Monthly Archives: June 2010

Live by the change, die by the change

Tonight in our game we had the opportunity to test something I wrote a few weeks back. In that post I talked about running on the changeup if you recognize it.

We were facing a pitcher with an excellent change. She maintained arm speed and the pitch was very deceptive. After seeing another pitcher who wasn’t nearly as strong, that change was pretty devastating. At first.

The problem was she knew how great it was too. She was absolutely in love with the pitch, and liked to throw it often. One of our hitters, a girl named Erin, led the way. First time up she struck out on two of the changes and one speed pitch. Next time up to bat, knowing it was coming, she just waited for it and then took a hack at it.

From there it was a slug fest. The pitcher kept throwing the change, and we just sat on it and pounded it. When our runners got on base they knew to look for it too and it was off to the races.

So the lesson here is not just for hitters but pitchers as well. There is such a thing as going to the well too often. It’s called a “change” for a reason. It should offer a change to keep hitters from getting too comfortable. But it doesn’t become much of a change if it’s happening all the time. Then it’s a “normal.”

Perhaps tonight’s pitcher’s plan was to work on her change. It was, after all, just a scrimmage game (or “friendly” as it’s called in some circles). If so, she certainly did. If not, however, she needs a new strategy. Doing anything too much makes you too predictable, and that can be deadly.

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The only good donut is the edible kind

The other day, one of our players showed up with a new addition to her bag — one of those round “donuts” that you slip onto your bat. She was all happy about it until she saw the look of horror on my face. I told her those things don’t help you in the on-deck circle. They actually hurt you.

While you may think they’re making your bat faster, they’re actually making it slower. At least that’s what I remembered some experts saying. Generally speaking, heavier things are helpful for building strength, but they have to be balanced by something lighter than normal for speed; swinging a heavier bat trains you to swing slower.

Afterwards, though, I thought I’d best check on my facts to be sure that was still the thinking. You never know — things change in the game all the time. So I did an Internet search, but the results were inconclusive. Then I went out to the good oldDiscuss Fastpitch Forum and there it was. Down in a thread on batting cages was an embedded YouTube video from FSN Sport Science that studied the effect of using a donut (or any heavy weight for that matter) on swinging a bat.

For those who don’t have time to view the full video right away, I’m happy to report that I was correct. Those donuts are bad for your swing. In the video segment they not only show that it makes you swing a little slower rather than faster, it actually activates your slow-twitch muscles.

The full video is worth a look. You’ll have to scroll down a bit to see it. I tried to find it on YouTube directly but it doesn’t appear to be posted anymore — or else I don’t know how to search there.

Either way, if you have one in your bag take it out. Use it for a doorstop or a paperweight if you must, but not to prepare to swing on-deck. It’s not doing what you think it is.

What’s in your coach’s bag?

Most coaches have a bag or two they use to carry various items. Typically, one bag has items such as lineup cards, a clipboard, maybe an eraseable board to post the lineup, a scorebook, pens and pencils and assorted other items. The other bag might carry a glove, an extra ball or two, a stopwatch and maybe a bat.

But after nearly 15 years of coaching, I’ve found there are a host of other items that can come in handy. Throw them in your bag and, like a Boy Scout, you should be prepared for just about anything.

  • Dandelion puller — This tool comes in handy if you’re using the breakaway bases with the thin post. A little dirt gets in there after a slide and the base won’t sit right. If there’s no ground crew around, the dandelion puller will help you.
  • Resin bag — On a hot, humid day it can be tough for pitchers to get a good grip on the ball. A resin bag can help keep the pitching hand dry. Some pitchers like them whether it’s hot or not because it helps them get a little extra spin on the ball.
  • Towel — Into ever life a little rain must fall. Every coach should have a towel handy to dry off the ball when it gets wet. Sure beats using your shirt.
  • Duct tape — You folks from the South know what I’m talking about. Duct tape can fix just about anything. Have a shoe falling apart? Duct tape it. Lineup board blowing around on a windy day? Duct tape it. Water bottle leaking? Duct tape it. Is there anything it can’t do?
  • Glove repair kit — In a perfect world, all your players would take great care of their equipment and inspect it regularly. Doesn’t happen. You can’t do much about a dented bat, but if a player comes to you with a broken glove what are you going to do? Loan her a glove she’s not familiar with? Not good. But if you have a lace pulling kit you can make a quick repair and get her back on her way. Be sure to have some spare lacing just in case it isn’t just out but broken.
  • Glove cream — Ok, so she decides to get a new glove and it’s not broken in. You can help get her on her way with a little glove cream. Just remember to do it after the game or practice, not before.
  • Tape measure — I have been on fields that just didn’t quite look right. But unless you can prove the pitching rubber is set too far or too close, or the bases are the wrong distance, you can’t get it corrected. A 100′ tape measure doesn’t take up much room, but it can be a life saver. It’s also good for measuring pitching distances during warn-ups, too.
  • Spare batting gloves — Let’s face it — kids lose things. If one of your hitters loses a batting glove you can come to the rescue with a loaner.
  • Sunscreen — You need it yourself, but also make sure your players are wearing it. If they don’t have any you can loan them yours.
  • Insect repellent — Shouldn’t need it during the day, but if you’re playing at dusk, or on a field with lights, you’ll be glad you have it.
  • Fold-up jacket or poncho — When the rain starts you’ll want to be protected. After all, you’re not 14 anymore.

Those are many of the things in my bag. What’s in yours? Did I miss anything? If so, add them to the comments below.

Interesting experience at a tournament

So, this weekend we were at a tournament and had an interesting experience. Thought I’d share and see if this was just localized or whether others are experiencing it as well.

The tournament started on a Friday night. I got there early to watch a couple of teams I knew play and it started right away. The pitcher threw the ball, and immediately the base umpire called “Illegal pitch.” Couldn’t say I disagreed with the call — I saw it too. But as the game progressed, it started looking a little ridiculous. There were multiple calls on things that weren’t so obvious. But I figured maybe it was just that game, or that umpire.

Then we got to our game. Our starting pitcher was called for an illegal pitch, and I was confused. I know this girl and she doesn’t leap. Apparently, though, she brought her hands together twice. I didn’t see it, but the call was made by the base ump, who was a young female. Our pitcher was also called for an illegal pitch because she adjusted her face mask and didn’t wipe her hand on her pants. The umpire thought she went to her mouth, so an illegal pitch was called and the baserunners advanced.

Later we put in another pitcher, and SHE was called for using a resin bag without wiping her hand afterward. It was the darndest thing I’ve ever seen. It became so aggravating I finally yelled “C’mon Blue, let ’em play.”

Apparently we weren’t the only ones who experienced it, though. I’m not sure what happened, but I’m guessing a few coaches tracked down the tournament director or the umpire in chief and complained about the incessant calls. The reason I think so is that from Saturday on, I didn’t hear a single illegal pitch called — and I certainly saw a few. There were definitely some leaps and crow hops, and I have little doubt some of the other ticky-tacky stuff was still going on too. I also never saw the young female umpire from Friday night the rest of the tournament.

You all know that I am all in favor of enforcing the pitching rules. But there is a point where it gets to be ridiculous. I had the feeling that the base umpires I saw were so busy watching the pitchers that they wouldn’t have caught a runner leaving early if it happened right in front of them. At some point it also gets in the way of the game itself.

The rules are there to make the game fair — so one team doesn’t gain an unfair advantage. A pitcher licking her fingers or using a resin bag to get a better grip on the ball on a humid day and on a dusty field isn’t gaining an advantage in my opinion. A pitcher adjusting her face mask isn’t either.

At some point, especially in a youth tournament, a little discretion has to be used. If you’re going to call everything to the letter, let teams know that ahead of time so they can make an informed decision. But don’t be surprised if you don’t get a lot of sign-ups, because if you look hard enough you can find something illegal in just about every pitcher. Fortunately in this case someone figured it out and the rest of the tournament was fine. As far as I know, none of the coaches had a problem with illegal pitches not being called either. For those who want emphatic rule enforcement, be careful what you wish for. It’s not as much fun as you might think.

Are the new, hotter bats killing the short game?

I don’t know about you, but it sure seems to me like the short game — traditionally one of the key strategies as well as one of the things that separates fastpitch softball from baseball — is going the way of wood bats. Certainly the most recent Women’s College World Series is evidence of that. Those games used to be 2-1 or even 1-0 10-inning affairs, not 15-9 blowouts. But you can even see it at the local level on ballfields all over country.

While more hitting instruction and moving the pitching rubber back have certainly contributed to more of a focus on power, I think there’s more to it than that. I can’t help but wonder if the newest, hottest bats don’t have something to do with it too. Not just the fact that a 5’2″, 95 lb. girl with a weak swing can drive a ball to a 200′ fence these days. But that the bats themselves are making it more difficult to be successful bunting. Softball bunting

Consider how much the ball jumps off the bat on a regular swing. If you hit the sweet spot it flies. Now consider that many girls without good training also try to bunt the ball off the sweet spot (instead of the end of the bat as they should). What do you think happens when a hard pitch hits the sweet spot on a bunt? It goes too far, making the ball easier to field and the short game less successful.

You still can bunt with these new, hotter bats. But it takes more work. You have to pull back and “catch” the ball with the bat (instead of pushing out at it). And you have to use the end of the bat, which is a deader part of the bat and thus won’t hit the ball as far.

This is not a new technique. It’s been a standard part of bunting for at least as long as I’ve been coaching, and I’m sure for many years before that. But with the new bat technology it has become a lot more critical.

A good short game is still important to long-term success. Make the adjustment and you’ll have some great weapons at your disposal.

Gaining an advantage on base

In fastpitch softball, it’s not always easy to get runners on base. That’s why you need to take advantage of the situation as much as you can.

Many coaches like to bunt as soon as they get a runner on base, giving up an out to advance the runner 60 feet. As regular readers know, I’m not a big fan of that, especially since it only increases your chances of scoring by two percent.

Still, it would be nice to get that runner moved. So how do you do it? Sometimes you have the hitter bunt for what hopefully turns out to be a hit. That takes a lot of practice and a lot of discipline. But there is another way. You can take advantage of the pitcher.

The key is your baserunners have to change the way they watch the game. Most runners tend to take their leads, and then watch to see what happens at the plate. That’s too late. Instead, they should be watching the pitch out of the pitcher’s hand and taking advantage of what they see.

For example, if the pitcher has a great change a baserunner who can recognize it can bolt immediately for the next base as soon as they recognize it, hopefully before it’s halfway to the plate. What does that do?

Consider a pitcher throwing 55 mph, with a 40 mph change. While that change is on its way to the plate, the runner is running, and there’s nothing the catcher can do until the ball makes its way there. Do that a couple of times on changeups and not only are you likely to advance some runners for free, your hitters probably won’t have to worry too much about a change of speed when there are runners on base.

Another thing to watch for is the pitch that’s on its way to the dirt. It’s good if your hitters recognize when a ball is hitting the dirt and take off. It’s better if they realize halfway there that it’s going to hit the dirt and take off before it actually happens. It may throw the catcher off, forcing her to try to throw the ball before she has it. If it doesn’t, she still has to block it and then make the throw on a runner who is 10-15 feet further than she would’ve been if she waited.

It definitely takes some practice, but it’s worth the effort. Just remember to reward your runners for their aggressiveness!

Another great story of softball sportsmanship

A friend of mine turned me on to this story today. I think it’s one that everyone involved in our sport of fastpitch softball should read, because it’s both a positive message and the epitome of what sports can be when we take egos out of it.

The basic story is about a top-level high school softball team that had a game scheduled against an underprivileged school that was just starting a softball program. It had all the makings of a horrible blowout. But instead, the coach of the top-level school made a decision to take it in another direction. I don’t want to say more because I don’t want to give away such a heartwarming story. But it’s definitely worth a read.

Here in the Northern suburbs of Chicago there’s a team that’s very similar to the have-nots. They have very little budget, the families can’t afford good equipment or private lessons, and most of the girls have never played fastpitch softball before they step onto the varsity field. Most games end with them being run ruled by a huge score in the minimum amount of innings. Several area coaches use those games to help their kids pad their stats, and they proudly report the scores and how they got there as if it was a great accomplishment.

I hope some of our local high school coaches read this story and get an idea of something else they can do the next time their team meets the have-nots. The whole sport would be better for it.

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