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Archive for April, 2009

Dan Jalbert gives us some key catching tips that will make you a better catcher.

Blocking the “bad ball” has always been my forte and something I have taken tremendous pride in. I feel that throughout my career, I have been as good or better at blocking pitches in the dirt than any catcher I have played against. For me, it is primarily a mental attitude that no matter where the pitch was or what type of pitch it was, I was going to keep it in front of me and thus keep runners from advancing a base. This attitude again gives the pitcher the comfort knowing that he can throw a pitch in the dirt and not worry about a runner from third scoring or allowing a runner on first to get into scoring position.

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First, while in our “man-on stance”, the catcher drops the glove to the ground and keeps it open as wide as possible.

Second, the knees hit the dirt on either side of the glove, and try not to allow any holes in between where the ball can squeak through.

Third, take the right hand with finger together in a slightly cupped position and put that between your glove and right knee on the ground. While you drop the glove, and then your knees to the ground, you should tuck your chin into your chest protector, keeping your head down and eyes looking down to the ball. Bend slightly at the waist and round your shoulders so that if the ball does hop up, your rounded position will help to funnel the ball back in front of you near the plate. If possible, try to close your feet together in the back so that if the ball does sneak past you, your feet will keep the ball from going to the backstop. Remember, the main goal of blocking the pitch in the dirt is to “block” it from going behind you, not catch it. If the ball does go in the mitt, that is a bonus, but the purpose is to keep the ball in a small area in front of you so that you can jump on it quickly and prevent runners from advancing a base.

More catching advice from Dan.

Blogger Bio
Dan Jalbert, now 33, has been catching since the age of 11. He played baseball at Danvers High and St. Lawrence University, and has played since 2000 in the Boston MABL, Yawkey League, and MSBL. He won the Tony C Comeback Player of the Year Award for the Rockies in the Yawkey League in 2008. He still plays for the Rockies as a Catcher/DH, is the head coach of the AAU 13U Scorpions, and does catching and hitting lessons at Extra-Innings Woburn. He also was a baseball player extra in Fever Pitch.

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Cleveland Indians Scout, Phil Nicoletti gives some great insight into what he looks for in an aspiring major leaguer beyond baseball skills.

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Nick coaching the Atlantic City Surf

1. As a MLB scout when I attend a game I am not always looking for the potential prospect to shine. Yes, it is always nice to see a player that you are looking at go 4-4, but you already know this guy has tools or you would not be looking at him. But, how does he handle failure? I personally want to see a player fail before I make my final write-up on a guy. I want to see how a guy carries himself after going 0-4 with 3 K’s. Does he hang his head? Does his temper get the best of him? Does he take his failures at the plate with him to the field? All of these things are critical questions I ask myself before writing a final report on a guy.

2. One thing that I have always believed in, and one thing I have always been taught is RESPECT for the game… I have written off potential prospects on this factor alone… I do not care if a guy has all of the talent in the world… if he does not respect the game, his opponents, teammates, and umpires, I do not want him. Nobody is bigger than the game, and I always tell players, ” You can’t cheat, or disrespect the baseball Gods… they are always watching.”

3. Remember you never know who is watching from the stands. Nobody likes to go to a game and see a guy cursing, throwing their equipment, or bad-mouthing the other team. I tell guys to act on the field as if they were in their own homes. I do not care to see guys wearing jewelry, baggy uniforms, pants tucked into their cleats, or pulled over their cleats. It’s a privilege to wear the uniform, not a right!

4. Hustle is another key ingredient I look for in a player. When a guy dogs it down the baseline or walks off the field, I write this down as a red flag. There is no excuse to not hustle.  I never like to see a guy walking on the baseball field. My rule is my guys must always beat the other team onto and off of the field. It should take no more than 7 seconds to come off the field.

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5. Baseball Etiquette… I believe in baseball etiquette, and very much dislike seeing guys playing catch in front of the dugout, playing with un-tucked jerseys, crooked hats, or dirty uniforms. Using the right language when on the field.. Knowing baseball terminology.. Pitchers warming up in the bullpen with jackets on, wearing batting gloves on your throwing hand, etc.. All of these things make a huge impact on scouts.. And as an aspiring professional it’s important to remember you only have one chance to make a first impression on a scout.

Blogger Bio
Phil is in his third year as an Associate Area Scout for the Cleveland Indians Baseball Organization. He also runs a pitching academy out of El Paso Texas, where he is in his first year as assistant coach for the El Paso Diablos (an independent professional team). Originally from the East Coast, Phil grew up in Lynn, Massachusetts where he attended Lynn English High School. Phil still holds the school’s all-time record for strikeouts in a game and strikeouts in a single season.

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Yawkey League pitcher Sean Gildea writes about holding runners on first base.

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Sean pitching at Colby Sawyer College, where he holds the school's career strikeout record.

Blogger Bio

Sean Gildea has played in the Yawkey League for the Medford Maddogs since the team’s inception in 2004.  He has compiled a 40-12 record over his five-year Yawkey League career.  Sean played college baseball at Colby-Sawyer College and holds the school’s career strikeout, single-season strikeout, and single-game strikeout records.  In his life away from baseball, he recently placed 32nd in a World Series of Poker bracelet event.

Holding Runners on First

Holding runners and making strong pick-off moves are necessary tools in your pitching development. Controlling the running game prevents walks and singles from turning into doubles as a result of stolen bases. Here are some tips to ensure you can hold runners more effectively.

Vary Your Timing & Motion

Good baserunners will time a pitcher. This is usually the case when a runner gets a good jump. Teach yourself to throw from the stretch using one-second, three-second, and five-second holds. Also, many pitchers, left-handed or right-handed, can effectively use a mixture of timing with the two stretch motions to throw runners off. Mix in your slide step, a full leg-kick, and the different timings and runners will rarely get a good jump.

Mix Your Moves

Right-handers can step off and throw to first, spin and throw, or simply hold on to the ball. Remember that you control the game! If you want to hold the ball to throw a runner off, the batter will be forced to call time. When you use the “step-off” move, it does not mean you have to throw over but it is an effective way to remind the runner that you know he’s there. Finally,  mix in a slower spin move with a faster one and you’ll catch a runner sleeping.

Left-handers can utilize the step-off, 45-degree move, or holding the ball. Many runners typically fear left-handers just because you can use your 45-degree move. Show a poor 25-30 degree move the first time you try to pick off a quick runner, then mix in your “best move” by throwing over at 45-degrees.

Know Your Runner, Know Your Counts

Typically, 1, 2, 8, and 9 hitters are most likely to be your fast runners. When they reach base, realize that these are the guys most likely to steal and mix in your moves. 3-5 hitters are most typical to be your power hitters, and also your slowest runners.

Runners look to run on “running counts.” These are normally 3-1 or 3-2 counts because you are focused on throwing a strike and the runner knows you are less worried about him. Don’t forget your 0-2, 1-2 counts as well because these are the counts you are most likely to throw an off-speed pitch, leaving your catcher at a disadvantage.

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For a baserunner’s perspective, take a look at BaseballThink’s post on stealing against a lefty.

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*Park League All-Star* Chris Plant shares his mental checklist for playing shortstop.

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Chris playing shortstop for the Boston Padres

Blogger Bio
Chris Plant played high school baseball in Duxbury, MA and attended Union College, earning an All-Star selecton in 2001. He has played for the Hingham Phillies of the Cranberry League, the Mama’s of the Albany Twilight League, and currently for the Padres of the Boston Park League and the Rangers of the Boston MABL. Chris has been a Park League All-Star 3 times and was a member of the 2007 Park League Champion Padres.

Helpful Tips on Becoming a Successful Shortstop: 90% Mental

Being a good shortstop takes a combination of physical skills and brainpower. Physical skills come with practice and training, but mental skills can be more difficult to hone. Practice certainly helps, but true improvement comes with game experience. Here is a checklist that will help keep your mind on the game for every pitch.

1. Keep it clean: Make sure your area of the infield is free of debris and divots. Pick up any loose stones and smooth out any holes.  This will help you avoid bad hops.

2. Know the signs: While in the dugout find out what signs the pitcher and catcher will be using. Knowing what kind of pitch is going to be thrown will allow you to adjust your positioning. If you know the next pitch will be a curveball take a step to your right for a right-handed hitter (vise versa for a fastball). Also, seeing where the catcher is setting up will you give an idea of where the batter is most likely to hit the ball.

3. Know your teammates: Between each pitch, check out your fellow teammates. Notice how deep the outfielders are playing and where the second and third basemen are positioned. With this knowledge you can anticipate what area of the field you will need to cover. Knowing your outfielder’s arm strength gives you an idea on where you should set up for a cutoff throw.

4. Know your opponent: Make sure you know if there are runners on base, and what you will do if the ball is hit to you. Try to determine the speed of the runners on base and the speed of the hitter. Knowing their speed will help you make the correct play. If you bobble a groundball and you know the runner on first base is slow you will not need to rush your throw to second base.

5. Keep your Feet Moving: Once you have determined your positioning, take two steps back. While the pitcher is in his windup take two steps towards the hitter. This will keep your momentum moving in the right direction to field and make an accurate throw. Quick feet are the basis of a good shortstop, and moving before the pitch allows you to react quickly and athletically to any ball hit your way.

Wrap-Up: Although this seems like a lot to think about in a short amount of time, these steps will become routine with practice. Eventually you will do them without thinking. This is what we call “Baseball IQ” and as it increases so will your success.

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*Guest blogger* John “Smokey” Moore breaks down the pitching wind-up for kids.

John pitching for the North Shore Black Sox

John pitching for the North Shore Black Sox

Blogger Bio

Coach John “Smokey” Moore has been pitching since he was six years old. He grew up playing baseball in Somerville, MA, high school ball in Lexington,MA, and college ball at Roger Williams University. In the 1980s and 90s, John had stints in the Boston Park League for Mass Envelope and in the Intercity League for the Augustine A’s (now Gately A’s) and Elm Supply (Casell Club). After a brief respite, John returned to amateur baseball in 2003, playing in the MSBL and creating the “Toys For Tots” program within the MABL/MSBL Winterball game. He has been coaching since 1984 within Somerville Little League, St. Mary’s in Revere,Mass, and also within the Boston Jr. Rams AAU program (U12). John also serves as a pitching instructor at Extra Innings in Woburn, MA.

Teaching Young Kids How To Pitch

When teaching the aspects of pitching for kids it is important not to teach them too much early on. I compare this to teaching a 9 year old Calculus when in fact they need to learn about simpler mathematics first. So after 24 years of coaching and teaching kids about pitching, I have found it is best to keep it simple until they are a little older and ready to be finely tuned as a pitcher. There are 5 steps of pitching that can be used to teach the most important and basic pitching technique. I feel early on for kids it is all about balance and alignment. This will enable them to “throw” more consistent strikes. My motto is accuracy first and speed  second when dealing with younger kids/pitchers!!

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Step 1……The Step Back

Your heels should be in the middle of the pitching mound, arches on the front edge of the mound and your toes on the dirt. Doing this while standing up and not bending at the knees has worked best with feet together. The pitcher should take a “baby step” and rock back about 6-12 inches on your glove side.

Step 2……The Pivot Foot

The next step is your “pivot foot”. For a right handed pitcher you will pivot your right foot so it is parallel and in contact with the rubber while standing on the dirt. The opposite for left handed pitcher – it is the left foot that needs to pivot and be parallel to the rubber. Most kids at an early age will have that foot on top of the mound or half a foot on the mound / dirt. This is a no-no because it will throw off their balance when starting Step 3 and of course most Little League fields already have a pretty good size hole in front of the mound so we don’t want the pitchers to “fall” off the mound.

Step 3…….Balance

The pitcher lifts his leg (not swing or kick the leg) towards his back shoulder but not coming past the pitching mound. Both shoulders should be on a straight line to the target and the catcher. Hands should be somewhere between the shoulders and belt buckle usually around letter high on a baseball uniform. That back leg or “post leg” should be slightly bent with the pitchers weight on the toes/ball of the foot – not the heel. In order to obtain a proper balance, most kids should be able to hold this position without becoming unbalanced for a good 30 seconds. When practicing this step, they should wait a good 1-3 seconds before getting ready to stride and release the ball.

Step 4……Stride and Release

Extend your arms in line with the target and then step toward the target line with the landing foot. Pitching arm now comes over the top with the index and middle finger pointing to the sky (on top of the ball) and the thumb pointing to the ground (bottom of the ball) to extend the arm, then over the top to the release point while tucking the glove in. You will find a pitcher is “opening up” without the “tuck in” and will use his arm more than he should. Also, it will throw off the alignment towards the target because it will cause the pitcher’s head to move to the outside to obtain more power.

I have always found that the release point should be a few inches to a foot out in front of your face. Early release of the ball will cause a high pitch and often if a release point is too far in front of a pitcher then that ball will hit the dirt before home plate. In any case, a pitcher and a decent coach will “find” that release spot for a particular pitcher. The landing foot should still be in alignment with the target and should be flat on the ground toes pointing towards the target, not on the heels or toes while releasing the ball. It is also important for the throwing elbow to be even with the shoulders when landing on that front foot.

Step 5……The Follow Through – Finish

A lot of young kids who pitch normally finish with their throwing hand next to their waist, where a front pocket would be. The problem with this type of finish is the pitcher does not get the lower body involved and will usually pull their head outside of the intended target. The finish position should have the throwing hand “below” and “outside” the landing knee.

The pitcher starts in the “balance” position with shoulders and nose on line to the target. Glove shoulder will be in front and throwing shoulder behind. As their hands break and the pitcher’s weight goes forward, their head must go in a straight line towards the target. Again, at the finish the throwing hand is “below” and “outside” the landing knee.

These 5 steps will help a young pitcher to develop accuracy and be a more consistent pitcher. As a pitcher gets older and starts to grow into his body, more advanced techniques can be applied to these steps.

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