Focused batting practice and course corrections
Had a real good example this week of the difference focused batting practice can make, especially during the season. Last Sunday, my friend and fellow coach Rich Youngman and I got together with four girls — our two daughters, plus two other girls who currently or have played for us in the past — to do a little BP. All had been struggling with their hitting to one degree or another. Two of the girls were really struggling in their high school seasons, while the other two were not hitting to their satisfaction. There were two girls from each of two high schools so it was all perfectly legal. Don’t bother calling the IHSA!
We set up a pitching machine and just rotated through them. As each girl came to the plate, Rich and I evaluated their mechanics and offered some suggestions. We had them focus on specific things they needed to do, and I videoed them for later study.
In each case they started out hitting rather anemically, much like their game performance. But as we worked through the mechanics, they began showing improvement. The machine was set around 45 mph since they all had been struggling to adjust to slower pitching anyway, and was then upped later into the mid-to-high 50s. FYI, we were using a Jugs machine with a generator at a field. I love the Jugs machine!
Anyways, we took a long time with each girl. The entire session lasted 2-1/2 hours. All of the girls were motivated to learn and improve, so that made a huge difference. It was a lot of fun, and no one complained or asked if we were done yet.
Now comes the payoff. Every single one of these girls saw marked improvement in their hitting this week. That’s an awfully fast turnaround, but I think it goes to show what focus and intensity can do. One girl, Kathleen, had been struggling so badly they DH’d for her Monday. I know Kathleen’s mom reads the blog so feel free to jump in with a comment if you like. Tuesday they let her hit for herself, and Rich tells me she was the first one to get a hit on her team. She hit a double into a gap that got some offense going. She hit well Wednesday, and then got the game-winning hit with a double on Thursday that went over the left fielder’s head. She’s now considered a hot bat.
Another girl, Michelle, told us she’d been striking out continuously all season on varsity. This week in her first at bat against one of the area’s better pitchers she started with a sac fly, then popped a double and a single. That was on Tuesday. On Wednesday I think she went 4-for-4 with a pair of doubles, including one that hit the fence, and Thursday she started a seventh inning rally for her team with a single up the middle. She did have a couple of Ks in that game, but that was a big club.
Rich’s daugher Stephanie started a little slower early in the week, but then started hitting the ball on the nose, he says. In her last seven at bats she has four hits, including a double and a triple. More significantly, she’s been hitting the right center gap instead of trying to pull everything and popping up to the left hand side. The triple was a lead-off triple that started a rally, and they ultimately won the game.
Finally, my daughter Kimmie saw her first varsity at bats this week after moving up from JV. In her first game she went 2 for 4. The two outs were a fly ball to right center that was caught on the run, and a fielder’s choice with bases loaded that ended the game on a mercy rule — her second RBI of the game. Guess you could call it a walk-off fielder’s choice. Thursday she struck out in her one at bat, but that was against the same pitcher that gave Michelle and the other girls problems, so it could be worse.
The point to all of this is that improvements can be made with quality BP, and a sincere desire by the players to learn and improve. There weren’t any magic pills, no secret sauce as it were. Just plain old hard work and intensity. There’s still more we can do with each of them — they’re all dragging the bat to some degree — but it’s a great start.
If you have similar success stories, please be sure to leave a comment. Everyone likes to hear how others have broken out of the doldrums. Usually, it begins with effort. As the old saying goes, the only place success comes before work is in the dictionary.