Monthly Archives: July 2009

FYI Blue, the strike zone is described in the rule book

Just had to bring this one up after finishing up the season. The rule book of every major organization takes the time and ink to print its definition of the strike zone in its respective rule book. So why do some umpires feel they need to develop and call their own strike zones?

This past weekend we had one umpire in particular who was just unbelievable. His strike zone appeared to be the size and shape of a shoebox. Not even a good pair of Timberlands either. More like a pair of pumps from the Junior Miss area.

We were in the field, our pitcher threw a pitch that crossed the plate above the knees. The Blue called it a ball. We asked where the pitch was and he indicated it was too low. He also wasn’t calling anything on the outside corner, and God forbid you should let the ball get any higher than the waistband. That doesn’t leave a whole lot of room, especially for a finesse pitcher. What you wind up with is a lot of easily hit balls.

As reminder to the men and women in blue, the strike zone extends from the top of the knees to the armpits, and from one side of the plate to the other. The entire ball does not have to cross the plate to be a strike. As long as some part of the ball passes some part of the plate within the height detailed above it is a strike. That also means if you see a curve ball that actually curves as it crosses the front part of the plate, if it nips the plate it is a strike. Also, the height is determined by where the ball crosses the plate, not by where it is caught by the catcher. In other words, if a drop ball crosses above the knees while over the plate and winds up on the ground behind the plate, it is a strike.

I know a lot of you know it, and call it that way to the best of your ability. I also know it’s not easy to do — I’ve done it.  I hope that when you work with someone who decides the book rule isn’t good enough for him or her and decides to redefine the strike zone you will say something — either to the UIC, or to whoever runs the scheduling. The game is a lot more fun when you let the players play it.

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Luck: it all depends on your perspective

You’ll need to stay with me for a bit on this one to get to the softball point. But I promise there will be one.

Yesterday, coming home from a tournament where we didn’t do particularly well (to say the least) a more serious disaster struck. While driving on cruise control down I-70 in Ohio, the car’s engine started to race wildly. I crossed three lanes to pull over on the side of the road and disengaged the cruise control. Then I tried to pull back onto the highway — only nothing happened. The engine revved, but the car didn’t go anywhere. It quickly became apparent that we had gone as far as we were going to go. We called for roadside service, the car was towed, and we wound up in a Hampton Inn in Englewood, Ohio. (Nice little town if any of you are from there, by the way.)

Today we got the bad word. As I suspected, the transmission was shot. Apparently Mazda Tributes have some known issues with their transmissions. Unfortunately with this particular one, it also affected the cooling system; we have to replace both the transmission and the radiator, and flush the cooling system. Looks like it will cost us about $4,000 or more. Not only that, we had to leave it there while we rented a car to come home.

It would be very easy to say “what terrible luck,” and in some ways you’d be right. A $4,000 car repair bill, plus the cost of a rental car and a hotel room for the night is not exactly what we were hoping for out of Sunday. But there’s also another way of looking at it. I’ve been thinking about all the things that were lucky about it. Here are a few examples:

* We weren’t on our way to a game. I carry the team equipment. Had the breakdown occurred during the tournament rather than afterward the team would’ve been hosed, especially since we only had 10 players with us and one was injured during the tournament.

* We were traveling down a major highway. On the way down I followed the GPS, which took us through every little town in Indiana and Ohio. I chose to go back down I-70, which made us a lot easier to find, and made for a much shorter tow.

* Another of our players (Carla) and her family had hung back to watch a friend play in the same tournament. As a result, my daughter Kimmie was able to go home with them Sunday night since they were kind enough to stop and pick her up.

* We broke down close to a nice hotel. It was a nice room, and my wife and I were able to hit the pool, take a nice walk, and spend some quality time together after a hectic softball season.

* Thanks to a helpful shuttle van driver, we were able to find a rental car for half the price we’d seen online and were able to get home today.

So in a lot of ways we were actually very lucky. It all depends on how you look at it.

The same can occur with a softball team, or a softball season. Things may seem bad, and you may want to cry “woe is me.” But if you stop and take a look at it from another perspective, you may find things are actually better than they seem. Maybe that error at a critical time is just the inspiration you need to work a little harder and improve. Maybe a baserunning mistake that costs you a game today becomes the teaching moment that allows you to win a more important game down the road. You just never know.

So when things look their darkest, do your best to find the positive. It may take a little while, but it will pay off in the end.

Thank you all — mission accomplished (trophy update)

Today’s entry is to share some good news. Thanks in no small part to the people who read this blog and participate in the Discuss Fastpitch Forum, today I finally received the trophy I’ve been waiting for since July 2008.

Thanks to all who wrote, called or otherwise sent a message to help shake it loose. I truly do appreciate your taking the time to help me out. Power to the People!

Also thanks to Steve Verive who marshalled this through on his end. He personally dropped it off at my home today, and made sure everything was taken care of.

By the way, I have taken down the previous post since it’s no longer necessary. Again, thank you to all who helped out. You guys are the best!

Feeling better about my team’s hitting

Over the past couple of weekends our team has been struggling at the plate. It’s not that we’ve been overpowered by great pitching for the most part. In fact, I’d say the pitching overall has been on the weak side. But in spite of that we’ve been popping up and hitting a lot of weak ground balls. It’s been maddening, really.

So tonight I’m watching the KFC World Cup series — USA v. Australia. USA got up 3-1 early, and was in command of the game. Then Australia brought in a relief pitcher, a girl throwing a lot of pitches in the low 50s, with a few in the high 50s. So what do you think happened?

The USA has hit five straight weak pop-ups. They are really struggling with the off-speed and general junk.

These are some of the best hitters in the world, and they’re having trouble making the adjustment — doing exactly what we were doing. Somehow I suspect they’ll get through it quicker, but I guess tonight I’m seeing it can happen to anyone. I’m feeling a little better about our difficulties adjusting. But just a little!

Nice problem to have

I am currently watching the championship game of the KFC World Cup series — USA v Australia. Eric Collins and Michele Smith were just talking about the decision to pitch Monica Abbott instead of Cat Osterman in this game.

Let’s face it. Don’t you wish you had that decision to make? I wonder if Jay Miller agonizes over it? I also wonder if he worries about the confidence of one or the other, or whether one of them will be upset if she doesn’t get the ball? Still, that’s a great problem to have. And he didn’t even think about Jennie Finch, apparently. She’s over at first base and unlikely to pitch. Imagine having Jennie Finch and not even thinking about pitching her.

Must be nice!

Cindy Bristow on coaching female athletes

Leave it to Cindy Bristow to come up with a great article that explains some of the mysteries of female athletes and how they think. If you’re a male and coaching females, especially if you’re new to it, you may find yourself quite bewildered at times. You say something you think is perfectly legitimate — and maybe it is — but you get a reaction that isn’t what you expected. Cindy’s article will explain why.

If you’re a female coach, especially if you’re a former college player, you may want to read this article too. I’ve found in talking with some of the girls who have played for me that female coaches can be even worse about that sort of thing. My theory is that they don’t fit the stereotype Cindy talks about, and maybe even resent other females who do. So they have little sympathy for how sensitive or insecure their players are. But the truth is if you want to build a team and have players who will run through a wall for you, you’d better get on board with it. There are more of them than there are of you.

It never ceases to amaze me how things can be taken. I recently had one of players wondering if I was mad at her because I dropped her a couple of positions in the batting order during a rough tournament. I was desperately searching for a combination that would work (none did, unfortunately) and just shuffled things up. She apparently spent the rest of the day wondering what she’d done wrong.

So yes, you definitely have to watch it. Cindy’s article is a must-read for all of us.

It’s official: High school pitching distance moving back to 43 feet

Just saw a notice in an NFCA newsletter. The National Federation, the governing body of high school softball, just voted to increase the pitching from 40′ to 43′ for varsity players beginning with the 2010-2011 season. For those not sure what that means, it takes effect the year after the one coming up. So if you’re a senior, no sweat. If you’re a junior it will kick in your senior year.

The rationale is to increase the amount of offense in the game. The feeling is the extra three feet will help batters hit the ball more, which will get the defense more involved (instead of watching pitchers rack up 15 strikeouts per game) and make the game more exciting for the fans.

All of that is probably true for the better teams. But I wonder what it will do to the lesser teams — the ones whose pitchers are already struggling. It might also be a problem for those pitchers who bounce between JV and varsity during the season. Any who rely on movement rather than speed may find it difficult to stay on top of their game.

What do you think? Is this move really necessary for the quality of the high school game, or is it more to benefit the elite pitchers — to get them ready for college ball? And will it make the lower teams more competitive by helping them generate more offense, or penalize those who don’t have big, strong pitchers who can throw 60+ mph?

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