Teaching baseball’s most basic – and overlooked – skills

BY CHRIS REWERS
EDITOR

It’s true in baseball – true throughout sports – that the team that makes the least amount of mistakes will win the game.

So the goals of my youth baseball teams’ practices are to identify things we can do better and to figure out things that can go wrong in any particular game. We attempt to strengthen our weaknesses and take steps to prevent things that can go wrong.

Our teams spend roughly one-fifth of our practice time each season playing catch. That’s because the team that catches and throws the ball the best usually comes out on top. The secret to winning at the youth level is simple.We want each of our players to possess the ability to make a strong and accurate throw from any position on the diamond. Make the routine plays and you should come out on top.

Catching and throwing are the most basic – and overlooked – skills in baseball.

They are skills that need to be consistently emphasized.

Proper throwing mechanics improve a thrower’s velocity and accuracy, and diminish the likelihood of elbow or shoulder injuries.

The two coaches who have most influenced me in the development of our teams’ throwing program are Sean McDermott, the associate coach at the Univeristy of Illinois at Chicago, and Dave Rosene, the head varsity coach at Jones College Prep. I have borrowed heavily from both men and acknowledge that their influence has greatly contributed to our success.

Our catching drills are anything but casual. We play catch with a sense of purpose.

Our throwing drills stress efficiency which is the ability to accomplish a job with a minimum expenditure of time and effort. When machines don’t operate efficiently, their output is reduced, they become more expensive, and eventually over time will break down. Therefore the baseball player’s body must always work from rotational movement to linear movement in an efficient rhythm. We are striving to develop balance and coordination of the lower and upper body.

With the goal of achieving efficiency, we practice grip, arm action, and footwork over and over and over again.

The grip

We instruct our players to throw with a proper four-seam grip. Two fingers are placed over the top of the seams with the side of the thumb underneath the middle of the ball on a seam. The proper grip will enable the ball to get from Point A to Point B in a straight manner.

A player should work on perfecting this grip every time he pulls the ball from the glove.The ball should be on the fingertips and not the palm. When taking the ball out of the glove, the throwing hand thumb should be pointed down.

Image result for baseball wrist action drill
Performing the wrist drill.

The wrist drill

When the ball is brought back into the throwing position, the wrist should be cocked back. The culprit of many poorly thrown balls is a stiff wrist.

Players can practice proper wrist action by holding the throwing arm just below the wrist with the glove hand. The throwing arm should bend at the elbow with the forearm remaining vertical. Players will throw the ball with just the wrist and fingers.

Arm motion

Beginning with when the player removes the ball from the glove and ending with the follow through, the throwing arm should move in a circular motion. The size of the arc should be in direct relation to the distance of the throw. An outfielder’s arc will be greater than an infielder’s.

The Complete Pitcher's FREE Baseball Pitching Drills: The Knee Drill
Performing the ready, break, throw drill.

Ready, break, throw drill

This drill is performed on one knee. A player will start in the ready position.

When the coach says, “break,” the player reaches back with the throwing arm – elbow at ear level and fingers on top of the ball. The player’s shoulders, hip, and glove should be pointed directly at the target.

When the coach says, “throw,” the player releases the ball and follows through so that the throwing wrist lands on the opposite hip with the elbow resting on the upright knee.The player’s head remains upright.

Front shoulder

Shoulders should be pointed toward the target. After the ball is caught, the player should turn sideways and point his front shoulder in the direction of the throw.

Lower body

The lower body should be lined up in the same manner as the shoulders – directly at the target. The back foot should be perpendicular to the target and the hips should be closed and pointing in the direction of the target.

Once the ball is removed from the glove, the front leg should lift. The lead foot should land just before the throwing arm is ready to move forward. The landing of the front foot signals the arm to initiate the forward movement. A player should step toward the target with the lead foot., push off the back foot, and obtain throwing power from his entire body.

Once the ball is released, the turning of the hips and the transfer of weight over the front side should pull the rear leg up and around, enabling the player to finish in a squared-off position with both feet lined up perpendicular to the target.

The head

The head must stay in the center of the body throughout the entire throwing motion.

A steady head is essential for balance. In addition, the eyes must remain focused on the target, even after the follow through.

Rotation

The player must throw it across the seams with a “12-6” rotation so that the throw does not tail.

AROUND THE MAJORS

Photo of Danny DuffyThe Kansas City Royals avoided arbitration with Danny Duffy (right) by signing the 27-year-old left-hander to a  a $65 million, five-year contract. Duffy was 12-3 and set career highs in wins, starts and innings pitched with the Royals last year. … MLB. com repoirted that the Blue Jays and Jose Bautista were close to a deal that would keep the free-agent slugger in Toronto. … The Philadelphia Phillies and free-agent outfielder Michael Saunders agreed to a one-year deal worth $9 million. Saunders hit a career-high 24 home runs with the Blue Jays last year.

STATS OF THE DAY

Over the last three seasons, Danny Duffy has pitched 490 innings with a 3.29 ERA and has struck out 7.8 per nine innings – one of just 18 pitchers to reach that threshold over the same period.

The others:

Clayton Kershaw
Max Scherzer
Chris Sale
David Price
Corey Kluber
Jon Lester
Madison Bumgarner
Jake Arrieta
Cole Hamels
Felix Hernandez
Zack Greinke
Stephen Strasburg
Johnny Cueto
Gerrit Cole
Lance Lynn
Masahiro Tanaka
Tyson Ross

 

QUOTE OF THE DAY

“They said this day would never come. I will say to the Cubs, it took you long enough. I only have four days left. You’re just making it under the wire.Even I was not crazy enough to suggest that during these eight years we would see the Cubs win the Worlds Series. But I did say there has never been anything false about hope.”

  • President Obama during a White House ceremony honoring the world champion Cubs

PHOTO OF THE DAY

Image result for obama cubs

Why I coach

BY CHRIS REWERS
EDITOR

I do it because it is the greatest sport in the world and I wish to share my love for it. I do it because I want kids to be active and spend their free time doing something constructive. I do it because I want kids to develop character and learn how to play the game the right way. I do it because I enjoy interacting with kids. I do it because I continually learn things about the game, about psychology, about competition, about myself. I coach baseball, devoting four to six months each year without pay, simply because it is fun.

Some people golf. Some people fish. I coach baseball. What a privilege!

It is an opportunity to teach the value of teamwork and pride, to motivate an often times wide variety of kids to work together for a common good, pay attention to detail, and achieve the best possible results.

I determine the way my teams play the game and how I conduct our practices determines how they play.

It is a responsibility that I take very seriously.

My goals are to provide my players with a positive example, to develop character, and to instill in my players the principles of living decent and productive lives. I want them to learn that any achievement of significance takes hard work and that the self-satisfaction of knowing you did your best is bliss.

The life lessons of baseball are plentiful.

My players and I have learned about handling failure – losing a game, striking out, making an error, walking a batter. We have learned about handling fear – fear of choking in the clutch, fear of making a mistake, fear of being hit by a pitch. We have learned about handling frustration – the frustration of a teammate commiting an error, of a batter hitting one on the button but lining out, of a pitcher making a great pitch and then watching it sail over an outfielder’s head. We have learned about handling embarassment – getting picked off or doubled up, dropping a fly ball. We have learned handling lonleliness – playing in the field and not having aby balls hit to you. We have learned about dealing with slumps. We have learned about adjusting to change – dealing with poor weather and field conditions; with a teammate’s absence or injury. We have learned about controlling our emotions – over our excitement, over our frustration with umpires.

Through these circumstances, we develop qualities like maturity, honesty, loyalty, adaptation, compassion, self-respect, respect for authority, teamwork, sacrifice, humility, and patience.

The relationships I have built with many of my players and families are greatly cherished.

I enjoy learning what makes them tick. I draw a great deal of satisfaction from watching players mature and improve. What a feeling when one of my players exceeds my expectations and what a feeling it is whenever I realize one of my players has exceeded his own expectations!

My son, Will, hasn’t played on all of my teams and he has played for coaches other than me. When he is on my team, it is an added bonus. I try to treat him as fairly as anyone else on the team. But it sure is quality time we get to spend together and I enjoy the fact that we are working together towards a meaningful, common goal.

It’s a heck of a way to spend a summer!

AROUND THE MAJORS

Photo of Rajai DavisThe Oakland Athletics on Tuesday signed outfielder Rajai Davis (pictured right) to a one-year contract. The 36-year-old Davis led the American League with 43 stolen bases last year. He hit .249 and hit a career-high 12 home runs in 134 games with the Cleveland Indians. His two-run, two-out homer off Cubs closer Aroldis Chapman in the bottom of the eighth tied Game 7 of the World Series before the Indians fell in 10 innings. … The Cincinnati Reds signed reliever Drew Storen to a one-year contract. The 29-year-old Storen was 4-3 with a 5.23 ERA in 57 games with Toronto and Seattle last year. … The Arizona Diamondbacks traded outfielder Peter O’Brien to the Kansas City Royals for a minor league pitcher.

PHOTO OF THE DAY

MLB: Los Angeles Angels at Chicago Cubs

Happy birthday, Kris Bryant!