Monthly Archives: February 2016

Product Review: Jugs Tee – It’s All About That Base

Batting tees are one of the most important tools a hitter can own. They’re great for working on swing mechanics, pitch locations and other techniques. They’re also great for getting in a few warm-up swings before the game.Jugs T

There are all types of tees out there – all rubber, all plastic, a combination of the two. Lately, though, the most popular design has been a metal pipe-style with an inverted rubber cone on the top. You’ll typically find them in facilities with batting cages.
They’re not much to look at, and they often have a weight ring at the bottom of them to keep them from getting knocked over, but they get the job done.

The venerable Jugs Sports company is out to change all of that with their new professional style Jugs T. Retailing for $74.95, it improves on previous designs from other manufacturers in several ways, making it a great choice for facilities, coaches and individual hitters.

The first thing you’ll notice is how beautiful it looks. First-generation tee designs looked like they were built with steam fitting pipes and plywood from the local hardware store. The Jugs T appears to be made from highly polished aluminum with a solid metal base (more on the base in a minute). The bottom section is a deep, shiny blue, while the extension section is natural silver in color. You feel good just taking it out of the package.
It assembles in about 30 seconds – just screw the extension section into the base and you’re good to go. The rubber cone also feels thicker and more rigid than earlier tee models.

That comes in handy if you live up north like I do and leave the tee in the car during cold weather. With other tee designs if the cone is bent while it’s sitting in the trunk it takes a while before it holds a ball reliably.

Not the Jugs T. The thicker material bounces right back and is ready to go. I know – I tried it.

All of that is nice. But the real differentiator, in my opinion, is the base. It’s a solid metal plate instead of wood, and it is heavy – 10 lbs. according to the Jugs website. No need to put a 10 lb. barbell weight on this tee. In fact, the first couple of days I had it I kept handing it to people and telling them to feel the heft. It also has a pentagonal design that keeps it from going over the side if someone swings too low, and the entire base is coated in rubber so it won’t scuff gym floors.

Don’t worry about carting it around, however. The base also has a cutout that forms a convenient carrying handle. It’s easy to transport from cage to cage, or from the dugout to a practice area.

Another issue tees can sometimes develop is the inability to keep the ball at the desired height. You set the ball on it and the shaft starts to sink. So far that doesn’t seem like it will be a problem with this tee. It feels very solid when you raise and lower it, a good sign that it will continue to hold its ground even after repeated use. The adjustment range is a standard 23 inches to 46 inches – comparable to other tees I’ve used – making it ideal for your smallest players as well as your tallest ones.

Overall, like everything Jugs produces it’s a high-quality piece of equipment. If you’re looking for a professional style hitting tee that will stand up to tough use year after year, the Jugs T is a great choice.

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Private softball instructors level the playing field

As someone who has a broad interest in the state of youth sports in general as well as fastpitch softball specifically, I’m always interested to read articles on the topic. There’s no doubt that the U.S. (along with more and more other countries) has become sports-crazy, to the point where it is having a negative effect on young players. Sad softball player

There is one aspect that always strikes me as missing the mark, however, which is their description of instructors. Maybe it’s because I’m a private softball instructor myself, but I don’t think it’s just me taking it personally.

When they talk about how crazy parents have gotten, sooner or later the articles will refer to how on top of everything else parents “then drag their kids to an instructor to spend even more time on their sport, usually in the hopes of acquiring that D1 scholarship.” Or something to that effect. It’s not an actual quote, just a sort of paraphrase of what I’ve seen.

That may be true in some cases. But for the most part I see the role as being somewhat different.

In the good old days these pundits like to talk about, they say kids just showed up at the field and learned to play there. They didn’t need all these adults around.

Well, the reality is that was wonderful for the kids with great athletic ability. You know the ones I’m talking about – you give them a ball, or a stick or some other piece of athletic equipment and they’ll instinctively know what to do with it. But maybe not so much for the kids for whom it didn’t come naturally, or who hadn’t grown into their bodies yet, or who were a little slower in developing their motor skills.

Basically what happened was they got left behind quickly and never had the opportunities to advance in a sport they may have loved but weren’t particularly good at yet. They got weeded out early.

That’s why I say a good instructor can level the playing field. He or she can take a player who may not be the greatest athlete and teach him or her to be competitive and find success on the field, court, rink or whatever. Success being defined by the player and his or her family.

I’ve worked with a lot of kids who had no ambition of playing in college – not just at the D1 level but at any level. Some just wanted to be successful in high school, or on their travel team, or in their rec league. They wanted to get off the bench and become important to their teams.

Is there something wrong with that? I don’t think so, and if I can help them achieve that goal where they might not have otherwise it’s terrific.

Not everyone was blessed with great DNA or grew up in a family that played sports all the time. A good instructor can help make up for those “disadvantages” and level the playing field, giving them opportunities they may not have had otherwise and helping them to achieve all they can achieve.

Of course, even the best athletes can use a little help along the way to shortcut their learning curve, and they’re fun to work with too. My point is that most of the parents who take their kids somewhere for instruction aren’t the ones you see in TV documentaries and NY Times ads, relentlessly trying to drive their kids to sports success they themselves never achieved. They’re just trying to help their kids feel good about themselves and build some great sports memories.

St. Bonaventure softball player donates bone marrow

This seems to be a week for feelgood stories about fastpitch softball players. Here’s another, passed along to me by my friend (and former player) Hillary Klutts.

Katie Sinclair has been a three-year starter for St. Bonaventure University in New York. She was looking forward to her senior season but then fate intervened. bonnies-sinclair-020616

As a community service project her entire team received a cheek swab and had the results entered into a national database for bone marrow donors. Darned if she didn’t match up with someone badly in need of a donation.

Bone marrow donations are used for patients battling blood cancers. It’s an arduous process with a long recovery time, so she had to make a decision. She could either donate now, help someone she’s never met out, and potentially have a less-than-stellar senior season. Or she could wait until after the season to ensure she was at full strength for the season, but at the same time deny someone who needs it the life-saving bone marrow.

Well, as you might expect by the fact there’s an article about it, Katie went for the donation. Pretty cool when you think about it.

We talk a lot about sports teaching life lessons, such as putting others before yourself. Clearly, Katie Sinclair is a great example of that mindset. While I’m sure there are some out there who can’t believe she’d do that to her team it’s a class act and shows she has her priorities straight. Hopefully the whole St. Bonaventure community is proud of her. Certainly the softball community should be.

Heartwarming story about Missouri player

Saw this story in an NFCA mailer today and I just had to share it. It’s about Missouri’s Raime Cohen, a pinch runner on the softball team and her journey to get there.

The quick version is she was living in an orphanage in Bulgaria when her American parents adopted her. She had a dream of playing college softball, and after heading to Mizzou took a chance by contacting the coach to ask for a tryout.

What I really like about the story, though, is the perspective she brings. Raime is clearly grateful for all the opportunities in her life, and her good fortune in being adopted by the Cohens. She realizes how different her life would have been without that event, and keeps that in mind every day.

Growing up here in America we sometimes forget how much privilege and how many opportunities we have. Athletes may complain about having to go to practice, or going to a tournament instead of going to a party their friends are throwing. Raime’s story is a great reminder of just how good we all have it.

Sometimes injuries create opportunities

Over the past couple of days I’ve been emailing back and forth with my friend Stan Goplen, who has been working with his granddaughter JJ to get her ready to make a statement pitching for her high school team this spring. Stan told me that JJ hurt her finger playing volleyball and may not be able to throw for a little. Softball injury

Some people would see that as a problem. But I often find that injuries create opportunities. How?

No matter how good it might be for them, sometimes it is tough to get kids to spend the amount of time required to work on one part of the pitching, hitting, throwing or other motion/skill. They get bored easily (especially these days) and want to move on to the complete skill.

An injury takes care of that issue. For example, a pitcher with a hand issue can either sit out, or can work exclusively on her leg drive (which is what Stan planned to do with JJ).

Conversely, a pitcher with a leg issue can work on her arm circle, spins, whip and so forth. I had that happen earlier this year with a 10U pitcher named Jenna. She’d hurt her ankle, so while it was recovering we worked from the waist up, which helped her immensely. By the time she could use her legs fully again she was much better prepared to take advantage of them.

The most extreme case I had was a few years ago when a pitcher named Devin was in a cast from her ankle to her hip. We found a high stool and she sat on that as she worked on her spins and arm path for her curve and drop balls. By the time she was healthy both pitches were considerably better than they had been – because we were able to lock in the arm mechanics she required.

The same concept can be applied to other aspects. Hitters with injured legs can get into a turned position and work on taking the barrel of the bat to the ball (instead of dropping the hands and sweeping the bat through the zone). Fielders with a broken wrist can work on lowering their hips to a ground ball (without catching, of course) or learning to track fly balls over their heads. All it takes is a little creativity and imagination.

So the next time you see a player with an injury, don’t think “oh darn.” See it as an opportunity. You’ll be amazed what you can accomplish.

So how about you? What have you done to take advantage of player injuries? How did it work out for you ?

Congratulations to Emma Bartz for signing with Northwestern

I am very pleased and excited to congratulate Emma Bartz on signing her National Letter of Intent today to play softball at Northwestern University next year. (I never like to post these things until they’re official and the ink is dry.)

Emma Bartz signing NLI

Emma Bartz signs her NLI to play softball at Northwestern

Emma is not only an outstanding softball player but an outstanding human being, as evidence in this blog post from about a year ago. She is very kind and polite, and always has a smile on her face. It’s always nice when good things happen to good people.

We started working together almost by accident. She was going to start hitting lessons with someone else, but it just so happened a student of mine at the time, Amy Abel, was at her house and recommended she come and see me instead. How lucky for me!

The great thing about Emma is she gives 100% on every rep, as seen here recently. In fact, that’s been one of the challenges, learning a little plate discipline because she really likes to get after the pitches. While she is not very tall she is quite strong – no doubt in part due to her legacy as a cheerleader.

Emma Bartz and me - NLI signing

Closest I could come to Northwestern purple.

She’s also fast. Like lightning fast. Normally I would suggest a kid with her speed turn around and slap. But when I saw the power she had from the right side I thought that would be her best bet, and it turned out to be right.

Congratulations to Emma, and her parents Jean and Keith who raised an incredible daughter. I’m looking forward to watching Emma during her senior season in high school, and then at NU.

Incredible pitching clinic happening March 18-19

What are you doing Friday, March 18 and Saturday, March 19, 2016? Whatever it is, if you’re a pitcher, parent of a pitcher or a pitching coach you’re going to want to change your plans and head to Richmond, Indiana. Clinic

The reason? You’ll have the rare opportunity to learn from one of the best instructors in the game – Rick Pauly of Pauly Girl Fastpitch. He is also a former men’s fastpitch pitcher, former pitching coach at the University of Georgia and of course is the father of Sarah Pauly, a standout college pitcher as well as being the career wins leader in the National Professional Fastpitch league.

Friday night is a PowerPoint presentation on the basics of pitching for parents and coaches. Then Saturday there are two sessions – a fundamentals of pitching in the morning and an advanced clinic on movement pitches in the afternoon. (Each session is separate.)

Bill Hillhouse of House of Pitching will be there as well, along with several other great coaches as seen in the flyer image. Sounds like it will be the fastpitch pitching equivalent of The Summit!

Slots are limited, so you’ll want to act now if you want to take advantage of this rare opportunity to learn from some of the best. For more information, download the flyer below.

Edited to add image, updates.

Pauly Clinic-3

 

 

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