FanPost

Confessions of an old school contact hitter. Part 1


Growing up I was always the youngest, smallest kid in my age group. My mom worked an exception to get me into school a year early because my birthday literally a day after the deadline for eligibility that year. I was always behind everyone else physically. I was always just a little less coordinated and never as strong and fast. Baseball was a salvation for me because I didn't have to be the biggest and strongest and fastest to play.

 Yes my physical lacks limited my opportunity. Everybody wants to win. I started getting playing time because I learned how to bunt. My first little league coach needed somebody who was willing to sacrifice for the team to set an example. I did so gladly because it gave me opportunity to play.

 I became a good enough bunt-er that everyone expected it. It was time to learn my first adjustment. I learned the slug bunt or swinging bunt to hit past the fielder's charging in, and to do it up both base lines. You ask why not swing away? Because I wasn't swinging well enough yet, but was making progress. In a sense I was learning how to hit backwards. I was learning the nuance of where to put the bat on the ball before learning to how to swing properly. I was being forced to move the bat to the ball where ever it was in the strike zone with out really swinging in the classical sense. This helped my hand eye coordination develop faster.

  My father never mentioned my age disadvantage to me. He intuited it more than really saw it. He gradually moved his praise of the players he really admired ( the power pitchers and great outfielder's) to the guys he thought I'd play like. The Eddie Stanky types he called them. He taught me to appreciate the guys who were there for their grit and savvy instead of their out and out physical gifts. He taught me why a manager would reward the guy who fought for every last scrap of the game. He taught me to play with an attitude of "you may beat me. but by god, I'll make you work so hard for it that you'll savor it." 

 As my swinging improved I was always that little bit behind. The kids who threw hardest always had me swinging late. I adjusted. I learned to hit the other way long before my peers. I was hitting a lot of foul balls and in little league they limited the number of foul balls you could hit. I was learning How to spoil pitcher's pitches before I could really take advantage of it. I studied hitting. In some ways Ted Williams was exactly the wrong example because he was a pull hitter. I learned the theory of what he called the push swing from his writing. He also explained he just didn't know how to do it until his bat speed declined and he naturally adjusted to it.

 Stan Musial did things with his stance and his swing that should never be taught. He was also the best contact hitter of his generation. I learned more from his writings in magazine articles than from the Guru's books. I learned the joy of the hard fought Four way battle between the catcher, the pitcher, the batter and the Umpire. How the other three need to sell the ump that they are right. How knowing the catcher's tendencies at pitch selection and framing determines a pitcher's game as much as what pitcher brings to the park that day. I learned how to make the catcher uncomfortable. I learned how to body language the ump. I learned how to do the Baltimore chop to cover the hole in my plate coverage high and inside. I learned to swing inside out and to pull the low and inside stuff and when to do which.

 I dabbled with switch hitting but couldn't do it. I was too left eye dominate to see all I needed from the left side, and it further limited my limited power. From Ted and Stan I learned how to read pitchers. I started to see grips at the release point, and the nuances that meant location. I started reading the spin on the ball.  I started to put all these things together.

Even before my body could really do it I was learning to control almost the whole strike zone. I started hearing about a guy named Charlie Lau and his "crazy" theories about hitting even though he was not a great hitter in his own right. I also started learning from my Dad that most of the best teachers in base ball were never the great players. Most of the great players had the gifts from god that allowed them to excel above others. The great teachers had to learn to play the game smart to earn their way past those with god's gifts.

  NONE of it came easy. I had to work at it. As I grew bigger and stronger the pitchers really started pounding the outside half of the strike zone as they really started to learn command by pony league standards. I was starting to see my first real breaking balls in sanctioned play. I had played older kids out of my class on the sand lot, i had seen them work on their forbidden curves and sliders. Breaking pitches slowed the game down for me while most hitters my age were finding it speeding up. The things I learned from Ted and Stan and now many others really started to jell. 

   Other than hand eye coordination; I distilled this mental approach. If you can't see the ball you can't hit. If you don't have a plan to defeat the pitcher's secondary pitches you will be dominated. Make the bastard pitch to you. If they start grooving that first strike fast ball to get ahead of you then hit it. Otherwise see what they have in mind for you. Take some practice swings uncomfortably close to the catcher. Make him annoyed and worried. It gets him off his game. It makes it less easy to frame his pitches if he thinks he might get hit.  Try to force him back against the Ump.

  Quite your mind but not your body at the plate. Don't lock your self up. Stay fluid and loose. If you are white knuckling the bat you won't be able to adjust.  Spoil his pitches till he makes a mistake. The brush back is not personal; it's business.  If he walks you make him think you just let him get away with some thing.

 Use what the pitcher gives you. He doesn't want to give up home runs. So take that double instead. He wants you to roll over meekly then hit the other way. If he wants you to put on the ground that's okay. just put it on the ground at the same depth as the fielder out of his reach. If you have the skill, loft it past them. A base hit means he didn't beat you and hitting into an out means you made them execute. Force their errors; not your own. 

  Make him earn that strike out. If you make him throw more than seven pitches he's in overtime to you.  Act with disdain toward his best stuff. You've always seen better even when you haven't. Make him think "what do I have to do to get this guy?" Don't get personal; get confident. Have fun with it too. After all; the object is to PLAY ball!

Eat. Drink. Be Merry. But the above FanPost does not necessarily reflect the attitudes, opinions, or views of Purple Row's staff (unless, of course, it's written by the staff [and even then, it still might not]).

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