certain ones favor the pitcher. Just as the smart pitcher takes advantage of the times he is "ahead in the count," the smart hitter understands when he has the advantage. In these situations, the hitter must capitalize. Or, at least, give it his best.

If you are ahead in the count 1-0, 2-0, 2-1, or 3-1, you should be looking for that "good pitch to hit." Something in your favorite area of the plate that you usually hit hard. Knowing your strong spot is crucial in this situation. If you have no idea where in the strike zone you hit best, then you cannot take advantage of the "hitter’s count" situations. These are the times when you can really look for a pitch and when you get it, really take a strong cut at it.

These "hitter’s counts" are not only ideal situations to look for a ball in a certain area, but are what are known at "fastball counts."
The pitcher does not want to risk throwing another ball and falling further behind in the count. So, you will usually get a fastball in these counts. If you know you are likely to get a fastball, your likelihood for success skyrockets ("hitting is timing".) In addition, on 2-0, 2-1, 3-1 and 3-0 counts, that fastball is going to be "fatter" (thrown more to the center of the strike zone). Strictly because that pitcher does not want to give you a base on balls. These are pitches you should be able to hit to all parts of the ballpark with authority.

On the 1-0 count, although you are ahead, it is early and the pitcher may take a chance with a different pitch. Or he may throw a fastball to a certain location. Certainly, your level of competition and age group play a factor in what might be thrown in these situations.

Up to the age of 15-16 the tendencies that I have described are pretty steadfast. Above that, and on up to the Major Leagues, pitchers have much greater control of a variety of pitches and may be willing to risk throwing something other than a fastball on a "fastball count."

The pitch generally thrown at these higher levels is that particular pitcher’s "best" pitch (which is another good reason to study your opposing pitcher while you are in the on-deck circle). However, studies show that a fastball is still the most likely pitch. Knowing that, and remembering that a large part of hitting is timing, you should look for the fastball. If you get anything else, unless it is so nice you can’t resist hitting it, let it go by.

This is called being patient and waiting for a good pitch to hit. At the very worst the umpire will call it a strike and you deal with the next count.

If you are even in the count 1-1, or down 0-1, you must adopt a different mind-set to be a successful hitter. Approach these counts with the idea that you are going to hit the ball "the other way." One reason for this approach is that you will naturally track the ball a fraction of a second longer, giving you more time to decide if the pitch is going to be a strike.

Additionally, this approach gives you the ability to hit pitches away from you, or on the "outside corner" of the plate. Pitchers like to nibble with borderline pitches to see if batters will chase them. If they do, the pitcher is in control. If not, he has to adjust. Pitchers generally like to nibble on the outside of the plate as that is the most difficult pitch to learn to hit. At higher levels of play the pitcher will "come inside" to set up something "outside" on the next pitch.

When you have two strikes on you it is imperative that you take a "battling" mind-set with you to the plate. This is "war" between you and the pitcher. Cut down on your swing, keep your head still, and intensely track the ball the moment it leaves the pitcher’s hand. Your goal is to "get a piece of it" if it is anywhere close to the strike zone. If you hit it fair. . . fine. If it’s a real tough pitch in a tough location. . .foul it off. The more pitches you make the pitcher throw in these situations, the greater your advantage. First, the pitcher cannot remain perfect. Sooner or later he is going to make a mistake and throw you a good ball to hit. Second, the more pitches you make him throw, the more fatigued he becomes, which may lead to more mistakes.

Brett Butler was perhaps the greatest hitter I ever saw at "battling" a pitcher with two strikes on him. He could foul off more pitches that were just too close to let go by than anyone in the game.

My philosophy has always been "don’t let the umpire decide," keep battling. Many a hitter has been called out on a third strike that was "close." Don’t risk it. Keep battling. Chances are you will get a better pitch to hit. This is "two strike" hitting, or "protecting the plate," a totally different approach than when you are ahead in the count.

A good hitter understands the game well enough to adjust his mental approach on each pitch, as the count changes. Nobody is encouraging you to be a "guess hitter," just understand the game and it’s tendencies.

If you notice, the one pitch count I haven’t addressed is the 0-0 count. The first pitch. There are two schools of thought about this pitch. Some of the great hitters adopt the position that they want to look at the first pitch. See what the pitchers got. Get a gauge for his speed, etc. Their thought process is that if hitting is timing they will be in a better position to time their swing.

I believe in the opposite, for two reasons: One, you should have been paying attention during your time in the on-deck circle. Or, if you are the first batter of the game, during the pitcher’s warm up. My point is this, study the pitcher, know him, he is your adversary.

The second, and most important reason, is this: Pitcher’s are instructed from Little League to the Major Leagues (and every stop in between) to get ahead in the count! "First pitch, first strike, first out" is drilled into them from an early age. It stands to reason that most first pitches are going to be "good pitches to hit."

I believe in treating the 0-0 pitch like a 2-0 pitch. Look for a fastball in your "zone." If you get it. . .smash it. Swing hard at this pitch. If you miss it, it’s 0-1 and you have two strikes left. If the pitch is not to your liking, let it go by. The worst it can be is 0-1. Plus, you had a chance to "look" at one to see what the pitcher has.

Rickey Henderson is the most prolific first pitch hitter that ever lived. He has more first pitch, first at-bat home runs than any player in the history of the game. Rickey is not considered a power hitter.

How then is he able to hold this distinction? I’ll tell you. . .he is a smart hitter. He looks for that grooved fastball on the first pitch. When he gets it, he pounces on it!

Very often the first pitch in an at-bat is the best pitch you will see. If you live by the philosophy to always "take" that pitch, guess how many times you will start out 0-1? A lot. Pitchers are not dummies. If you show a tendency, believe me they will try to exploit it.

On the other hand, if you are known for crushing the first pitch fastball two things could happen. One, they won’t give you a very good pitch to hit very often. Which means you will probably be ahead in the count 1-0 (depending on the umpire, or the quality of the pitch). Or two, you will see plenty of breaking and off-speed pitches on the first pitch. Which, again, the smart hitter can adjust to.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Thoughts/observations on LSU


RT Staff Note: The health and promotion of college baseball is our number one priority here at Rounding Third. I read and contribute as a ranting poster from time to time on RivalsBaseball.com. I was impressed by another poster that calls himself, BAMAmgr...obviously a Alabama fan. He traveled to LSU recently and his comment reflects why we think that every single Athletic Director in the country should travel down to Baton Rouge and take notes...Alex Box and the LSU Athletic Department are the standard by which all colleges should emulate. Here are his comments...


We all know the team on the field is great, and they deserve all the praise they get. This post, however, pertains more to the atmosphere and environment surrounding LSU baseball. I feel credit should be given where it is due, and credit is well deserved to the LSU baseball program.

I spent my first weekend in Baton Rouge for a baseball series this weekend and I feel I have to commend both the athletic department at LSU and the LSU fans for their unbelievable support and professionalism when it comes to college baseball.

Simply put, it is unreal down there in Baton Rouge. LSU by far sets the gold standard for every baseball program in the SEC and across the country. The support staff at Alex Box is unmatched, operating more like a miniature MLB stadium than a college or even AA/AAA park. From the field crew preparing the playing surface to the press box/operation of the (unbelievable High Definition) scoreboard, to the in-game entertainment, infrastructure in place to handle fans/traffic etc, and even to the natural flow in the architecture and way the new Box has been put together, LSU has it going on.

Your fans are unbelievably supportive of your players and team, loud and unrelenting during the games, the LSU crowd at Alex Box is undoubtedly a 10th man on the diamond. With that being said, the fans are also extremely knowledgeable of the game and recognize the effort and talent an enemy can bring in to your ballpark. The ovations given to Kelton for his diving play in left on Saturday and Nelson for his 8 2/3 pitching performance on Sunday were twice as loud from OPPOSING FANS than they would have been from the comatose crowd we roll out at Sewell Thomas on a weekly basis.

If this rant I have going here makes me sound like I am envious or jealous, then I have properly conveyed my feelings. When I go to sleep at night I dream about walking in to a ballpark to watch a game at an Alex Box-like stadium and atmosphere, only everyone is wearing crimson and white. After typing a few paragraphs I still don't feel like I have gotten my point across and that there is so much more to rave about, but I will shut up now. I love my Tide and will be an Alabama fan for the rest of my days but here's to you, LSU.

You have done justice to the beautiful game of College Baseball, and the rest of us can only hope to catch up and create an environment/atmosphere like yours some day. Keep geauxing, Tigers.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Superman now plays baseball

Superman now plays baseball
Cameron McMillan
Y!X Sport editor
April 22, 2010

An American college baseball player has pulled off one of the sports plays of the year by diving straight over a catcher at home plate.

Playing for Fordham College Brian Kownacki rounded third base and pulled off a Superman dive straight over the catcher to record the run.

The umpire took his time to record the run possibly due to his disbelief of the amazing leap.

The video has been played throughout American media outlets today, making Kownacki an international star - all be it for a few days.

The play was part of an impressive turn around that saw Fordham come back from 9-1 down to beat Iowa 12-9.

But who will ever remember the score?




Kownacki leaps over the catcher @ Yahoo! Video

Monday, April 19, 2010

Identifying Pitches


RT Staff Note: Some of the most successful hitters in the game study pitches as if they were preparing for a final exam. You can have any opinion about Barry Bonds that you desire, but 100% of players and pitchers will tell you that nobody studied pitchers and their pitches more intently than he did. He may have enhanced his power stats, but there wasn't and probably won't be a better contact hitter in the game than Mr. Bonds. His knowledge of what to look for in a pitch, it's movement, the pitchers delivery and his ability to track balls is legendary. Here's a few tips on how to get a leg up on the pitchers you face. We found this information on a blog called Baseball Pitches Illustrated

Infographics
Baseball Pitches Illustrated

A fan’s guide to identifying pitches.
I‘m a baseball fan. I’ve watched my share of televised games and attended a few handful. After all this, I was still in the dark about the difference between pitches. I knew a curveball broke downwards, but what exactly was a circle changeup?

The diagrams below are the results of skimming through baseball books and doing online research. This is not a complete guide. I’ve picked twelve of the more common pitches:

Fastballs:Four-seam, Two-seam, Cutter, Splitter, and Forkball
Breaking Balls: Curveball, Slider, Slurve, and Screwball
Changeups: Changeup, Palmball, Circle Changeup

Learning to Identify Pitches
The list of pitches might seem like a lot to keep track of, but remember that each pitcher utilizes only a selection of these pitches. For example, Pedro Martinez throws a curveball, circle-changeup, an occasional slider, and a fastball. Do a little research on the pitcher before the game.

Things to watch for that will help you identify a pitch:

Speed
Movement - the general direction the ball is moving
Break - a sudden shift in direction

There are a few other things that can help you identify a pitch: ball rotation, point of release, and grip. For a casual fan though, it might be a bit much and I don’t illustrate or discuss any of the latter three items.

Reading the Diagrams
Take note of the speed, movement, and break of the ball. Don’t worry about where the baseball is shown in the the strike zone. You can throw a fastball in the middle of the strike-zone like the one illustrated, or you can throw one high and away from the batter. It’s still a fastball. Location doesn’t determine the pitch.

I’ve collected all twelve of the pitch diagrams below, minus the text notes, into a single PDF:

Baseball Pitches


Four-seam Fastball
85-100 mph
Fastest, straightest pitch. Little to no movement.






Two-seam Fastball
80-90 mph
Also known as a Sinker.
Moves downward, and depending on the release, will sometimes run in on a right handed hitter (RHH).




Cutter
85-95 mph
Breaks away from a right handed hitter (RHH) as it reaches the plate.
Mix of a slider and a fastball. Faster than a slider but with more movement than a fastball.



Splitter
80-90 mph
Breaks down suddenly before reaching plate.






Forkball

75-85 mph
Like a splitter, but with a less dramatic, more gradual downward movement.








Curveball
70-80 mph
Commonly called a 12-6 curveball. The 12-6 refers to the top to bottom movement (picture a clock with hands at 12 and 6).





Slider
80-90 mph
Breaks down and away from a RHH.
Between a fastball and a curve.







Slurve
70-80 mph
11-5 movement. Similar to a curve but with more lateral movement.





Screwball
65-75 mph
1-7 movement. Opposite of the slurve.








Changeup
70-85 mph
Slower than a fastball, but thrown with the same arm motion.






Palmball
65-75 mph
Ball is gripped tightly in palm.
Just like a changeup, this pitch is slower than a fastball, but thrown with the same arm motion.






Circle Changeup

70-80 mph
A changeup with 1-7 moment like the screwball.

Friday, April 16, 2010

It Just Doesn't Make Sense


As conference games enter their second week, I am still astounded by the lack of college baseball coverage at many of the major dailies and sports broadcast media. College sports are always a dominant feature in all sports media during football and basketball season. Football dominates From September -December. Basketball picks it up from December through March...Why can't college baseball fill that void in April, May and June?

Newspapers cry about lack of space...but where did that space go that was formerly occupied by college basketball? Did it ALL get handed to MLB coverage? The NFL and NCAA football co-exist quite well. College Hoops and the NBA share the same space to satisfy the appetite fans have for basketball. Shouldn't College Baseball and MLB have that same synergy?

I have said this many times on this blog...College baseball is a major feeder to the Bigs...just as college basketball and football are to their pro counterparts. It would behoove the MLB and the media to turn on more fans to the college game.

In fact, MLB should require all sports media to cover their future stars. Now that ESPN is airing the MLB draft, it would draw more attention to the ratings and interest to what could become a major media event. Look how much interest Strasburg got last year. College gave him that opportunity. He wasn't a very sought after player until he had the opportunity to show off his stuff and grow physically and mentally at San Diego State.

Would Gerritt Cole be as happy leading the Charleston Riverdogs to a league championship as he is leading UCLA to a Number One Ranking? I don't think so. He made the right choice turning down the Yankees and leading the Bruins to a long awaited stellar season.

We seem to forget about that connection between the college baseball game and MLB. Everyone seems to think all baseball players just go from high school to the draft..and it's a shame. Those high school players would benefit so much more by going to college...MLB would too!! So many of these players just drift off into oblivion after they decide to go off to the pro's from high school.

I mean, do you really care about the Tennessee Smokies and the Montgomery Biscuits? OR, would you rather read about those players competing in a conference showdown between Ole Miss and LSU or Arizona St. and UCLA?

And we have the media to blame for all of this. They, for some odd reason, fail to see how significant college baseball is. It's a crying shame...It just doesn't make any sense.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Facts About Baseball Exercises and Training


RT Staff Note: The following is from Baseballfit.com

Fact: Increased muscle mass does not necessarily equate to more home runs, a faster fastball, or even increased running speed.

Fact: The "alactic anaerobic" (phospho-ceatine) energy system is the primary system used in playing baseball and softball, not the "aerobic" energy system.

Fact: The average pro baseball player is about the same size as a pro-football receiver or defensive back.

* The average pro-ballplayer is 6'0" tall, weighs 190 lbs., and has body fat of 9.4% as an infielder or 8.4% if they're an outfielder

* The average pro pitcher is 6'1" tall, weighs 190 - 200 lbs., and has 12.3% body fat

* The average pro catcher is 5'11" tall, weighs 190 - 200 lbs., and has 11.5% body fat

Fact: Throwing, hitting, and running are short-burst, high velocity, ballistic movements that require tremendous physical force and power.

Fact:
To improve your hitting, throwing, or running you must use baseball exercises and drills that closely relate to the specific conditioning demands of these particular activities.

A 10 Point Checklist for Determining the
Effectiveness and Safety of Your Baseball Exercises and Overall Strength & Conditioning Program


The only sure way to review your baseball exercises and training program is with a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist who has experience training ball players. However, you should review your baseball exercise and training program for these common training mistakes:


1. Dedicating more than 10-15 minutes per session on "aerobic" or cardiovascular fitness with exercises like long distance running or biking

2. A weight lifting regimen that emphasizes building bulk - programs more suitable for body-building or football, like those found in mainstream fitness magazines

3. Lacks stretching exercises to promote muscle elongation and flexibility

4. A lack of power development baseball exercises, such as Plyometrics -- an effective training method that conditions you to combine maximal speed and strength to improve your performance

5. Under use of sprint/interval training

6. Doesn't explain or guide you through the Four Phases of Strength Training

7. Includes exercises that place your shoulder in positions that can weaken or damage this joint

8. You are experiencing excessive pain after workouts

9. Doesn't fully explain or illustrate how to properly perform baseball exercises, lifts or drills

10. Lacks supervision from or access to an experienced strength and conditioning specialist with experience in baseball and softball to monitor your progress

What To Do If You Find Flaws With Your Baseball Exercise and Training Program

If you have checked off three of these items you should have your baseball exercises and training program redesigned by a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist.

If you checked off four or more items and you have been training for more than a year, then you should DEFINITELY have your baseball exercises and program reviewed immediately.

These training flaws could lead to a potentially serious injury and sideline you indefinitely.

If you don't have access to a certified trainer who specializes in baseball, give Strength and Conditioning for Ball Players and the softball and baseball exercises in it a try risk free for 12 weeks. It is designed as a year-round program for baseball players to help them safely develop the kind of power, flexibility and quickness most players only dream of.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Baserunning Fundamentals


RT Staff Note: The following is from www.qcbaseball.com.

Baserunning
Every Player Can Be Good At Running The Bases


Good teams are often judged on their ability to manufacture runs. What this means is they didn't string together enough hits (or any hits for that matter) to score a run. An example would be a hitter reaching on a walk, stealing second base, going to third on a ground out hit to second, and scoring on a fly ball. In this case a run was scored without the aid of a base hit. Other skills are important in a teams ability to manufacture runs, but one thing for sure, poor baserunning will inhibit a teams ability to manufacture runs on a regular basis. Worse than that, poor baserunning will take your team out of scoring opportunities. There may be no worse feeling in baseball than being picked off a base or making a mental baserunning mistake. There is no where to hide when this happens and it can be a long walk back to the dugout.

You may consider yourself a base stealing threat every time you get on base, or maybe you look for certain situations to take an extra base. Whatever your running ability, your value as a baserunner is important to your team.

Know The Value Of Your Run


As a baserunner you always need to be aware of the value of your run. This is dependent on the game situation and your ability. Your strategy on the bases will be different depending on the inning and the score. Have you seen a player being picked off first base when their team is down by 4 or 5 runs? It can be the nail in the coffin for the team. It's a mental error and should never happen, but it does, even at the major league level. This next section will cover many of the fundamentals necessary to be a good baserunner.

Baserunning - Home To First
Getting Out Of The Box


Regardless which side of the plate you hit from, your first step out of the box is a crossover step. Drive out of the box as if you were stealing a base. Get in the habit of getting out of the box quickly; this helps you at the close play at first and may just turn that long single into a double.

As you take your first couple steps, pick up the ball. Assume there will be a play at first base on any ball hit on the ground or on a line. Once you know where the ball is heading, focus in on where you are going.
Run Every Ball Out! Hard!

Few players in the Majors run out every ball. As with many things in the big leagues, it may okay to do it when you get there but you shouldn't do it when you're working to get there. Lead by example, run every ball out and run it out hard. It doesn't matter if it's a slow roller to the pitcher or a pop fly to the center fielder, get your legs going and hustle down the line.
Run Through First Base

Once you've determined that the ball is going to be fielded by an infielder, focus on the front part of first base. As you hit the base, start breaking down. This gives the illusion to the umpire that you were at the bag sooner than if you breakdown after you pass the base. After you have crossed the base, slow down and look to your right to see if there was an errant throw.
Take A Turn

If the ball is going to make it past the infield, get ready to round first base. Do this by moving off the line and into foul territory to set yourself up for the turn at first. Try to hit the inside corner of the bag. Be aggressive with your turn, put pressure on the outfield to field the ball cleanly and make a good throw. There's a fine line between being aggressive and being stupid. Put yourself in position to take advantage of any mistakes but don't get caught being too far off the base.

Baserunning - First To Third
Make Sure The Ball Gets Through The Infield


After you determine from first that the ball will land safely in the outfield or make it past the infield on the ground, you need to analyze your chance of making it to third base on the play. Start to flair out on your way to second to prepare yourself for the turn towards third.

Ball Hit To Center Or Left Field

If the ball is hit from center to left field, you will have the play in front of you and it will be up to you to determine if you are going to attempt to make it to third or not. Remember, by making it to second, you are in scoring position. Do not take chances going to third if an average to good throw will get you out.

If you determine that you are going to try and make it, make sure you focus on hitting the inside part of the bag as you turn the corner. Once you have made it past second look up and pick up your third base coach. If you look over your shoulder trying to pick up the ball, you'll only slow yourself down. The third base coach will let you know whether to slide or go in standing.

Ball Hit To Right Or Right Center Field

If the ball is hit from right center to right then you must rely on the third base coach to let you know whether to stay at second or go for third. This often happens after you have rounded second base! When you're about 3/4 of the way toward second, you should have already picked up the ball and the position of the outfielder and determined whether you will try for third on the play. Since you only get one chance to take a look, you will want to pick up the third base coach. He may be giving you a sign to stay on second, or to keep running, or he may not know at that point. If you get no sign before getting to second, you must use your determination from the picking up the ball. If it looks like it was hit hard and directly to the right fielder, you will want to go straight in to second base and pick up the right fielder or third base coach as you do so. If the ball was hit down the line or in the gap and you are anticipating trying for third, take an aggressive turn. You must pick up the third base coach immediately after touching second. He will be able to let you know whether to continue on or to stay at the bag. The big difference between scenarios is in the first, you plan on staying at second unless the coach lets you know otherwise; in the second scenario, you plan on going to third unless the coach signals you to stop.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Pitchers Throwing Program


Pitchers Throwing Program
By Geoff Zahn former MLB pitcher


In my many years of teaching and coaching baseball, mainly pitchers, I have been asked by young players and dads, ‘ What should a player or pitcher do to get his arm in shape for the season or to begin throwing off the mound?’. While at the University of Michigan I developed a five week progressive throwing program to strengthen arms to get pitchers ready to start throwing off the mound and to get regular players ready for the rigors of everyday practice and a 5 to 6 games a week schedule. Obviously this program is meant for players from age 18 on up but I believe it is applicable to high school players as well. Younger players should modify the distance according to their age and should also shorten the time that they throw accordingly.

This program is an adaptation of the "Progressive Shoulder Throwing Program" authored by the Kerlan -Jobe Orthopaedic Clinic, which is used to rehabilitate injured throwing arms. This program is not meant as a rehab program but a program to get an uninjured throwing arm into shape to withstand the rigors of the season. It is meant for pitchers and regular players alike. It covers a period of 5 weeks. If you have had trouble with your arm or you are coming off of an injury you should follow the advice of your doctor for a more extensive and lengthy program.

If you are having trouble with your arm, It is important to use heat prior to stretching. Heat increases circulation and activates some of the natural lubricants of the body. Perform stretching exercises after applying the heat modality and then proceed with the throwing program. Use ice after throwing to reduce cellular damage and decrease the inflammatory response to micro trauma.

Ideally, you should schedule your throwing program and a strengthening program on alternate days. If you are going to do both on the same day always make sure you do your throwing program before your strengthening program. DO NOT, UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES ACCELERATE THIS PROGRAM. For instance, if you have given yourself exactly 5 weeks to complete this program before the first day of practice and for some reason you miss a week, do not try to make up the throwing by just skipping a phase of the program. Your arm will not take it and you will stand a good chance of injuring yourself.

If at any time during this program you have any problems or have any pain or discomfort you should stop and allow your arm to recover or if it doesn’t recover see a doctor.

A chart is provided at the end of this program for you to record your results.

Prior to starting this program you should be able to play catch at a distance of 40-50 feet for 20 minutes 3 times a week.

The pitcher's throwing program

STEP 1: Play catch at a distance of 60 feet throwing half speed for 20-25 minutes per session, 3 times a week for one week.

STEP 2: Perform long easy throws of 150-200 feet getting the ball barely back to your partner on 5-6 bounces. This is to be performed for 20-25 minutes per session on two consecutive days, (Monday and Tuesday). Then rest the arm for 1 day. Repeat the sequence one time for the next two days, (Thursday and Friday). Then rest the arm for 2 days.

STEP 3: Perform long easy throws from 200-250 feet with the ball barely getting back to your partner on numerous bounces. This is to be performed for 20-25 minutes per session on two consecutive days, (Monday and Tuesday). Then rest the arm for one day. Repeat the sequence one time for the next two days, Thursday and Friday). Then rest the arm for two days.

STEP 4: Execute stronger throws from 150-200 feet getting the ball back to your partner on one to two bounces. This should be performed approximately 30-35 minutes per session on two consecutive days, (Monday and Tuesday). Rest the arm for one day. Repeat the same routine for the next two days, Thursday and Friday). Then rest the arm for two days.

STEP 5: Perform short, crisp throws from a distance of 120 feet with a relatively straight trajectory hitting your partner in the chest. These throws should be performed for 30 minutes on two consecutive days, (Monday and Tuesday). Rest the arm for one day. Repeat the sequence one time for the next two days, (Thursday and Friday). Then rest the arm for the next two days.

As a result of this program your arm should be ready to start practice and if you are a pitcher you will be ready to start throwing off the mound.

Geoff Zahn, of the Master Pitching Institute, pitched 12 years in the major leagues. He also is a former head baseball coach at the University of Michigan.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Hitting Slumps...Part 2


by Tom Robson from The Hitting Edge

Even the word 'slump' can strike fear into a batter. But how do you get past it? What does pull you out? These thoughts are from a 12 year Major League hitting coach, Tom Robson.

Busting Out

Almost all slumps are mental, but coaches and players try to fix the stance or approach.
A slump is a prolonged stretch during which a hit can't be found or even bought. Going 0 for 10 does not signify a slump, although to some major league hitters and most young players, going 0 for 4 can become a major slump in their own minds. Almost all slumps are mental, but coaches and players try to fix a slump by changing physical elements of the swing, such as the stance or approach. It is essential to understand the nature of slumps and deal with them by using the mind.

I have seen many major league players hit two or three line drives for outs and then try to figure out what's wrong with their swings. Little league players often get discouraged if they go 0 for 3 or get two strikeouts, thinking this is a major slump. They end up trying 10 different things to get back on track, when in fact they never left the track in the first place. Trying to change the mechanics of a hitter to fix an 0 for 5 begins a vicious cycle that never goes away and will be there for as long as a player chooses to play.


Deal with the mind first.


That means having a clear head and seeing the ball correctly. Always think this pitch, this moment. Believe in yourself and show confidence even when you doubt. Never, and I mean never, be afraid to swing and miss. Always take your best swing, and confront one pitch at a time and deal with it. This pitch, this moment is all a hitter can deal with at any given time. A hitter's mechanics should be changed only if something is interfering with one of the absolutes of hitting: dynamic balance, sequential rotation, axis of rotation, and bat lag.

Dynamic balance means controlling the center of gravity from start to finish; sequential rotation means using the body in the correct order, feet first, hands last; axis of rotation means keeping a strong posture; and bat lag means pulling the bat through the zone as the last link in the swing.

The hits return because they finally have learned to relax.

When slumping, older players may reach rock bottom, resigning themselves to just going out and playing because they think they can't get any worse. Then the hits return because they finally have learned to relax and see the ball as it should be seen. There is no need to ever sink that low, because a poor performance can be changed in a short amount of time with some common sense, self-confidence, and good work habits.

Remember, a so-called slump results from mental mistakes more often than physical ones. Often the hitter loses focus and has no idea what he's trying to do at the plate. Keep in mind, though, that going 0 for 5 is not a slump; that's going to happen many, many times during the course of a season. How the hitter deals with an 0 for 5, or even an 0 for 15, will determine how long he is stuck in his slump.

Focusing on this pitch, this moment, can get a hitter out of a slump very quickly. What has happened in the past is over and done with. What is about to happen is the only thing that matters. The sooner we learn this, the better we'll be as coaches and as hitters.

He makes more than 400 outs and still gets paid all that money!

The benchmark today, as it has been for years, is that a .300 hitter is a good hitter. That means even a good hitter fails 7 out of 10 trips to the plate. So even a good hitter is going to fail 70 percent of the time. That doesn't sound so bad, but put it in perspective. A major league hitter who has 600 at bats will walk back to the dugout 420 times without a hit. Wow! He makes more than 400 outs and still gets paid all that money! That just shows how difficult it is to hit a little white ball moving at top velocity.

So hitters have to deal with this failure. They cannot let failure affect the next at bat or even the next pitch. A hitter must be able to take a bad swing or have a bad at bat but still move on to the next pitch or at bat and be successful. He has to have an attitude.

A hitter can't let a poor performance carry over into the next opportunity. Pouting or feeling sorry for yourself when you're in a slump can become a habit, starting a vicious cycle that's very hard to break.

A younger player who strikes out or swings at a bad pitch may retreat to the end of the bench, shake his head, and think, "What am I doing wrong?" All kinds of negative thoughts run through his mind. Good hitters keep the hitter's attitude even when the at bat doesn't generate the desired result.

As soon as I can, I try to break hitters of the habit of feeling sorry for themselves. A good hitter must have a positive attitude. Many players have prevented themselves from advancing to a higher level of play because they couldn't handle failure. Good hitters learn to deal with it.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

How To Get Out Of A Hitting Slump


Helping players get out of hitting slumps can be difficult. Young baseball players do not have the high-tech video and expert coaches that the major league hitters utilize, and even major league hitters have difficulty breaking out of hitting slumps. Additionally, young ball players don't have long term contracts so a prolonged slump could easily ruin their average, season or worse, give them a nice seat on the bench. Often, kids have many well-wishing people who offer advice on hitting during these times. Soon, however, the "try this/try that" information overwhelms the young hitters and confusion follows. The number one thing coaches can do to help is to keep the players optimistic, letting them know that the hitting slump is temporary and the end of it is near. Some words of advice like the following can help:

1. Do not get yourself out by swinging at bad pitches.
2. You are only one swing away from putting it all together.
3. The results will be there if you stay focused on the fundamentals and timing in practice, and on the ball in games.
4. Your confidence may not be high, but never give up hope.
5. There will be times when no one thinks you will get a hit, but always believe in yourself.
6. Remember the good at-bats and forget the bad ones.
7. No one will remember if you make an out with the game on the line but everyone will remember if you get the game winning hit, so you have nothing to lose.
8. Remember, the pitcher is nervous too.

Of course, these positive words can help for a while but often, the player's mechanics need adjusting. Generally, in-season is not the time to make major swing changes because major changes need a great deal of repetition and time to become habits. Often, some small tweaks to the hitter's stance or setup can make the difference, especially for hitters who are making contact, but not solid contact. The coach and hitter should analyze the results of the hitters' at-bats to see what tendencies have developed. Usually, hitters who are slumping, will be hitting too many ground balls or too many pop ups. After figuring out these tendencies, the following are some quick fixes coaches can try to get the hitter back on track.

For the hitter who is hitting too many ground balls:
1. Lower the hitter's hands an inch or two.
2. Have the hitter widen their stance a few inches and bend knees a little more (Think Carlos Quentin Stance).
3. Place a batting tee at the hitter's knees and right down the middle - hitter hits until they can consistently hit line drives back through the middle. Do not let the hitter settle for ground balls, even if they are solid.
4. Make sure the hitter's rear leg has a good angle at contact - legs form a capital A at contact, not a V.

For hitters who are popping everything up, the opposite "quick fix" solutions can help:
1. Raise the hitter's hands an inch or two
2. Shorten the distance between the feet when the hitter is in their stance so they are standing taller with little knee bend (Think Ken Griffey Jr. Stance)
3. Set a batting tee at the hitters chest or slightly higher - hitter hits until there are no pop ups - ideally, hitting line drives the same height as the ball level.
4. Make sure the hitter is transferring their weight with their heel on their rear foot facing the sky at contact.

Bigger Problems

Obviously, hitters who are not making contact or are only hitting foul balls, have bigger fundamental issues. The first thing to do to help these hitters is to make sure it is not just a timing issue. If the hitter is always swinging late, challenge them with greater speeds in batting practice. Likewise, for hitters who are swinging too early, use slow pitches during batting practice. Generally, the hitters' timing will improve with these speed changes and they will start making consistent contact. If this doesn't help, major swing fundamental changes may be necessary and there is probably nothing to lose by starting those changes immediately.

Former major league baseball player, Jack Perconte gives baseball hitting tips and batting practice advice for ballplayers of all ages. His baseball hitting lessons advice can be found at http://www.baseballhittinglessons.com/baseball Jack Perconte is the author of two books: "The Making of a Hitter" and "Raising an Athlete"

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

More, More, More


On Rivals College Baseball, a poster suggested that football reduce it's scholarships and grant them to baseball. While I agree with that in theory, there has to be some guidelines.

About the discrepancy of scholarships between football and baseball. I have been saying that for years. Baseball barely has enough scholarships to field one team. (9 starters, a DH a middle reliever and .7 closer)

Right now football has scholarships up to and including a full fourth string offense...up to and including a full third string defense plus 8 other players. A back up kicker and punter get full rides, yet Steven Strasburg gets 50%?

I think the NCAA should pare down football to 66. That's three full teams of offense and defense. Of those 19 available scholarships...give women's softball 6. (they only field teams of 18 so five would make them fully funded) and give baseball 13, for a total of 24.7 which is nearly fully funded.

However, a team can't qualify for that extra 13 if they don't themselves take the steps necessary to make their team a revenue generator. In other words, they should only grant more scholarships to the teams that invest more into their programs. That's why football gets so many scholarships...they generate revenue...baseball has to earn it...this isn't an entitlement...that would really tick the football guys off if baseball just got the scholarships without contributing to the revenue.

The model to follow here is what the SEC is doing. Since the SEC teams average over 6,000 a game and turn a profit for their programs, they would get the full 13 extra scholarships.

The thing is...most college athletic departments are lazy when it comes to helping make baseball a revenue generating sport. The exceptions of course are all of the teams in the SEC, and teams like Texas, Texas A&M, Baylor, Rice, Fl. State, UNC and others scattered around the southeast and Midwest. They realized the potential of college baseball and its draw and took advantage of the opportunities and are now reaping the benefits with record crowds and positive cash flows.

Ironically, the biggest disappointment lies where some of the best baseball is played...the west coast. More on that tomorrow. If those guys in the PAC 10, Big West, WAC (outside of Fresno State, they draw well) Mountain West (sans San Diego St) would invest in lights, marketing and media participation to increase attendance, I'd think you'd have an NCAA and advisory committee that would be more open to increasing baseball scholarships.

Right now, it's out of whack, because there are too many teams that treat baseball as a fifth wheel. I think that baseball would be better off if they weed out the fifth wheels that will never invest or even fully fund their programs and put them in a Division 1A. The teams in the southeast, southwest and west that recruit to win..as long as the invest to make money, should get the full benefit of increased scholarships. It would also make for better competition and a more exciting NCAA tournament.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Spirituality and the Athlete


RT Staff Note: I had the pleasure of meeting Dan John in my office yesterday. His specialty is Strength and conditioning, but I was impressed by his thoughts on Spirituality and the Athlete. His web site is www.danjohn.net.

Spirituality and the Athlete
By Dan John


You know, sometimes I hate parties. As long as people think I’m a “jock,” things go well. With my size, it is easy to field the questions about the Super Bowl or lifting or sports in general. It is when people find out my “day jobs” that problems arise. I’m a professor of religious education and the director of religious education for the Catholic diocese of Salt Lake City. I’m in the “religion business.”

And, it never fails…the very next sentence most people usually say is: “I am a very spiritual person.” I used to nod and agree with them because I thought I understood what they said. Now, however, I go one step farther. “What do you mean by ‘spiritual?’”

The answers vary, of course, but I have heard everything from “I read my horoscope EVERY day without fail” to “I just finished a 30 day fast and retreat with the exercises of Ignatius.” Not long ago, a woman stunned me with a question: “How do incorporate your spirituality and your sports?”

Good question. Athletes are often faulted for certain displays of religious belief or superstitions. The standard complaint filed on athletes is the pregame prayer: “Oh Dear Lord, let us defeat the hated South River Sabercats, and slew them with your Grace. Amen.” Across the stadium, the Sabercats are praying for their victory! One gets an image of God weighing out which team’s prayer had more merit…somehow.

That is not what I want to talk about. At the highest level of performance, there is a moment of transcendence, where the sum of the body’s potential and the training regimen are superceded by the beauty…the human potentiality…of the art of athletics. The athlete may never fully explain these moments in words…it is truly an “out of body” experience.

Brian Oldfield, the spinning shot putter who first broke 75 feet in the shot (a record not even approached for 14 years), discusses that moment in throwing when the centrifugal, linear, and vertical forces all come together and…just for a moment…the athlete has to pause to let them gather into the perfect throw. He calls this “the Nirvana Phase.” If you rush it, you miss it and you have a substandard throw. This, of course, is also a key to life: if you rush it, you miss it.

Oldfield’s point is crucial: there is a moment in every sport discipline where the forces have built up and athlete has to just let it all happen. For an interesting way to watch this in action, go rent “Groundhog Day” with Bill Murray. As he repeats the same exact day over and over and over, he decides to make a perfect day to seduce Andie MacDowell. His attempt at making the “Perfect Day” leads him to failure…over and over again. Finally, he decides to learn the piano, takes a turn at ice sculpture, and help people. With this approach, he gets the girl…and moves on to February 3. When he forced things, he failed. When he decided to learn new things, improve himself, he got what he wanted.

You have to let things happen in life and in sports. Yet, as all athletes know, there is someone out there with a pen and a calendar…someone scheduling a match, a meet, or a competition. The athlete’s task is show up on this day ready to go. All too often, though, the athlete has finishes the day “off their best.” Perhaps we can learn a little lesson from those of us in the “business.”

Not long ago, I popped open the March issue of Emmanuel Magazine. In an enlightening article on Christian Ministry by Father Stephen Bevans, I noted a quote that sounded familiar. The person quoted was one George Niederauer. I sent off a little memo to Bishop George Niederauer whose office is literally “at my feet” one floor below to see if, indeed, the Bishop was responsible for this insight on prayer. The Bishop wrote back: “Guilty!,” then noted that the article spelled his name wrong.

The article noted the Bishop’s interesting image of the kind of prayers that most people seem to struggle with. In the “Tale of Two Benches,” Bishop Niederauer describes sitting on a bus bench. When one waits for a bus, one is filled with expectations. The “G” bus should be here at 8:11. It is 8:13 and my day is ruined. We want to get off this bench and get going somewhere else! The bus should be here…now. Wait…now! The park bench, however, is a time to sit and listen and watch. We wait for nothing. The local squirrels that showed up yesterday may or may not be here today. And, that is okay.

The approach most athletes take to competition is the “Bus Bench” image. “On Saturday, the 26th, I will defeat all who show up, break all my personal records, find perfection in all I do, and meet the person of my dreams.” This, my friends, is the “G” bus of sports preparation. It is a tough model to follow. As I look over my 35 years in organized competition, I can only think of a few…three?…times when the Bus showed up on schedule.

The most important moment of my athletic career reflects the keys to success…in the Bus Bench model. In my closet, there is a small trophy that bears a stamp “S.V. 67.” For the record, it stands for “St. Veronica’s, 1967,” the first trophy I ever received and I got it one year before my wife was born. Although I often joke about my funeral, for example having Frank Sinatra’s “One for My Baby, One more for the Road” as a closing song, I am serious when I ask that somebody remember this trophy. It is a lesson in, well, how things work.

I was the world’s worst baseball player. My batting average was three zeroes. I hated sports while my brothers were getting their pictures in the local sports section on a weekly basis. As the right fielder, I was safe, until I batted. Then, I would close my eyes, swing like mad three times and sit down.

And, of course, like all great stories, we were heading for the championship game. I went to the local high school the night before the game and decided to learn to hit. Throw the ball up, close my eyes and swing. Ball up, close eyes and swing. As I tried to learn to hit, one of the local high school heroes, Dale Kursten, saw me trying and failing and walked over and gave me a few lessons. Keep your eye on the ball, swing level and make contact. A few easy hits later, he said goodbye.

And, of course, like all great stories, it came to the last inning. With two outs and a man on third, our captain turned and asked “Who’s up?” Me. “Oh great. We are going to lose.” Well, with that pep talk, I walked to the plate. Dale’s words echoed: “eye on the ball, swing level, make contact.” And, I did. The ball slid between the fielders and I made it to first base. The guy on third scored and we tied the game up. Later, we would win. A few weeks later, I was given a trophy.

At my sister’s twenty year high school reunion, she mentioned this story to Dale. It didn’t register. Oh, he had heard about my athletic career, but was stunned to find out that he had anything to do with it. Yet, I point to those few minutes of his guidance as the turning point.

There are gems in that story that I still take out my shovel and mine. For example, each time I think about this story, I remind myself of the role that a mentor played in improving my game. Moreover, the mentor helped without a lot of fanfare…Dale doesn’t market himself on the internet as “Coach of 400 Olympians and Dan John!” I am also reminded about the use of the “mantra,” the flow of calming words that allowed me to ignore my captain and stay focused on the ball. Truly, gems.

In the championship game, I came through. But, don’t ignore the two keys of mentor and mantra! The only advice I can give someone facing a date on a calendar is to make sure they have their external community of fans, buddies, friends, mentors and coaches at the event and their internal community of a few short focus words all ready to go.

For most athletes most of the time, the Park Bench model is much more appropriate. When you compete, or simply train, take time to enjoy the view, breath the air, and don’t worry about the squirrels! Whatever comes along during your competition or training should be viewed through the lens of wonder and thanks. My great joy in competing in Highland Games has a lot to do with the friendships made, the variety of events, and the party atmosphere. Highland Games athletes simply don’t make fools of themselves complaining about a bad performance. The events make a fool of you!

To get a “Park Bench” mentality, the athlete has to realize that, at best, very few competitions are going to be perfect. In addition, when the stars arrange for you to have those perfect competitions, you had better not try to mess it up with a lot of extra energy…you just have to let it go. The Park Bench also helps you with the 20% of competitions where things go all wrong. If you can keep your wits, feed a squirrel or two, you may just salvage this competition! By the way, nothing frightens your competition more than a serene smile on your face…they will think you are up to something!

Train hard, but enjoy competition. Compete hard, but enjoy your training. One key final point must be kept in mind at all times…NEVER judge a workout or competition as “good” or “bad” solely on that single day. I often tell my new throwers: “Sorry, you just are not good enough to be disappointed.” Judging one’s worth as an athlete over the results of single day is just idiocy…and will lead to long term failure. Epictetus, the Roman Stoic philosopher tells us: “We must ever bear in mind –that apart from the will there is nothing good or bad, and that we must not try to anticipate or to direct events, but merely to accept them with intelligence.”

To close, I have a favorite story:

A farmer had a horse and a son. One day, the horse died. All the neighbors said, “Oh, how bad.” The farmer said, “We’ll see.” The next day, the neighbors got together and bought the farmer a new horse. They all said, “That’s a good thing.” Farmer said, “We’ll see.” The following day, the horse threw the son while trying to break the horse. The son broke his arm. The neighbors all said, “Oh, how bad.” The farmer said, “We’ll see.” The next day, the army came into the town, drafted all the young men, save the son with a broken arm. They all died in the first battle. The neighbors said to the farmer, “Oh, how good it was for your son to have a broken arm.” The farmer said, “We’ll see.”

So, from someone in the “business” of religion, take a few pieces of insight to heart as an athlete. First, let things happen and don’t judge them as good or bad. Enjoy the opportunity to train and compete. Second, find yourself a community of people who support your goals…and be sure you “support your goals,” too.

Do my ideas work in sports? We’ll see.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Give Us Coverage


It's time to give college baseball it's due. This is baseball we are talking about...not some fringe or country club sport. America's Past Time at the amateur level...Compared to amateur football and basketball and using that as a measuring stick, baseball could be just as popular as the pro game.

It doesn't matter if it's college or MLB...it's high level collegiate baseball played by top performing and sought after athletes. If fans like the Dodgers, Yankees or Red Sox they will like the brand of baseball that UCLA, Arizona St. LSU and more play.

Again, what the dailies and broadcast media fail to realize is that once they start covering college baseball, the more supporters they will get....the more people like me that will e-mail and call them wanting more...They may not get requests now because they already know that they aren't a resource...most of us have to go to Rivals or CBS Gametracker to get our info...But we all WANT to see it in on ESPN and our metro dailies.

So, here's my suggestion...The major market dailies totally ignore college baseball...They think the public doesn't care...OK dailies...Do the college baseball community a favor...Write one feature article about the former, all metro high school stars and their impact on the colleges they play for...You will find that your local market has dozens of local and former high school stars playing college ball...If you run that article, YOU WILL get phone calls, letters and interest. It happened in L.A. and they have been covering it ever since. JUST ONE ARTICLE...

Also a mention in page 2's Calendar would be nice as well. College baseball games for the upcoming weekend and Tuesday games should be in that section. Some are broadcast on local college stations...all are on CBS's Gametracker...many televised via Gametracker as well

I just think sports editors are underestimating the power of college baseball. There could be huge fan interest if there is knowledge. The pro game trickles down very well to the college game...especially if there are pro prospects on those college teams. Here in my hometown, there are 11 former Stanford players playing on MLB teams right now...23 in the minors. Cal has 10 in the majors and dozens in the minors. Can you say that about their football or basketball players?

A brief mention of college baseball is not enough...This sport deserves it's own section..they need to test it for a season...for a month..they will see benefits beyond their expectations...I know...I have seen it done on other markets with tremendous success to the teams, their attendance and to the bottom line of the dailies and broadcast media that supported it.