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The two hours before "Play Ball!": Getting ready for the baseball game. (Baseball).

BILL VEECK, THE GREAT baseball entrepreneur, used to say, "You can't get ready for the game just by opening the gates and heating the popcorn."

Or, to be more specific: "You can't get ready for the game by just clapping your hands at the end of the national anthem and yelling, 'Let's go get 'em!'

Pre-game preparation is tremendously important, but we still find coaches refusing to spend enough time on it. Result: Their teams do not always come out "ready to play."

In the Locker Room

Whether the team arrives together or comes in one by one or in small groups, each player should immediately check the bulletin board for the time schedule and his assignment.

The team trainer (or the coach assigned to that responsibility) must immediately set up his equipment and begin providing medical aid, such as taping, wrapping, and bandaging, to those in need of it. The athletes must get their treatment in time to take the field with the rest of the team.

Leaving the Locker Room

The coach must have a definite policy on how to take the field. Some coaches, especially for home games, allow their players to move out to the field as soon as they are dressed -- enabling them to get some extra swings in the batting cage or to take some ground balls from a fungo hitter.

Other coaches prefer to wait until the entire team is dressed and then set the tone for the pre-game practice with a short speech.

Sports psychologists urge caution about such speeches. Most players are already on an emotional high and a pep talk may only make it more difficult to bring them down to the level of intensity at which they are most effective.

Two practices are observed with starting pitchers:

On the youth level, where pitchers also play other positions, the starting pitcher is often allowed to go out on the field with the rest of the team.

On the higher levels, the coach may prefer to have his starter stay in the locker room and think out his approach to the particular opponent.

Coaches should always take into consideration the preferences of the pitcher. The veteran pitcher may elect to stay in the locker room, while the nervous kind of pitcher may choose to go outside and move around.

Whatever the choice, the pitcher must be prepared physically and mentally for his outing.

On the Field

Though some coaches prefer to start practice as a team, others believe in letting the players do things individually Regardless of the method used, at some point the team has to come together and begin preparing for the game in an organized way.

This should begin with a slow jog around the field and then an organized stretching program to prepare the body for the strenuous activity.

Team captains can lead the exercises and make sure that everyone observes the proper sequence. The stretches should not be done fast and violently, but slowly and relaxed. "Jumping jacks" and similar exercises are not nearly as effective as the slow and relaxed stretching of body parts.

A good stretching program will require 15 minutes, with a coach (or a trainer) monitoring the exercises to make sure they are done correctly.

Following the stretching program, the entire team (with perhaps the exception of the starting pitcher) should come together and begin loosening up their throwing arms. They should form two lines spaced well apart, perhaps one along or near a foul line and the other 20-25 feet away

Thus, all the players will be throwing in the same direction so that a bad throw won't endanger anyone.

The players should begin throwing easily, but with proper technique. As they begin loosening up, they should gradually back up and lengthen the distance of the throws, until finally each player is throwing the maximum distance he will need in a game.

For example, a catcher's longest game-throw will usually be from home plate to second base, so he should throw at least that distance in warm-up. An outfielder should warm up sufficiently to reach the plate from his position.

Since these throws are of varying distance, the players should be grouped according to position, such as catchers throwing with catchers and outfielders with outfielders.

All the catching, movement, and throwing (especially by catchers and infielders) have to be done correctly over and over until they become automatic.

The players have to do five things in their warm-up:

1. Move their feet to the ball and get their body square to the ball's line of flight as the catch is made.

2. Try to "grab" a seam as the ball is taken out of the glove, since this will produce a throw with better spin, more velocity and more carry.

3. Make only game-type throws in warm-ups. Never clown around and throw knuckle balls and curves.

4. Always throw at a target. Shortstops who make a lot of throws to first can improve their accuracy (control) by always focusing on it in practice.

Remember that a good arm is not a gift. It has to be developed and the way to develop it is by overloading it in a systematic fashion

Increase the length of time you throw to perhaps five minutes a day for a few days, then increase it to six minutes and then to seven minutes, etc.

Increase the distance you throw in order to stretch the arm - doing it very gradually with consistently good mechanics, and keeping the arc of the throws fairly low rather than high and lazy.

Batting Practice

B.P. can be a great way to get in a lot of work before a game, or it can be a total waste of time if the players begin showing off.

The B.P. must be well-organized to enable everyone to get their work done and stay busy during the allotted time.

Hitters should be given a time schedule for the entire period, with everyone having an assignment. The schedule should be posted in the locker room, in the dugout, and perhaps on the batting cage as well.

A team manager or an assistant coach should monitor the time and announce changes at the proper time.

The assignments and the objectives must be clearly stated on the schedule, such as "one bunt to first base, one bunt to third base, and then six swings." Vital: The bunts must be good bunts that will advance the runner, not half-hearted attempts that will go foul.

For example, a player can be given eight attempts to lay down his two good bunts and then get in his practice swings. If he fouls off three bunts, bunts two straight back to the pitcher, and then finally lays down his two good bunts, that will come to seven attempts in all. Meaning that he now has only one more swing.

The same concept can be applied to situational hitting in the pre-game B.P. Each hitter can be given a certain number of chances to execute any hitting skill desired by the coach, such as a drag bunt, hit and run, hit behind the runner, fake bunt and swing, and normal cuts.

Coaches can also run B.P. by the clock. They can give each hitter a specific length of time - say two minutes - to do all the same things they want done. If it takes him one minute to execute his good bunts, he will have only one minute to take his regular cuts.

There are two basic ways of organizing B.P. The first is by using the batting order for that particular game, with the non-starters hitting first and then followed by the starters (1 to 9 in the batting order).

If time remains at the end of B.P., the starters can be allowed to take some extra swings or have a "basehit round", where each player is allowed to continue hitting as long as he gets base hits -- umpired by the coach. This kind of B.P. is used on all levels of the game from Little League to major league.

The second method of organizing B.P. is by dividing the players into three of four per group, depending on the total number of players involved, and letting each group hit in turn.

The outfielders can be in one group, the middle fielders in another, and the corner infielders and catchers in a third group. This will allow you to have one group work on defensive plays, another group on baserunning, and a third group on shagging and returning balls to the back-up man, while the fourth group is hitting.

The assistant coaches and spare pitchers can fungo balls to infielders and outfielders. Note: Each fungo hitter should keep an eye on the B.P. pitcher to make sure he isn't in the act of delivering a pitch while the hitter is fungoing the ball.

Any good-sized space in foul territory or a practice area can be used by the relief pitchers and non-starting pitchers to work on pickoff moves, fielding bunts, covering first base, and other defensive skills. The pitchers may also use B.P. to do their between starts conditioning drills and/or throwing in the bullpen.

Catchers can use the sidelines to work on blocking pitches in the dirt, taking throws and tagging a runner, and other catching skills that can be done in small areas.

The starting pitcher from the previous game can serve as the back-up man during B.P.

He can take a position behind second base and handle all balls that are relayed to him, dropping them into a ball bag or bucket.

Whenever the ball bag on the mound is empty, the back-up man can exchange his bag of balls with the empty bag on the mound. It is important to place a screen on the mound to protect the back-up man from batted balls.

The entire pre-game program has to be well-organized and closely monitored to make sure that everything is executed properly. With all the normal pre-game duties that the head coach has, much of this pre-game work must be done by the assistant coaches or team managers.

Infield-Outfield Practice

When the other team takes the field for their pre-game practice, your coaches and players should scout the opponents' skills: outfielders' arm strength and accuracy, the infielders' arm strength, range, ability to charge bunts and turn the double play, and the catcher's arm strength and quickness of release in throwing to bases.

The pre-game infield/outfield practice must be completely understood by all the position players, not only to accustom them to the field but to look good to the other team. A well-executed, spirited pre-game practice can send an intimidating message to the other team.

Since the more players that are used in a drill, the greater opportunity there will be for mistakes and the longer the drill will last, many coaches prefer to go with a short and snappy "pre-game" with a limited number of players.

The success of the pre-game drill will probably depend on how well the players are focused, how well they know the routine, and perhaps most important) how skilled the fungo hitter is in placing the ball to the right spot.

Coaches who are not very skilled with the fungo bat should work on the skill. They have to win the players' confidence in their ability to put the ball where the players like it and look good doing it.

The players should be able to make good, routine throws that show off their skills and arm. That can become difficult whenever the ball isn't delivered to them properly.

Exchange of the Line-Up Cards

The coaches and umpires must meet at home plate to exchange lineup cards and go over the ground rules. The coach must take care in filling out the card and remember that the one he gives to the plate umpire becomes the official card.

Coaching point: Don't wait until the last moment to fill out the card. Do it early in the pre-game practice when you are not being rushed. Also have a copy of the ground rules printed up and posted in each dugout and delivered to the umpire in chief.

Many teams are now using the pre-game time for brief rallies. The players will come out of the dugout and circle for: (1) a moment of silence, (2) a short pep talk, (3) a quick spurt of motivating enthusiasm, and (4) a prayer.

This may be done with or without the coaches. Some coaches encourage it. Other do not. Some coaches leave it up to the players.

National Anthem

The appearance of the baseball team during the playing of the national anthem can reflect favorably or unfavorably upon the players and the coaches. Coaches must pay attention to it. They should discuss it with the team captains, all the players, and the coaching staff. And they should have a definite organization.

Some coaches have the starting line-up take the field in their regular positions and stand facing the flag, while the rest of the team stands in the dugout.

Other coaches have the entire team line up in front of the dugout.

Regardless of where they set up, they must stand in a respectful manner, caps held over their hearts, feet together, bodies erect, and heads up (or bowed), with no one wiggling, shifting weight, or talking.

A respectful attitude will accomplish three things: devotion and respect for our country, create a favorable impression, and provide the players with a moment for reflection.

Pre-Game Routine

Outfield (short drill). Fungo ball to left fielder, throw to 2nd base. Fungo ball to center and right fielders, throw to 3rd base. Fungo ball to each outfielder, throw home.

After outfielders complete their throws and infielders move into position, have an assistant coach or a player hit fly balls to the outfielders - from 1st base area to left field and from 3rd base area to center and right fields - with extra pitchers or players being used to relay the ball back to the fungo hitter.

Routine ground ball to each infielder, who throws to 1st baseman, who throws to catcher, who throws to the bag being covered by the infielder, who returns the ball to the catcher.

Ground ball to each infielder's left, who throws to 1st baseman, who throws to catcher.

Ground ball to left of 3rd baseman and SS, and to right of 2nd baseman and 1st baseman. Ball is thrown to 2nd base and then 1st for the double play - with 1st baseman returning ball to catcher.

Ground ball to right of 3rd baseman and SS and to left of 2nd baseman and 1st baseman for the double play, with the ball being returned to the catcher.

Slow bouncing ground ball to each infielder, who throws to 1st baseman who throws to the catcher.

Ground ball to each infielder who throws to the plate.

Pop fly for catcher.

Note: Routine may be shortened or lengthened according to available time. We liked to send a pitcher to the mound after the first fungo and have him cover first base on ground balls to 1st baseman.
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Title Annotation:coaching
Author:Stallings, Jack
Publication:Coach and Athletic Director
Date:Jan 1, 2002
Words:2542
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