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Part 2, Stride... Pause... Swing!

A body in motion tends to stay in motion

Three of the most important aspects of the hitting process involve a controlled stride, a slight pause to separate the stride from the swing, and then a hard swing at the pitch.

Since these fundamentals are so vital to the success of the hitter, they have to be meticulously taught and constantly practiced to establish a grooved and consistent swing.

The Stride

The stride is usually the first movement made in the hitting process and it must be done correctly, as mistakes are very difficult to correct in the continuing pattern of the swing.

Oddly, it is not actually essential to take a stride. A number of outstanding major league hitters (including Joe DiMaggio) have hit .300 with power and practically no stride to speak of. But it does have values in hitting, such as:

Timing. As a timing mechanism, it may help the hitter coordinate his swing with the pitcher's movements.

Weight Shift. The lifting of the front foot to stride forces the weight back and helps develop bat speed and hitting power.

Movement. The stride gets the body moving slightly so that the hitter doesn't have to begin from a dead standstill. "A body in motion tends to remain in motion." The slight movement of the stride and cocking action of the hands establish a momentum that produces a more explosive start.

Habit. Since most young hitters do not have enough strength to hit the ball as hard as they would like, they tend to jump at the ball (use a forceful stride) in learning how to hit, and this can become habit.

As soon as a hitter develops physical strength, he should be taught to shorten his stride and keep control of his body during the action.

Two common misconceptions about when the stride should take place:

1. "Wait on the ball" refers to the start of the bat, not the start of the stride. Starting the stride early will pose no problem if the hitter keeps his hands and weight back while doing so. What will pose a tremendous problem is starting the bat forward too early.

2. "Wait until you see the location of the pitch and then stride accordingly" is a great idea, but it simply cannot be done. It takes about a half second for a ball to travel from the pitcher's hand to the plate (depending upon the speed of the pitch), and it takes about half that time for the hitter to read the pitch and determine what it is and where it's going.

Ergo, the hitter who has to stride into an outside pitch or away from an inside pitch must wait until the ball is halfway to the plate to start his stride. That will leave him only about .2 of a second to stride, cock the bat, and swing.

Nobody can be quick enough to do that. High-speed photography shows that hitters usually begin to stride as or just after the ball leaves the pitcher's hand. Every stride must, therefore, be made to the same spot because it has to be made before the location of the pitch is determined.

Direction of the Stride: Most hitters have found that a stride straight toward the pitcher offers the best chance to get full-plate coverage and hit the ball well on every pitch.

A stride toward the plate may help the hitter vs the outside pitch, but will often restrict the rotation of the hips and hinder the hitter's ability to pull the inside pitch with authority. It will also make it difficult to pull away from the inside pitch.

An exaggerated stride away from the plate can make it difficult to hit the outside pitch, as the hips will be opened up very early in the swing.

The direction of the weight is even more important than the direction of the stride. The batter's weight should be toward the plate regardless of where the stride foot lands.

Height of the Stride: Since a low stride can be executed quicker, started later, and produce a body balance, most hitters keep the stride foot low to the ground.

A high-stepping stride must be started earlier and makes it more difficult to control the body balance, but it does keep the weight on the back foot for a longer period of time.

Since a stride that raises the foot high off the ground creates problems of weight control and balance, and only a hitter with outstanding body control can use this method with any success.

Length of the Stride: Like the low stride, a short stride can be executed quicker, started later, the balance is easier to control. Most good hitters take a short stride of just a few inches, either because they were taught to hit that way or because they figured it out for themselves.

One of the most noticeable differences in a maturing hitter is the length of his stride. It usually becomes shorter to produce better balance and body control, with no loss of power!

A wide basic stance will enable the hitter to take a shorter stride and still hit with the feet spread properly. If, say, a hitter wants his feet to be 34" apart for the swing, a stance with the feet 4" apart would require a 30" stride to hit.

If the feet were 30" apart in the preliminary stance, a 4" stride would; put the feet in the same hitting position.

A long stride certainly makes it tougher to be a good hitter because it must be started earlier and makes it more difficult to control the balance. There is no question that it makes hitting more difficult for the player of normal ability.

The long stride is probably the result of the mistaken idea that jumping at the ball produces more power. Actually, the reverse is true. A long and lunging stride robs the hitter of body control, coordination, and bat speed, and this makes it difficult to hit the ball hard or far on a consistent basis.

Weight Shift During the Stride:

When the stride foot comes forward, it is essential for the hands to stay back in the launching area (opposite the rear shoulder) and for the weight to go back toward the back foot.

This is perhaps the most important fundamental in hitting. The No. 1 difference between good hitters and poor hitters is the location of the hands and weight at the start of the swing.

A study of National League hitters a few years ago showed a correlation of almost 100% between hands and weight back and high batting average/power.

Many hitters like to keep the hands slightly ahead of the position in which they will begin the swing because it is more relaxing and tension-free.

As the stride foot goes forward, the hands go back (and sometimes up) into the starting position for the swing. This backward movement of the hands also aids in the shift of the weight to the rear foot.

A hitter can time the backward movement of the hands (cocking of the hands) by imagining his hands are connected to the pitcher's front shoulder.

As the pitcher's body starts to move toward the plate, the hitter will push his hands back into the starting position of the swing. Note: This cocking action of the hands and body should be a smooth and gentle movement rather than a quick, jerking one.

The stride foot should land delicately, with just the area under the big toe touching the ground to make sure that the hitter's weight will stay back during the stride.

If the front foot hits the ground flat and hard during the stride, the batter's weight will almost certainly go forward with the stride, and this will result in the loss of bat speed, bat quickness, and power.

The Delay

While in this position at the end of the stride, the hitter should momentarily pause before beginning the swing. This delay separates the stride from the swing and enables the hitter to hit after the stride rather than with the stride. In other words, he will stride to hit rather than stride and hit.

The delay enables the hitter to time the start of the swing, enabling him to swing the bat hard on all pitches regardless of the speed or location of the pitch. Otherwise, he will have to slow down or speed up the swing, depending on the pitch.

Timing includes the proper delay at the start of the swing. Without a proper delay, the hitter's timing will be at the mercy of the pitcher. The proper delay at the start of the swing (timing and pitch) is absolutely vital against pitchers who change the speed and location of their pitches.

The reason the delay is needed on pitches of various speeds is quite obvious. The hitter must wait until the ball is at a certain point near the plate to hit the ball with a good hard swing. The faster the pitch, the less he waits and the slower the pitch, the longer he waits.

The delay at the start of the swing is different for inside and outside pitches. Reason: It requires less time to get the bat out for the outside pitch (at the plate) than it does to get the bat out in front of the plate for the inside pitch.

The only way a hitter can hit a fast ball and a change-up, or an inside pitch and an outside pitch, with the same swing and the body in a strong position is by delaying properly before starting the swing.

Swing According to Pitch:

Hitting the inside pitch in front of the plate and the outside pitch even with the plate is necessary in order to hit the ball on the sweet spot of the bat--the point at which the ball will jump off the bat., which the Ph.D.'s call "the point of optimum percussion."

The spot varies slightly from one bat to another, but is generally in an area five to six inches from the end of the bat and is slightly bigger in a metal bat.

Hitters who try to pull the outside pitch will probably strike the ball near the end of the bat (miss the sweet spot).

Hitters who fail to get the bat out in front of the plate for the inside pitch will probably contact the ball close to their hands rather than on the sweet spot.

In both cases, the failure to hit the ball on the sweet spot will produce a weak tap, stinging hands, and a broken (wood) bat.

To hit the ball hard consistently, the ball must be struck on the sweet spot and that requires the hitter to place the bat at the proper angle for the pitch.

It is also important to have the body in a position of strength at the moment of contact: That is, having the body balanced and properly aligned to exert the maximum force with the bat.

The hitter can learn the delay (after the stride) and hitting the ball where it is pitched, in batting practice. Once he understands the concept of the delay, his brain will do the rest -- read the pitch and adjust.

Hitting the ball where it is pitched will also allow the hitter to handle all kinds of pitches. Though there are hitters who don't use the whole ballpark and still get by, they are generally the pull hitters who are strong enough to stay in the line-up.

They are usually low-average hitters who strike out a lot. For every hitter who can pull the outside pitch, there are thousands who can't.

An old pro scout put it this way. Pointing at a young, husky kid pumping gas at a filling station, he said: "There's a kid who got where he is by always trying to pull the outside pitch."

The importance of a controlled stride, a slight pause to separate the stride from the swing, and then hitting the ball according to its location is absolutely vital for anyone who wants to become a good hitter.

Every hitter has to work on these facets of the swing constantly until the process is "grooved" and consistent.
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Author:Stallings, Jack
Publication:Coach and Athletic Director
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 1, 1999
Previous Article:The 11 Defense.
Next Article:Designing an Interval Training Program.

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