Monthly Archives: June 2011

Softball pitching – when movement fools the umpire

Had a kind of frustrating day today at our fastpitch softball tournament. Actually the first two games went well. But in the third game we ran into a bit of a problem pitching/umpire-wise. I’m curious to hear if others have had the same issue.

Our pitcher, who is also one of my students, was really moving the ball tonight. I couldn’t see it from the dugout, but I got that report from my catcher and some of the parents behind the plate. They said she was really on.

Yet she struggled, because the umpire we had apparently couldn’t deal with left-right movement in particular. She throws a curve ball and screwball that actually break, a drop that can actually drop. But despite crossing the plate, they were being called balls. It got so bad she had little choice but to throw fatties, and started getting hit. Her catcher was frustrated too — so much so she asked me to call the pitches because she couldn’t figure out what the umpire wanted.

Of course, from the dugout all I knew was balls and hits. I eventually had to take her out and put in another pitcher. It wasn’t until after the game that I learned how well she had actually pitched.

She was frustrated too. But I guess it’s a compliment, really. She was moving the ball so well she was fooling the umpire. Not saying there’s a direct comparison, but I wonder if Cat Osterman ever had the same problem when she was 14?

Love playing NSA fastpitch

The fastpitch softball team I coach is in the midst of an NSA tournament. It’s our only one with NSA this season. That’s unfortunate from a coaching standpoint because I love their playtime rules.

Specifically I love the two EPs you get to use. It’s sort of like the “bat everyone/free substitution” rules some tournaments use in pool play, but you can actually do it all the time.

Of course, how much you like it probably depends on how well your team hits. Mine has been hitting pretty well overall so it’s working well for us.

Players sign up for summer ball to play. When you can only bat/ play nine, a few are on the bench waiting to get in. With NSA rules you can keep more kids active and give more of them an opportunity to play. You can also rest players without risk if you get ahead, because if something happens you can always put your starters back in.

The other thing it helps with is the injury risk. With a straight nine, if you use up all your subs and then a player on the field gets hurt, you’re screwed (unless it was a sub). You have no one left to take their place. With the EP, you have a couple of moves left so you can use everyone without being penalized.

So if I love it so much why aren’t we doing more NSA tournaments? It has to do with the World Series — their equivalent of Nationals. The one we would’ve played in is down in Georgia, and I just didn’t feel like traipsing all the way down there. Sorry Georgians — I’m sure you’ll do a great job and your fields are lovely — but the thought of driving all the way down there from Illinois was a bit overwhelming. Maybe next year!

Congratulations to Mary Chamberlain

Sibling rivalry can be an interesting think. A few weeks ago I wrote about Chrissy Chamberlain setting the RBI record at the University of Dubuque. She was also named the team’s most valuable pitcher in a season where she originally wasn’t expected to pitch at all.

Well, not to be outdone I found out her sister Mary (who is also a student of mine) was recently named to both the all-conference and all-academic teams for the Fox Valley Conference in Illinois. She was also named her team’s most valuable player for the second year in a row.

With all those honors you would expect to find Mary to be some 6’2″ stud just dripping with athleticism. In truth, though, Mary is closer to 5’2″ or 5’3″. To look at her just standing around you wouldn’t think “this is the team’s MVP.” She doesn’t have that build. But what Mary has going for her is an exceptional work ethic and as much mental toughness as you will ever find. (She’s obviously smart, too.)

Mary doesn’t have overpowering speed, but she can make a ball move all over the place. More importantly, she knows how to set up a hitter to keep her from getting comfortable. That ability has served her well over the past few years, and will continue to next year playing for Blackburn College.

So congratulations, Mary. She’s yet one more great example of how being successful isn’t just about talent. It’s about desire and love of the game. A strong will can lead you to great heights.

Predictable in pitching equals fail

Did a little catching up over the weekend with some of my high school-age students who have wrapped up their high school seasons. They were looking for a little tune-up before going into the summer travel ball season.

One theme that seemed fairly universal was that A) their high school coaches wanted to control pitch calling and they had no idea how to call pitches. A big frustration was the lack of change-ups being called. These girls have excellent change-ups, very effective, and throw hard enough to make a change-up worthwhile.

One in particular went even further. She told me her high school coach would only call pitches to one location — low and out. He was obsessed with throwing the ball there, and would yell at her if the ball rose above mid-thigh. And this for a pitcher who is naturally inclined to throw riseballs.

The frustrating part for her was that while low and out is a good location, eventually their opponents would figure it out and start pounding the ball. Then she’d get yelled at for letting them hit the ball.

The key to effective pitching is keeping hitters off-balance. That means avoiding falling into patterns or being predictable. Throwing the same pitch to the same location is being very predictable.

Pitch calling isn’t rocket science. Mix it up — speeds, location and movement. Keep the hitters guessing and you’ll be far more successful.

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