Back home in California

August 31, 2008

Made it home yesterday late afternoon…dealing with a wicked case of jet lag and three kids who don’t have it and just want to play with dad. Let’s go back to some images from the Euro academy and explore some more mistakes. This time it deals with the play at the plate. It seems that catchers are forever out of position on this play and always have to dive back to make the tag. In this sequence, pay special attention to where the catcher is in relation to home plate. Right from frame one, he has wandered up and is about 5 or 6 steps in front of home plate.  By the second photo you can start to see the throw from the outfielder and by the third image, the catcher has secured the ball and is going for

the runner.  The last couple of frames shows the receiver kind of diving back and making a tag to the runners face.  On a positive note, the guy was out and the catcher did keep his mask safely on.  On a negative note, right from the get go he is out of position and made the play a heck of a lot harder than it had

to be.  So, the solution to all of this is to stay back.  It seems to be a tough thing for the catcher to do amongst all the chaos and energy of this play.   He needs to stay about 6 or 7 feet behind home plate and move into the play as it develops… at least until the outfielder has let go of the ball.  Staying back gives increases the range and arc of your vision (especially important for a ball down the right field line) allowing you to know if there will be a play at the plate or a different base.  It also allows you to block the plate if need be.  The key is to have an anchor.  Like I said, after the ball is hit resist the urge to immediately move forward and stay where you are.  Once the outfielder has secured the ball and is getting ready to throw, move up to the dish and put your left foot, toes pointed towards third base, in the middle of home plate.  This is your anchor.  All things being equal (average runner, average arm in the outfield) if the outfielder is getting ready to release the ball and the runner is around third base, there is going to be a play.  Check out the book for more details and explanation.  Hope this helps.  Till next time, keep your eye on the ball.

Ciao Italy, thank you

August 29, 2008

That’s a wrap…camp is over and I’m enjoying my last day in Italy.  Some impressions of my stay in Tuscany in stream of consciousness Kerouac style.  Beautiful landscapes like California (150 years ago), Hawaii, and Mexico all rolled into one.  Don’t hesitate for a moment when driving and go fast.  Know what towns are East West North and South from your destination and then just read the signs…once you get used to the crazy circle things its no problem.  Italian men love red and yellow pants and the whole country styles.  No trash day, take your own to a dumpster and they are excellent recyclers.  They don’t eat peanut butter, I never even saw it.  Pasta, olive oil, tomatoes, gellato, cheese, all kinds of fruit, espresso, fizzy water, pizza. Never had a bad meal.  They don’t really eat breakfast, but DO NOT mess with the 2+ hour lunch and don’t touch the fruit without a glove on.  Say one with your thumb like the Fonz or you will get 2.  No telling how many driving tickets I got till I get home because it’s all cameras…why don’t we do that and then we will have enough police for Compton and Leucadia (just kidding uncle Chris). Judging by the amount of speedos, pretty secure with themselves.  History galore, castles, paintings, sculpture.  The amazing Etruscans.  Lucca, Viareggio, Forte de Marmi, Terrenia, Sienna, Florence, Voltara, Montecatini Terme, Pisa, not a dud in the whole group.  Somehow didn’t get on a train. Unbelievable kids at the baseball camp, not a dud in the whole pack. Very hard workers and talented. It will be interesting to see how far they go. Would run through a wall if I said so.   Funny hearing 8 languages at the same time in the dugout. I found that German isn’t really a funny language and it sounds weird on the ball field (sorry Planet Z). The experience of a lifetime on and off the field.  I think my uncle Chris summed it up best when he said, “it’s a wonderful country they haven’t broken yet.”  Ciao for now Italy. Thank you very much.

Proper ball to glove exchange

August 27, 2008

I was able to grab a few photos of a recent game but unfortunately none of the images were of my guys doing things right.  I basically shot about 30 frames full of mistakes.  So, at their expense, we’re going to learn from them.  I guess it’s just as good to see how not to do something as anything.  I’d like to stay positive but what can you do?

 So anyway, by far and away, the most common problem I see with catchers is with their exchange.  Most catchers for some reason love to whip the ball and glove up to their ear when throwing.  This sequence should show you what I’m talking about…

  So this simple move creates so many problems I don’t even know where to start.  First off, it robs the catcher of any arm strength that he might have.  To throw the ball with any authority, you must have an arm arc.  Now obviously, as a catcher, you don’t want the long arc of a pitcher or an outfielder.  By the same token though, you don’t want the short arc of a second baseman.  You need something like that of a shortstop.  When you jerk the ball and glove up to the ear it cuts that arc almost to nil.  It also doesn’t allow you any time to get that precious “4 seam grip” so the ball will fly true.  Also, swinging your arms around your body like that creates a lot of trouble for balance.  Stopping your momentum so that you are going directly towards second is tough when your arms are whipping around like an ice skater.  More often than not you’ll over- rotate.  The end result of this mess is that you are slower and don’t have any chance of delivering a throw with any velocity.  It’s counterintuitive though. You feel faster making this quick move of the glove up to the ear.  The problem is though (as you can see in the last frame) you end up strung out, with your lower body out- running the upper body.  The bottom line with velocity and accuracy is when that left foot comes down your arm better be at the top of its arc and coming forward at full speed.  Pulling the ball up to the ear creates no power.  In the third frame you can see his lower body has finished its footwork and is ready to deliver a throw, but the arm is caught behind… trying to figure out how to create some power with no space to do it.  The confusing thing and counterintuitive thing is that he thought his arm was ready to deliver a throw at the beginning of frame 2…way before his feet are ready to throw.  It’s not until too late does he realize he’s got no power and is trying to throw the ball from a standstill.  Most often guys end up with a little waggle or hitch as a last ditch effort to create some momentum.  Imagine trying to shoot an arrow if you could only pull the arrow back a couple inches.  Anyway, the timing gets all jacked up and the whole thing goes down the tubes.

The solution?  Simple, make the exchange about 8-10 inches in front of the body and just leave the glove there.  The ball gets into the hand early, has a chance to create a true arc as it travels back, and gives you plenty of time to find a nice grip.  It also gives the upper and lower body a chance to work together resulting in proper timing.  Hopefully all of that makes sense.  If not, BUY THE BOOK for a more in depth study of this problem.  I’ll show you some more problems tomorrow or the next day.  Ciao.

Flat gloves

August 26, 2008

Well, we’re coming in to the last few days of this camp.  I gotta say I’m ready.  I’m cooked.  I’m ready to come home and see the family.  And I think the kids are done too.  I am still learning a lot from the other coaches though and I’ll share a couple of the little tidbits I’ve picked up in the last couple days.  Bruce Hurst, the pitching coach, shared something that I had no idea about.  I had always thought that when a pitcher gets into trouble, oftentimes his stride length was getting too long. Apparently Bruce has done some research and found through film and computer programs that the length of the stride should be equal or longer than the pitcher’s height.  Interesting concept.  I think the best pitching idea I’ve experienced comes from Guy Hansen, pitching coach for the Kansas City Royals during the mid 90’s.  He found that every pitcher has a optimum time range (from the moment he starts his windup till the ball hits the catcher’s glove) that he falls into when he’s going good.  He kept record of each person’s range and made sure that they stayed there.  He found that most often when the pitcher is off, it was because he was rushing or going too slow.  

The next thing I’ve learned at this camp is the “flat glove”.  Now I’ve seen the flat glove before and used them myself as a training tool to improve my exchange.  But Barry has his infielders here using them during every groundball session.  And the unique thing that he has them doing is making them field the ball on their left side if possible and then using the flat glove to ricochet the grounder to their throwing hand.  Even on backhands.  Not easy to do, but they are all improving and are all starting to look very Latin in their actions.  It’s fun to watch.  Like I said, these gloves are great for teaching catchers good glove to hand exchange and concentration.  I personally would start the first couple of weeks of every spring training using a no-break, pre 1960’s pancake glove to hone my receiving skills and make me concentrate.  OK, all for now….until next time.  Oh yeah, if anyone outside of my immediate family is reading this thing, don’t be afraid to let me know what you think.  Suggestions, questions, comments would be greatly appreciated.  Adios.

2nd (and last) off-day

August 25, 2008

We had an off day yesterday and I took advantage of it and blasted south a ways and then inland towards central Tuscany.  I ended up in this medieval hill town called Voltara.  Amazing place, similar to Disneyland only real.  Tight, winding, cobblestone streets, castles, etc.  Their specialty is alabaster and the craftsmen can do some beautiful stuff with that stone.  I spent the night there and then cut across to Sienna.  Another great town featuring the best town square that I’ve seen so far.  I didn’t see it, but I guess they pack the whole square with dirt and rope mattresses on the stone walls and have a no rules horse race a couple times a year.  There are nine parishes in Sienna and I guess they’re pretty competitive with one another.  Each of the nine horses represents a certain part of the city with the winner getting bragging rights.  Basically the jockeys hold on for dear life (no saddles, sweaty horses, etc.) and can pull or punch or do whatever they want to win.  They pack the square with people and I guess its a good time if you don’t mind not having any personal space for a few hours.  So the first couple of images are of Voltara (alabaster workshop and a church) and the last one is of some kind of parade in Sienna.  All for now.