Ken Burns, Flip Flop Fly Ball

September 28, 2010

For those of you without plans, documentary maker Ken Burns will be airing part one of his two part “Tenth Inning” baseball series on PBS tonight and tomorrow (9/28 & 9/29). Apparently, this installment will pick up where the 18.5 hour epic Baseball left off.

I’m especially interested because this four hour series focuses on my era (1990-2005). This includes such huge events as the 1994 strike that cancelled the World Series, the McGwire/Sosa home-run chase, Barry Bonds, the rise of Latino and Asian players, and steroids/performance-enhancing drug use. I’m excited…Ken Burns + the steroid era = good.

A graph of the footprints of all major league fields from Flip Flop Fly Ball.

And on another note, a friend of mine turned me on to a neat little website called Flip Flop Fly Ball. You know I’m into baseball art and quirky sites…well, here’s a good one. Do yourself a favor and don’t miss his graphs…make sure to click on and enlarge them so you can see what they’re all about. I laughed my butt off.

That’s all I’ve got for now. September in Southern California equals good surf and empty beaches which results in less blogging. Adios.

Picture from Flip Flop Fly Ball of one of my favorite hitters.

Pedro. Simple but nailed it...another great drawing from Flip Flop Fly Ball.

New “Throwing Out Base Stealers” Video

September 21, 2010

Alright, I’ve finally completed my instructional video to help catchers improve their throwing technique. I believe this is the seventh installment of the Art of Catching video series. Previous clips cover athletic posture, stances, “off-set” technique, “drop knee” approach, glove mechanics/receiving, and blocking. We’re getting there.

I’ll guarantee this 18 minuteĀ throwing video will improve your caught stealing percentage, lower your “pop” times, and improve your understanding of the position. As with all of the clips, the material presented is appropriate for coaches and players of all levels, from Little League all the way to the big leagues. Learn the right way from a pro!

Here is a general outline of the topics covered in the How to Throw Out Base Runners video…enjoy.

1. Opening discussion (sub 2 second “pop time”)

2. Throwing priorities

A. Accuracy
B. Timing & Quickness
C. Velocity

3. Handwork & Exchange

A. Let the ball travel
B. Whipping glove up to ear (over-rotation)
C. Arm Arc
D. Quickness

4. Footwork

A. Proper direction
B. Come out low (in legs)
C. The “X” Factor

5. Timing

A. Syncing left foot with right hand
B. Starting “on time”
C. Throwing from a position of balance and power

6. Conclusion (game speed example)

7. Slow Motion Views

Click here to view the whole video.

John Lindsey and Other Notable September Call-Ups

September 14, 2010

I’ve got to be honest, I haven’t been watching a ton of baseball lately…especially my local Dodger and Angel teams. Following clubs having off years – just waiting to be put out of their misery – isn’t my idea of fun. I’ve experience enough of those circumstances first hand.

So, when I picked up the paper this morning I was surprised to see a guy by the name of John Lindsey on the front page. It’s September call up time and it turns out, this guy is getting his first taste of the big leagues after spending 16 years in the minors. I repeat, 16 years.

I’ve heard of some pretty awesome things, but this is one of the awesomest. I’m pretty sure we can safely assume this Lindsey guy loves baseball. I’m pretty sure he wasn’t getting rich in Albuquerque or any of the other towns he played in for the last decade and a half.

Turns out, Lindsey led the PCL in hitting this season at the age of 33. As his father was quoted as saying, “Follow your dream, never give up. If you believe in and have a passion or a love for something, don’t quit. Play until they take the uniform off.”

John Lindsey, 1,571 games and 5,589 minor league at-bats before being summoned to the show.

And here’s even better news for all of those catchers out there. Here’s three more September call ups, all whom are catchers and all whom have persevered. I’ve said it a million times before as it relates to catching. There just aren’t enough good catchers to go around. If you just hang in there and learn the craft, chances are you’re going to get a pop. Here’s living proof…a heartfelt congratulations to all of these guys. May you all stick long enough to max out your pensions!

Max St. Pierre, 14 seasons and 978 minor league games before getting the call.

J.C. Boscan, 14 seasons and 976 minor league games before joining the Major Leagues.

Brian Esposito, 11 seasons, 669 minor league games with 6 teams before making it up.

For those interested, here is a link to the full length L.A. Times article about all of these players.

The Pitchers Mound

September 11, 2010

I was listening to Tim Hudson of the Braves being interviewed on XM radio the other day. One of the guys tossing questions asked for Tim’s thoughts as to why the Braves have had such excellent success at home and none on the road this year.

Basically he gave the standard “it’s just one of those things” response; however, he did go into how much he and the other guys on the Braves staff loved pitching at home and that maybe that had something to do with it. Hudson went on to add that in some ballparks, pitchers felt uncomfortable because the mound had the illusion of being far away. In Atlanta, and he named a few others, he felt like the mound was right on top of the hitter and that this feeling had a lot to do with his confidence and ultimately his success.

Interesting. I never really thought of that. I obviously had these thoughts as a hitter, but I just never flip flopped it. I definitely had parks where I saw the ball better, where the mound seemed further back, where I just felt more comfortable. I also had places where the pitcher seemed like he was going to touch me and I didn’t see the ball at all. I know all field dimensions are consistent in the big leagues, it’s obviously just an optical illusion.

Which got me to thinking. If someone ever pays me a few million dollars to design a field, I’m getting the best magician/optical illusion guy and maybe the best movie set designer guy or girl to throw in their two cents about how to make the mound look closer from a pitcher’s perspective and farther away from a hitter’s view at the plate. Don’t you think that makes sense? Doesn’t it make sense that your pitchers and hitters feel as comfortable as possible?

For the your pitchers, maybe make sure the backstop is pretty close make the color light or dark depending on which would make it appear tighter in. And do similar things for the hitters. I’m not exactly sure what these things are…that’s why we’re hiring the magician and the designer. I wonder if teams do this already?

While were at it, I would absolutely make sure that the visiting teams bullpen mound was different from the mound on the field. Shorter, higher, different dirt consistency, whatever. Not messed up or anything, just different. That can’t be good for the opposing pitchers right? They’ve gotta hate that. Technically, that’s not cheating is it?

Ah well, maybe it is. But you know what they say in baseball…”if you’re not cheating, you’re not trying.” Anyway, just some thoughts.

A view from the mound at Dodger Stadium.

The Origin of Injury

September 4, 2010

I’ve always had a theory about injuries. I’m obviously not a doctor so take this with a grain of salt, but here’s how I chose to look at the process. First of all, I view just about all injury as stress related. It seems to me that about 99 percent of baseball trauma comes from some sort of inflammation. Tendonitis, bursitis, pulls, swelling, aches, and pains.

Once in a while you’ll see broken bones and whatnot, but those are a rarity. Like I said, most hurts that sideline guys are related to heat, inflammation, and stress. Now here’s where my theory may lose some of you. I think most of these problems are physical manifestations which originate in the mind.

Kind of like the ulcer problems back in the day. Remember when ulcers were popular? For a long time, everyone had an ulcer. But then doctors figured out that they were simply a physical manifestation of stress and bam, nobody has ulcers anymore. Now people have back problems. I think they are basically the same thing. And I think you can lump just about all the baseball injuries into the same boat.

There’s a prejudice in our society (definitely in sport) about people who can’t hack it. “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.” In baseball we used to say, “if you’re scared, get a dog.” Nobody wants to admit they go to a shrink, go to the team “talking doctor,” or go on the DL due to mental strain. So what happens? I think the body figures out a way to get you out – and save face by manifesting an injury.

I believe that the body is smart enough to get us out of situations that are too “hot,” or too intense. I know this is true for me. Whenever my life gets a little out of control or pressurized, my back goes out. Coincidence? I used to think so, but the pattern repeated itself far too much and I was forced to take personal responsibility.

I’m not claiming that athletes are faking. Absolutely not. When my back gets locked up, it fricking hurts. I NEED to lay on the couch for a few days to let that thing calm down. The point is, in my way of looking at injury, if I would have taken care of business and had the consciousness to notice that my life was getting a little squirrelly, my body may not have needed to find an excuse (back lock up) to take me out of the game and make me relax.

So, for me, the back pain takes me out of a lot of situations that I don’t want to be in without having to say that I’m stressed out. And that’s basically the same process I see going on in professional sports. Pro sports are mentally stressful. In baseball, it never ends. Day in and day out for 162 games, you’re getting pounded. If you’re not really mentally tough, you’re going on the DL at some point. Your body will simply be looking out for your best interest.

This is a tough viewpoint to take, especially as an athlete. It’s tough because you’re ultimately responsible. It’s easy to blame missing games on injury…ah, shoot, my back went out. Or, I pulled a hammy. It’s not so easy to say I got injured because I was going too good, or too bad, or just couldn’t take anymore. But I really think (outside of the rare broken bone or something) that’s the reality.

So what does one do? First off, don’t panic. For me, it was a relief to believe that my injury wasn’t career ending, or gonna require surgery…even though at the moment it might have felt like it. It was a relief to know that 99 percent of the time it was just inflammation that was going to go away in time. So I didn’t need to panic and compound the stress problem. Most of the time I just kept moving. Kept the blood flowing and flushing out. Yoga. Stretching, jogging, long toss. Breathe. Try to have a more positive viewpoint and reaction to stress. Sometimes I blew right by the warning signs and the inflammation progressed to the point where IĀ had to take some time off to let things mellow. But most of the time I just worked through it. The hardest part is taking responsibility without placing judgement on yourself for getting yourself into this bind. Blame just makes the cycle worse.

It’s all a big learning process. And it ain’t easy. It’s really, really hot at the top. If it’s not one thing it’s another to take you down. Not only do you need to have the skill to compete with the best, but you need the discipline, the diet, the mental toughness, and a decent amount of luck to stay off the DL and on the field. Just ask Strasburg, or Prior, or any number of players who got whacked. Like I said, it’s all a learning process and by choosing to take responsibility, you can go from being a victim to embodying the saying “what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.”