Go to any facility where there are teams or individuals hitting in batting cages and sooner or later you’re likely to hear the phrase, “Track the ball all the way into the catcher’s glove.” While it’s doubtful that hitters can actually see the ball hit the bat at the point of contact, the idea of trying to track the ball as long as you can is a good one.
The problem most coaches face when trying to get their hitters to track the ball longer (instead of getting a glimpse then swinging) is that there are no consequences for not doing it. Well, other than not hitting well. But as soon as the coach’s back is turned, hitters are likely to go back to not following the ball all the way to the catcher’s glove.
But, dear blog follower, I have a solution for the dilemma. It actually came up by accident, but I noticed how the pattern had changed so I’m taking credit!
All you need is a batting cage with a tight protective net at the back of it.
For the past few months I’ve been throwing front toss to hitters in a cage that has a very tight net at the back. When one of my errant pitches (and there are many of them) would hit the net, it would bounce back at the hitter with enough velocity to be annoying.
What I noticed was a lot of the hitters would watch the ball all the way to that net so they could get out of the way when the ball bounced back. Some of them then made a game of trying to catch the ball when it popped up off the net, and they got pretty good at it.
Since their first priority was hitting any good pitches I managed to throw, it took some effort to see the ball coming back and catch it.
But today I was in a different cage that didn’t have such a tight net. And that’s where I saw the effect take place.
One of the hitters who liked to catch the ball was still following it to the back screen, even though it wasn’t going to bounce back. She’d built a habit of it in the other cage to the point where she now automatically watches the ball all the way back.
Between that and the Reynaldo drill, which she has become very good at, she is seeing the ball much better – and hitting the heck out of it.
So I guess the lesson here is if you want to encourage your hitters to watch the ball longer, find a nice, tight net and put it behind the plate when you front toss to them. They’ll definitely learn to keep an eye on it all the way in.
(And yes, I know the hitter in the top photo is hitting off a tee. It’s tough to throw front toss and take a picture at the same time. Deal with it.)