Ross Ohlendorf doesn’t waste time.

November 29, 2009

A couple of newsletters ago, I broke down the off-season and tried to make a point that better ballplayers use this “break” to better themselves. Here’s a portion of what I wrote….

Take this opportunity to expand your horizons and grow. Pick something…your flexibility, your strength, your mental approach, your vision, your hitting, your pitching, your defense, and dive in, explore, and improve.

Outside of hitting, fielding, and throwing, there’s a million ways to improve your game…try Yoga, Pilates, weight training, plyometrics, or just use your imagination and make something up.

The fact is, you’re either getting better or getting worse. Things don’t stay the same and someone’s always gunning for your job. Whether you’re a 15 year veteran in the big leagues or a high school player, the idea is to keep improving.

OK, so I was reading Buster Olney’s excellent ESPN baseball blog (the best baseball information source on the planet by the way) and he turned me on to a great article about a Pirate pitcher named Ross Ohlendorf. Turns out this guy is spending his off-season as an intern in the Obama administration’s Agriculture Department.

Apparently he spends half the day interning and the other half working out for baseball. Talk about making the most of one’s off-season time. This guy’s taken things to a whole different level.

“If you know Ross,” said Ohlendorf’s baseball coach at Princeton, Scott Bradley, “everything about his life is always about making himself better and making himself more educated. He’s not someone who wants to sit and not do anything. This is a perfect fit for him.”

I just thought this was a great example to share with you and tell you “I told you so…..” To read the whole article, click here.

Ross Ohlendorf - pitcher, political intern, and international man of mystery.

Ross Ohlendorf - pitcher, political intern, and international man of mystery.

A Catcher’s Set Up

November 26, 2009

Setting up too far behind the batter causes all kinds of problems.

Setting up too far behind the batter causes all kinds of problems.

I just read some excellent comments by a coach named John Baker regarding where a catcher should squat down (set up in relation to the hitter and the plate.)

Before I go any further, let me say that about 95% of catchers squat down too far behind the hitter. John’s photograph above clearly illustrates what happens when you do this.

If the catcher is too far back, any pitch with downward trajectory will appear too low. Curve balls, sinkers, or anything in youth ball will go from a strike to a ball – as evidenced in the photo by the receiver having to turn his glove over (B).

Another impact of the catcher being too far back is the umpire can’t get a good  look at the action. This ump (C) is so far from the plate, he might as well be in the front row with the fans.

The last thing I’ll mention about set up is a bit strange, and I have no idea why it happens…but it does happen. When you drift too far behind the hitter, foul balls have a way of finding your body. Whenever I started getting nicked a lot, that was a great indicator to me that I was too far back.

So where is the proper set up spot? Well, it changes all the time because batters all stand in different places. From your squat, if you can reach out with your glove (for a right handed hitter) or your bare hand (for a lefty) and come about 6-12 inches from his back knee (without leaning over) you’re in the right neighborhood.

Obviously use some common sense and pay attention to hitters that “cast” the bat (have a long swing) and adjust accordingly. For the most part though, getting right up under the hitter is safer and will help the pitcher and umpire.

By the way, have a great Thanksgiving.

Anticipation…again

November 23, 2009

I just read a great article on Joe Mauer. He’ll probably go on to win the AL MVP today, but last week he won his second Gold Glove. In this article Mauer talks about his mental approach to his defensive game and it’s awesome.

If you go back a couple blogs ago to the “Johnny Damon Steals Two Bases” post, I make a big deal about what goes on in a player’s head for a play like that to occur. Here’s what I said…

Contrary to what most folks think, you can’t chalk these types of plays up to just “good instincts.” Damon obviously reacted correctly, but he only reacted correctly because the whole event had already happened in his head.

It goes back to what I’m always harping on about anticipation. The great players make great use of all the “in-between-action” time in baseball by envisioning all the possibilities. It’s the reason why guys like Jeter or Mauer seem to be conveniently in the right spot at the right time all the time. It’s not luck. It’s because they use their imagination better than the average guy. They see action before it happens and then just react when it happens.

So now let me tie this all together with the Mauer article and show you another example of how an elite player makes an elite play. Here’s an excerpt from the newspaper article…

Mauer is said to have led AL catchers in range factor. Not sure that’s the most important stat for a catcher — though, if you remember Mauer’s game-saving tag of the Yankees’ Brett Gardner on May 17, it comes in handy. It was one of the most unbelievable plays I’ve ever seen, and it’s interesting hearing Mauer describe what went through his mind.

Mauer: “One of the things I like to do is kind of envision myself in different situations, so when they come up, it’s nothing new and I’m not overly excited or anything like that. That play, just in general, was one of those kind of plays that I’ve never seen before, but just kind of reacting to the situation, knowing what the situation of the game was — if that guy scores, we’re done. I knew who was on second base before it happened, so you’re thinking, ‘OK, our outfielders are going to be in to have a chance to throw this guy out.’ So you know what kind of speed you have on second. When I saw the ball coming my way, my first thing was try to get an out at first. But it was a long run out there, and the guy Gardner was in the back of my head, too, that he’s probably going to score from this. It all happened pretty quick, but you’ve got to know the situation going in, and if I can get that out at first [as the second out of the inning], the game’s over anyway.”

Pretty interesting isn’t it? I find it fascinating that, just like Damon’s double steal, Mauer’s play at the plate happened inside his head before it ever actually manifested.

The bottom line is this. Great players have great imaginations. Like a great chess player, they have the ability to use the “in-between-action” moments in a game to see all the possible plays for any given situation. Then when action happens, they have the luxury of just reacting. They don’t need to think then react. They can just react because the whole thing already has happened in their mind.

“Think! How the hell are you gonna think and hit at the same time?”  Turns out Yogi Berra’s quote was not only funny, it was accurate. Great players get their thinking out of the way before anything ever actually happens.

Joe Mauer making his great tag play on Bret Gardner.

Joe Mauer making his great tag play on Brett Gardner.

The Buddha says…

November 20, 2009

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New York

November 19, 2009

Well the card show in New Jersey was great. There were catchers representing every decade from the 1940’s to present. It was weird seeing Yogi Berra (who reminded me of a gnome by the way) next to a modern player. I kept thinking how much the game must have changed during those 70 years and wondering what it must have been like to be a big leaguer back then.

This was the first real card show that I’d ever participated in and I was blown away by how fanatical the fans are. Some of these folks are seriously serious.

I got to meet Johnny Bench (smaller than I thought he was gonna be), Carlton Fisk (bigger than I remember), Manny Sanguillen (smaller, but stockier), Yogi Berra (bigger ears than I thought), and a whole bunch of other guys.

I chickened out and failed (once again) to get many autographs or any interviews or photos. It’s hard to do all that when you’re trying to act like you belong there and aren’t overwhelmed, you know?  So all you get is some lousy photos of the couple days I spent wandering around Manhattan after I did the show….enjoy.

View from the High Line park.

View from the High Line park.

Graffiti art in the meatpacking district.

Graffiti art in the meatpacking district.

More graffiti art from the meatpacking district.

More graffiti art from the meatpacking district.

Warhol and Basquiat.

Warhol and Basquiat.

Einstein with the sign.

Einstein with the sign.

Lennon and the Panda. Love it.

Lennon and the Panda. Love it.

Not sure what this is, but I liked it.

Not sure what this is, but I liked it.

Skyline at sunset.

Skyline at sunset.

Window dressing at Bergdorf Goodman's featuring the real set of The Fantastic Mr. Fox. Super cool.

Window dressing at Bergdorf Goodman's featuring the real set of The Fantastic Mr. Fox. Super cool.

Another great Mr. Fox set.

Another great Mr. Fox set.