Phillies 2008 World Champs

October 30, 2008

Congratulations to the Philadelphia Phillies – 2008 World Champions. And a big thank you to the Rays and all of the playoff teams for some great baseball action the last month or so. I enjoyed this series so much, just some good old fashioned baseball played by guys whose bodies I think we all could relate to. For the first time in a long time, the players on the field looked like they were in their own bodies – not that of a cartoon character. I hope you enjoyed it while you could cause I’ve got a sneaky suspicion that guys are being extra careful right now. Once the steroid heat backs off, look out – I’m sure there’s an undetectable enhancer out there somewhere and it’s just a matter of time before someone is on to it. But for right now, that was a great October for me. These last games really had the feel of a great boxing match. My mind kept drifting back and forth between great recent fights like Vazquez vs. Marquez or Pacquiao vs. Marquez and the ball game. Just when you think the other guy is done, he lands a big blow and the momentum shifts the other way. Jenkins doubles off the wall, Rollins bunts him to third, Werth drives him in….the stadium is going ballistic, the Rays are obviously done, the KO punch has been delivered and the Cinderella story is finally over right? But NO…Baldelli comes up in the next inning and somehow pulls his hands in on a 95mph Madson heater that’s chasing in on him and goes yard. Game tied, the momentum shifts and you can hear a pin drop in Philly. Iwamura makes a unhuman diving play to save a run, Utley answers with a phenomenal play of his own to save a run. And on and on. Just two quality teams throwing haymakers. The Sweet Science and The Ballet In the Dirt definitely paralleled themselves for me in this series.

On a business note, I’ve had some nice reviews of the book lately. One in Collegiate Baseball mag and one from a great website called Baseball Play America www.baseballplayamerica.com. Here is the one from the later…..

Former big league catcher authors new instructional book

 

By Don Weiskopf, Publisher, Baseball Play America

A new book, The Art of Catching, by former major league catcher Brent Mayne features the secrets and techniques of baseball’s most demanding position. Reviewers of the book say it is the essential instructional manual for coaches and aspiring catchers on all levels of play. “Catching is the most important defensive position on the field,” said Mayne, “but little expert instruction about how to succeed as a catcher is now available.” 

Mayne’s book is the result of 16 years of major league experience in providing cutting edge overviews of all the crucial technical aspects of the position. A keen student of the game, he has devoted considerable time to vividly explaining and showing through photos how the most demanding position in baseball can be mastered.

Brent was a big league catcher for 16 seasons (1989-2004) that caught 1,143 games with the Kansas City Royals and six other big league teams. An All-American in college with the Cal State-Fullerton Titans, Mayne was drafted in the first round and inducted into the Orange Coast College Hall of Fame in 2006.

Lou Pavlovich, Jr., editor of Collegiate Baseball, wrote, “This book gives the reader the most cutting-edge information ever presented on the art of catching. Mayne does not hold back in telling the secrets that allowed him to enjoy a long major league career. His book should be required reading for every baseball coach and catcher in the nation.”

Among the key teaching points in the twelve chapter book are:

· History of catching and gloves used in the past and present
· Athletic posture and stance
· Glove mechanics and throwing to bases
· Pitchouts, back picks and handling pop flies
· Calling games and working with pitchers
· Making plays at the plate without getting hurt
· Getting the most out of drills, and bullpen time
· What it takes to play in the big leagues

 

Calling A Game

October 28, 2008

I know I’ve been wandering around lately on some random subjects (barefoot running, albums, etc.) so how about today we get into some of the nuts and bolts of baseball? You can do me a favor and let me know if you like the random wanderings or want a more specific focus on baseball. Not that I’ll do it, but I do aim to please and would greatly appreciate your feedback/suggestions. Today let’s talk about calling a game. I want to preface it by saying that my book “The Art of Catching” will go into the subject in more detail (buy the book, buy the book, buy the book), but here’s a quick overview of how I approached this facet of the game. 

First off, let me establish what the goal is. The goal in my mind is to get as many outs as quickly and efficiently as possible. In other words, I want 27 outs with as few pitches as I can manage. That means convincing the pitcher to pitch to contact. I would much rather have 10 outs on 10 pitches rather than 10 outs and 30 plus pitches. Put another way, it only takes one pitch to get a ground out and at least 3 to get a strike out. As a catcher, it’s very important to keep the pitcher in this mind state and not let him fall into the trap of getting too fine, trying to fool everyone, and always going for the strike out. Pound the strike zone early in good spots and make the opposition swing the bat. 

Secondly, always go with the pitcher’s strength. The very best pitch that can be thrown is the pitch that the pitcher can throw with conviction. Period. If I’ve got the greatest change up hitter of all time at bat but my hurler’s best pitch (meaning his best choice for throwing a strike in a good location) is a change, I go with the change up. Of all of the rockets I’ve seen hit in my day, 99% of them have come from problems with location. Even the “wrong” call in the right location is successful most of the time. The “right” call in a bad location is most often a failure. Location, location, location.

Ride the fastball as long as you can. There are no hard and fast rules on calling a game because the variables are always shifting and it’s impossible to say you have to do this in this situation. One thing is pretty true though – of all the guys I’ve caught, and that’s quite a few – I’ve only encountered a couple that could throw another pitch other than a fastball most consistently for a strike. Since we’re trying to get outs as efficiently as possible, my GENERAL guideline was to establish the fastball and see how deep into the game I could ride it (not neglecting or losing touch of the pitcher’s other pitches, of course). In other words, I would predominately use the heater to get outs as long as I could, sprinkling in the pitcher’s other pitches along the way to keep them available and sharp if needed. If I could make it through the batting order one time using mostly heat, I would. If that meant going through twice, great. If it lasted the whole game, all the better. For me this accomplished a couple things. One, it’s efficient and simple. Two, it allows me some cards to play later in the game when I need some help. Put another way, if I haven’t showed a hitter all of my pitcher’s offerings in earlier at bats (but have kept them sharp but using them here and there throughout the game) I’ve got an ace in the hole to get an out with a pitch the hitter hasn’t seen yet.

Do your work before the game. Establish a game plan with your coach, make sure you’re on the same page with the pitcher, make sure you know your staff’s capabilities and limitations. Be aware of game situations and maybe most importantly, get a feel for when to push your luck with the limits of what your pitcher can do and when to give in to the hitter. Put another way, walks suck. There comes a point where you’ve got to give in to the hitter and just hope the pitcher can locate a strike. The old 3 and 1 trick pitch to the number nine hitter is a beautiful thing when it works… the problem is it doesn’t work the majority of the time. In that situation, most of the time it’s best to avoid the walk and take your chance throwing the obvious. Again, this isn’t a hard and fast rule. I’m just saying try to play the odds and avoid walks, and many times that means admitting that the hitter has done a good job to get himself into an offensive count and he’s got the upper hand. Pitch to contact.

Put the sign down quickly and intuitively. There are so many different variables going on in between pitches and the catcher needs to process all of this information and put down a finger quickly and correctly. The game situation, the psyche of the pitcher (does he need to be patted in the back or kicked in the ass), the hitter and how you’ve approached him in the past, the umpire and his particular zone and temperament, to just name a few. Don’t over think it and lock up. Trust the work that you’ve done in the bullpen (you have been paying attention to your staff’s tendencies haven’t you?) and establishing a game plan with your coach and pitcher BEFORE the game. Understand that location, not the perfect choice is most important. Then just get back there and get into that groove with the man on the mound. When it happens – when the both of you are on the same wavelength and you’re putting down what he’s thinking – that is one of the coolest things in sports.

Greg Maddux says that if you can throw a fastball where you want to and can sprinkle in another pitch, you can win 10 games in the Big Leagues. If you can throw two pitches where you want to, you can win the Cy Young award. That is a pretty amazing thing to say. As a catcher, if you can just convince your staff to locate the fastball….I’ll leave you with this great and telling quote by arguably the greatest pitcher of all time.

“I try to do two things: locate my fastball and change speeds. That’s it. I try to keep as simple as possible. I just throw my fastball (to) both sides of the plate and change speed every now and then. There is no special food or anything like that, I just try to make quality pitches and try to be prepared each time I go out there.”       –  Greg Maddux

Rays back against the wall

October 27, 2008

I don’t know about you, but I’m really enjoying what I’ve seen of the Series. Just some good old fashioned steroid-less baseball. The only problem is it’s being played in two goofy venues. Philly is infinitely better than the old stadium but a band box, and Tropicana is good for nothing outside of RV conventions and stuff like that. The other thing that disappoints me is I don’t get to watch Kevin Youkilis play anymore. He just won the Hank Aaron award for the best offensive performance in the American League and more importantly is my New Favorite Player. I love his focus both with the glove and the bat. He should be the poster boy for maximizing one’s God given talent. When is the last time he had a bad at-bat? Where would the Sox be without him this year? I say go ahead and give him the MVP while you’re at it. 

So we get to see how resilient the Rays are as they fight themselves off the matt in Philly.  They face the unbeatable in the offseason, new Steve Carlton with better hair and less ticks Cole Hammels. Are you kidding me with his change up? What a pitch. And how about the one two punch of Ryan Madsen and Brad Lidge? How about Madsen’s change up and Lidge’s disappearing slider? How about their whole staff? We have been privileged to see some really quality pitching as of late. The other guy I’m really enjoying is Jayson Werth. He’s about as good a base runner as there is in baseball (although he’s made a couple mistake in this series), he’s a great outfielder with a super arm, and he swings a solid bat too. Not to mention the intangibles…his energy and the way he plays the game is infectious and very positive for the Phils. We crossed paths on the 2004 Dodgers team and I can say from experience that he’s an excellent teammate. Wow, what if you could put Werth and Youklis on the same team. That would be cool. Here’s to hoping the Rays can squeak out a win and make the season last just a little bit longer….

  

Memphis Chicks

October 24, 2008

First off, I just want to say that we have been blessed to be watching such a great World Series so far. These two teams are made for each other. Young, homegrown talent, fast, pitchers throw strikes, put the ball in play, can play catch, and run the bases intelligently. Good baseball. So since the last post had a couple of good events to mention…first off had a great training session with Barefoot Ted up in the hills of Los Angeles. I learned more about the barefoot running style, the Indians, and my technique. My hope is to pass it on to my son and see if that alleviates his heel/achilles pain. I’ll keep you posted.

   

So the second good thing that happened was that I hooked up with a good friend and ex-teammate from my first days in pro ball. Kevin Koslofski played a number of years in professional baseball – he was a speedy left handed hitting outfielder with a great arm from Illinois. Our paths first crossed as teammates on the 1990 AA Memphis Chicks and later for a couple seasons in the big leagues with KC. Anyway, he was traveling through So Cal on business and I brought him over to the house to reminisce about the glory days (Bruce Springsteen – one nothing) over pizza and the World Series. It brought back so many memories of one of the best seasons and teams I ever played on. The 1990 Memphis Chicks. I caught, Sean Berry 3B, David Howard SS, Frankie Liriano 2B, Jeff Conine 1B, Kos, Bobby Moore, Brian McRae, Pete Alborano outfielders, Stu Cole, Kyle Reese, Tommy Dunbar, Jorge Pedre. The pitchers -Scott Centala, Brian McCormack, Carlos Maldanado, Hector Wagner, Ritchie LeBlanc, Jim Campbell to name a few. And our manager was the one and only Jeff Cox. What a year… we won the Southern League championship and I made friends that will last a lifetime. It was my first time out of California, my first time in humidity, my first time eating grits and drinking sweet tea, my first time meeting Southern girls, my first time taking 18 hour bus rides, my first time meeting Latin players, and my first time doing my own laundry. There were points in the season – somewhere in the back roads of Georgia in the middle of a 18 hour bus ride – that I wanted to kill every person on that bus. I could’ve cared less if I ever saw any of them again. Ever. There were times I wanted to come home. I didn’t though. When the dust all settled, I had a ring, memories of a lifetime, friends I’d been through the wars with, and probably the finest baseball playing experience I’d ever had.

  

Mileage

October 22, 2008

Putting some serious miles on the Prius this week. Drove out to Palm Springs to pick up a computer for my Grandma yesterday, out to LA for a Braille board meeting and workout with Barefoot Ted (more on that later) today, zoom out to Riverside tomorrow to interview coach Dennis Rogers for a future podcast, then out to Palomar mountain to do some camping over the weekend. Man, that’s a lot of moving around. I think I got myself in too deep. Especially with the World Serious starting this week. Oh before I forget, Greg Shaw is the author of a great blog/podcast called Codball (www.codball.com) focusing on the comings and goings of the Cape Cod baseball league.  He wrote a really nice review of my book on his October 18th post. Check out his website – here is the article….

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18

Secrets and Techniques of Artful Catching

 

Posted by Greg | Filed Under News | 

 

In the 1940s classic baseball novel, The Kid from Tomkinsville, the young pitcher Roy Tucker would never have made a name for himself if not for the veteran catcher Dave Leonard. It was Leonard who befriended, coached and mentored the young Brooklyn Dodgers phenomenon from a small town in Connecticut.

 

Sixty years after The Kid was published and twenty years after we met Crash Davis in Bull Durham, a real Big League catcher has published the book to own about catching at any level of baseball.  The Art of Catching: the secrets and techniques of baseball’s most demanding position by Brent Mayne is worth the $25 it costs whether you are a fan of the game, a catcher, a coach or a player contemplating a switch of positions.

 

According to Mayne, a switch of position may be your best ticket to a college scholarship and a trip to the Big Leagues.  To hear him tell it, baseball is starving for good catching.

 

If it’s true that catching is the most demanding position, then this book may merit mention right alongside Ted Williams’ classic, The Science of Hitting. Mayne’s “art” and  Williams’ “science.” Sounds like a great gift.

 

I found the history of the position fascinating. Most importantly, I didn’t realize we have seen three very different eras in catching — turn-of-the-century stance, “Bench-era” and a modern stance that Mayne calls “art-of-catching” stance. Mayne brings some cross-sport analysis to his argument. And, interestingly, Mayne was part of an experiment in the mid-80s to reinvent the position. His father, Mike Mayne (Orange Coast College) Larry Corrigan (Cal State Fullerton) and former Major Leaguer Jamie Nelson apparently used Mayne to experiment with changing catching in the modern era.

 

Mayne went on to a 15-year career in the Major Leagues. As I understand it, he is also the only big-league catcher also to win a game as pitcher.

 

I’ve talked with Brent by phone and encouraged him to get out there into communities across the country to teach catching as it should be.  He’s a genuine and sincere ambassador of the game — and he’s got great website to boot!

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OK, so that’s the good review thing now on to the Barefoot Ted thing. If you read the last post, you know that I’ve become obsessed with the Tarahumara Indians and their barefoot or close to barefoot running style. I got on this kick as I was doing research for my son’s chronic arch, achilles, foot soreness. Anyway, as I was doing research on the subject, I stumbled upon Barefoot Ted’s website (www.barefooted.com). He has run with the Indians and done extensive study on their lifestyle. I contacted him and am going to his ranch in Los Angeles for a workout and to talk. I’ll let you know what comes of it. Here are some images of Ted…he looks way more studly than me, I hope he doesn’t kill me in the workout.