Monthly Archives: May 2008

Pitch speeds in the WCWS

Ask anyone what kind of speed you need to pitch in Division 1 college softball and the answer is sure to be “mid-60s.” (Of course some people think that’s also a typical speed for a 12 year old, but that’s a story for another day.)

As I’ve been watching the Regionals, Super Regionals and Women’s College World Series this year, though, I’m noticing a different trend. I’ve been seeing more pitchers throwing consistently in the mid-to-high 50s. Case in point: tonight’s game with Alabama and ASU. The ASU pitcher fit the mold — her pitches were mostly 62 to 66 mph. But the ‘Bama pitcher was more in the 55-59 mph range. Yes, ASU went on to win the game, but it was on what looked to me to be a foul ball. Up until the seventh, they were held scoreless.

Not sure exactly what to make of all of this. Maybe it’s tough to get those tall California girls who throw in the 60s to go to Alabama. But I’ve seen other teams where that’s the case as well. Perhaps it points out that movement really is more important that speed as everyone likes to say. It may also point out that D1 coaches are starting to believe it too.


Watching the game from another perspective

For many of us adults, our exposure to youth sports is watching games that our kids play in. We become very invested in those games, and often get ourselves very worked up over the smallest perceived slight or missed call. If our kids are batting, we can’t believe the wide-open strike zone. If our kids are pitching, we are upset by the umpire squeezing her. Often this happens in the same game!

At these times, tempers can flare, nasty comments can be made, and things can get unpleasant. Voices are often raised in anger. It’s really quite something. In fact, it’s amazing that there aren’t more fistfights.

If you find yourself getting into that mode from time to time, I have a suggestion for you. Sometime when you have a couple of hours on your hands, go out and watch a game that you have no vested interest in. Watch two teams where you don’t know a soul on either team. Listen to the comments that are made. Hear others getting angry over the perceived inequities in the game going on.

It’s quite a perspective.  You’ll be amazed at how oddly people behave. It may also give you a bit of pause the next time you find your blood pressure rising.  

Pujols’ position early in the swing

This post is actually a continuation of a discussionhappening on the DiscussFastpitch forum. I was trying to make a point over there, but I needed pictures to show it. Couldn’t figure out how to put them up there and so I tried doing it with Facebook. But you have to have an account with Facebook to see them, apparently, and since most adults don’t that wasn’t the answer. Then it hit me. I have a blog. Duh!

In any case, it started as a discussion of the back elbow being elevated or down, and then got a bit off track into what the shoulders do.

I’m a back elbow down guy. I really don’t see the value in putting it up, but I do believe it can be restrictive in the swing. As an example of a top baseball player who starts with both elbows down, I show this photo of Albert Pujols:

Notice the green lines, that trace his forearms. They are forming an upside-down V. The back elbow will elevate some as he goes into launch, but this is where he’s starting.

Then came the shoulders. Some advocate keeping them parallel to the ground. I used to also, in fact up to this year. But then I saw evidence of top hitter after top hitter lowering the front shoulder going into toe touch. Here’s a look at Pujols at that point:

The red line traces the angle of his shoulders. While his upper arm does look to be parallel to the ground it seems to me this is due at least in part to the shoulder angle. Notice also that his hands are tied to his back shoulder, not over his back foot as is often advocated.

Like this or not, you can’t argue with the results!

Why they still play the game

Tonight I saw a great example of why no matter what the records are, no matter what the data says on paper, there’s still a reason why they play the game.

My daughter’s high school team went into the first round of Regionals tonight a decided underdog. They were the 14th seed, with a sub-.500 record, going up against the #3 seed in the sectional. It is a conference team that had beaten them twice before, and that had only lost four games all season as I recall. They have a very good and very dominant pitcher who is probably the best in the area, and a pretty offense to go with her. No one gave my daughter’s team much chance of winning, including me.

You can probably guess what happened. After going through the order once — 10 batters in the first three innings — my daughter’s team caught fire at the plate. They strung together several hits and posted a 3-0 lead. They got a few more hits later in the game, but no more runs. They did, however make those runs stand up wtith excellent pitching and almost flawless defense.

The opponents did manage one run in the bottom of the seventh, and had runners on first and third with two outs. But the pitcher bore down and got the last hitter with a dramatic strikeout. (No, the pitcher wasn’t my daughter in case you think I’m bragging on my own kid.)

It was just one of those things. On another day it might’ve gone the way everyone expected. But today, the underdog triumphed. It wasn’t exactly Miracle. But it will do. On to the finals!

Softball performance program

Saw this over at Stacie Mahoe’s Fastpitch Softball Blog and thought it would be worth passing along. It’s a free program called “How to Overcome Failure and Play as Well in Games as You Do in Practice.” (The link is to Stacie’s blog, which will take you to the program.)

This is a fairly common problem, especially in places like the Midwest where I live, and any of the Northern states where we spend most of the year practicing indoors. It’s one thing to be successful in the batting cages, but it doesn’t always translate to the field. When that happens it can be very discouraging.

This program has a series of exercises that can help a player get back on track. It was developed by Tom Hanson, one of the authors of the terrific book Heads Up Baseball: Playing the Game One Pitch at a Time. That’s a book every player and coach should have on their bedstand.

Give it a look. It just might mean the difference between hitting .250 and .300.

New forum for fastpitch discussion

Well, it’s about time someone took up the mantle. There used to be a great forum on the Internet called the Fastpitch Forum. It was a place where fastpitch softball fanatics would gather to argue, debate, dissect and generally discuss every aspect of the game. I know I wasted spent many an hour poking around there and adding my two cents when I should’ve been working.

Sadly, that site came down a few years ago. But now there’s a new one. It’s called Discuss Fastpitch, and as the name implies it’s another place to go discuss whatever is on your mind. The site is already being haunted by some of the old names from the Fastpitch Forum, plus some new faces as well.

If you’re not familiar with it, the difference between a forum and a blog like this is anyone who is registered with the forum can post a topic. So if you have something on your mind that Life in the Fastpitch Lane doesn’t cover, there’s a place to post it up. Same with if you want to register an opinion or bounce an idea off a wide variety of folks.

I’m already on it, and contributing thoughts here and there. You’ll probably want to check it out too. After all, you can never get too much of this stuff. I will actually be working with Marc regarding some of the content and overall management to make sure it remains on track.

Unlike certain other forums around the Internet, Discuss Fastpitch is not a place to post up looking for players, or to sell your old radar gun, or carry on personal vendettas. There will be zero tolerance for cyber bullies and those who contribute nothing but like to knock the contributions of others. It’s about the honest (and positive) exchange of ideas and information between individuals who want to improve their knowledge, and share what they already know.

Be sure to check it out and register. Just don’t forget to come back here too!

The principle of interchangeable parts

One of the most common complaints a coach hears at the younger ages is that he/she is playing players in too many positions. This complaint, of course, is only heard when a team is losing.

Fastpitch softball is a sport that requires specialization. Each position is played differently, has different decision trees, and largely requires different skills. Some great infielders never learn to judge a fly ball and are disasters in the outfield, despite being great athletes. Some excellent third basemen don’t have the range to play short. Some second basemen don’t have the reaction time to play third. It all varies.

That, to me, is one of the secrets to success in fastpitch softball — matching the player’s abilities to the position.

Now, at the younger ages, perhaps up to 11U, it’s a good thing to move players around more, at least early in the season. They are nowhere near fully formed yet, so how do you know that the kid you have in right field wouldn’t make a good first baseman with a little work and experience. You won’t until you try her there.

As players get older, though, this scenario becomes less attractive. Moving players around, unless you absolutely have to, can end up in disaster. This goes not only for the average ability players, but also for the studettes.

You see, there is a difference between great athletic ability and the ability to play a position. Trying to force a player into a position where she lacks the skills/knowledge/experience can wind up backfiring on you. I don’t know how others feel, but I’ll take a kid with less raw athletic ability but more knowledge and skill at a position than the reverse.

Now, I know college coaches often talk about taking athletes. Perhaps they have the luxury. Most of us don’t. Besides, their pool of athletes, especially at the upper level, are also pretty darned skilled. And they don’t just arbitrarily stick one of those athletes into a new position on game day and hope they can figure it out for themselves.

Softball players are not interchangeable parts that can be moved around willy-nilly. If you feel a position change is required, be sure to spend plenty of time with that player so she can learn the little stuff about that position. Otherwise, sure as you’re reading this, her lack of experience will come back to bite you at the worst possible moment.

Sometimes ignorance is just…ignorance

Saw this one at a high school game today. It makes me wonder sometimes how people get hired to coach kids.

These two teams — call them team A and team B — had played on Tuesday. Team A had the better record but wound up losing to team B. From what I heard they had a tough practice on Wednesday that consisted primarily of running every time they made a mistake. Keep in mind that they had lost primarily because they didn’t hit very well and team B did.

Tonight team A lost again. They made a couple of fielding errors, but the primary reason was again a lack of offense. So what does the coach do? She decides to have them run a bunch of foul poles. I’m not sure how many since I didn’t bother to count but it was probably close to a dozen.

I have to ask: how does this make sense? I highly doubt that any of those kids went to the plate thinking “What I’d really like to do is ground out weakly to the second baseman” or “Boy, a pop-up would sure feel good right now.” I watched them. They were energetic, kept their spirits up and battled to the end. But they came up short. So the coach, apparently in a fit of pique, decided to punish them for something, I don’t know, I guess for not being good enough.

Personally I think all she accomplished was getting them to hate playing for her. Kids aren’t stupid. They recognize bad coaching when they see it. Now, if she would’ve told them tomorrow cancel your plans, we’re going to hit until your hands bleed it would’ve made sense. She would’ve been addresing the problem. Instead she makes them run. Not for conditioning. Not to improve their technique. Apparently just because she was mad at them — or didn’t know what else to do.

Running shouldn’t be a punishment. It shouldn’t be used to embarrass your players (this little display was done at team B’s field while team B was working the field after the game). It should have a purpose. If your team doesn’t field, hit, get the bunt down or run the bases well enough, have them practice fielding, hitting, bunting or running the bases. As far as I’m considered the person this coach embarrassed the most was herself.

In a little postscript, one of the players who was made to run had an asthma attack in the middle of it. Out of fear of the coach she kept going until she got to the point where she couldn’t breathe at all. It took her at least four hits on her puffer to stop wheezing so loudly that it could be heard across the field. I was getting ready to call 9-1-1 it sounded so bad. She got to stop, but the rest of the girls were made to keep running.

I ask again how does this make sense? Who is it good for?

Finding the release point for the backhand change

One of the challenges of learning the backhand change is finding the correct release point. Let it go too early and it either rolls in or flies in too fast. Let it go too late and there’s a tendency for it to arc in.

One trick I often use during lessons is to stand in front of the pitcher with my arm outstretched about shoulder high. The arm is placed approximately where the hand will reach as the pitcher comes through with the pitch. I tell the pitcher to hold the ball under her hand gets under my arm, then release. If she follows this direction, the pitch will usually come in low and slow, with a kind of floating effect.

That’s great for practice. But as I remind the pitchers, I can’t exactly stand in front of them with my arm outstretched during a game. Even if it wasn’t against the rules, which it is, it would be kind of obvious when the change was coming — which would defeat the purpose.

There is another way to do it, though. Tell the pitcher to hold the ball until her hand gets to where her stride foot has planted. If she takes it there, and keeps her arm loose, she’ll throw a perfect change every time. Over the front foot is the exact release point needed. Give it a try!

Face masks for pitchers and players

Reader Rick put up a question on a previous post asking what I thought of the face masks now being worn by pitchers and other players. He thought it might make a good new topic and I have to say I agree. So here we go.

For me there isn’t a simple answer. To be honest, I’m kind of old school about masks myself. I personally find them rather odd. I thought face masks for hitters was a good idea, especially with all the bunting that goes on in fastpitch. In fact, I think they’d be a good idea for boys baseball too.

But when it comes to fielders I’m having trouble getting behind them. I’m not sure why. I guess it seems like overkill to me. I kind of understand pitchers wearing them. They stand awfully close after release, and the act of pitching consumes the bulk of their attention. With all the high tech bats out there they don’t have a lot of reaction time, and in the one in a million chance one of those pitches comes rocketing back at their faces they have some level of protection.

My own daughter has had a couple of line drives whiz past her ear recently. When I asked her if she wanted a mask she just gave me a funny look and said “no.” But for other pitchers it’s the right thing to do.

It seems less critical for outfielders or other infielders, with the possible exception of third base. Out in the field you should have plenty of time to read and react to a batted ball. A charging third baseman who gets suckered on a fake bunt and slap might be vulnerable, but other than that it just doesn’t seem necessary to me.

Keep in mind I grew up in an era when you didn’t wear a helmet to ride a bicycle, and baserunners in youth baseball would use a device rather like earmuffs instead of a full helmet. We survived. I think players are better trained and more athletic than in my playing days, so there’s even less risk.

That being said, ultimately it’s a personal preference. It doesn’t really hurt anything to wear a mask. If a field player on my team chose to wear one I might secretly roll my eyes but I wouldn’t stop her. If you’re more comfortable playing with one knock yourself out. But I sure hope the day never comes when it’s a requirement. It just seems like overkill to me.

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