PITCHERS – SPATIAL AWARENESS
For all of you who throw the pill, chuck the apple, or fling cowhide into the plate, add this to your pregame mindset:
When you come into an opponent’s park, be aware of your surroundings - and more. There seems to be an endless amount of distractions when we go between the lines.
There’s the hitter, the catcher, the umpire, the backstop. There are people in the stands, people moving in the stands, and shouts of disrespect coming out of the mouths of opposing fans. And there’s the smell of popcorn and hot dogs, and the taste of the water that’s in the cooler.
You need to approach the mound with a sense of confidence, as well as calmness; you can be in control, with no surprises.
That’s where spatial awareness comes in.
A Mental Edge The professional pitcher knows that before a game starts, he must get accustomed to the ballpark: the dugout, the bullpen, and above all, the mound. You really need that edge when you go out to toe the rubber.
The location of the backstop can also be a big deal, because so many pitchers don’t check out the mound before the game. Then they wonder why it’s hard for them to get the ball down in the strike zone, or show any consistency in their first two innings of work (if they make it that far).
First-inning jitters can make or break a pitcher, and can definitely change the course of a game. The game can be lost in the first inning – hell, it can be lost on the first pitch.
The eyes play a major role in how the pitcher compensates for the distance from the plate to the backstop. Please DO NOT go out there cold-turkey in that first inning!
If the backstop is close to the plate, the pitcher may feel that the plate is closer than normal. I’ve seen where a pitcher felt frisky warming up because he liked how loudly the catcher’s mitt popped when the stands were close by.
All of a sudden he likes his fastball, so he ends up overthrowing the pitch. Then location is suddenly a grave concern, because of the sharply-hit single and the two walks that followed.
When the backstop is farther back, it sometimes causes a problem with the pitcher’s mindset and psyche. After elevating his first pitch there is a chance he may overthrow again; his eyes think the plate is farther away than what he’s accustomed to - the background just does not register as the norm. Making an adjustment to focus on the plate, the hitter, the task at hand is critical.
Yes, that first inning is critical. Do your homework early, then you can continue to play, son.
Pitchers have to adapt quickly and realize that it’s 60’6” from the front edge of the rubber to the back point of home plate - always. Home plate is 17 inches across - always - and is stuck in the ground; it will not move. The pitching rubber is 6” deep and 24” across – always.
Check Out the Mound – Make this Mandatory! All mounds are not alike. Some are higher than others, some are lower. The grade (slope) will almost always be different from mound to mound. Some mounds will have a “hump” from the pitching rubber to just about where the pitcher puts his front foot down (bad grounds crew). A pitcher might change his stride to avoid the rise, or extend farther to get over it. It’s not fun, and it’s confusing. It’s a glitch.
The texture of the dirt is hardly ever the same composite. All professional mounds have clay and some have a mix of clay, sand, and other compounds. When I was growing up we had field dirt with some pebbles or rocks mixed in. Landing on these new-fangled high end mounds was a luxury.
A wet mound is pure hell to pitch on. That’s when you, the pitcher, need to speak up. You’re allowed to have the grounds crew fix the mound so it’s safe for you to toe the rubber.
You will have to challenge yourself to deal with your emotions under these adverse conditions for a couple of hours or so. Your opponent has the same issues; be better than him at overcoming adversity.
Mind Games When I was a closer – the last pitcher to take the mound in a hopefully winning game - I pitched better on the road. I liked to silence people. A few times it was hard to adjust to unfamiliar surroundings, and I had to feel my way along quickly. And get a load of this: being able to overcome a poor environment can make you an asset to the team.
When I went to the mound to close a game, I always tried to tell myself that I had another inning to pitch after the one I went out there for. Having that mind-set helped me to operate with some needed control. Oh, I’ve got another inning to throw – whadda ya mean the game’s over?
Baseball is very much a kinesthetic-awareness sport – very much touch/feel. Basically, the guy who relaxes, well, there’s a strong possibility that he’s going to be successful. He might even see his name in the win or save column.
Recall is important. Where did I pitch well? I was one of the first baseball players to use visualization between the lines. In my mind, I went to that “happy place,” just like Happy Gilmore. Having “good shit” (good stuff on your pitches) is fine, but you might want to locate the pitch close to where the mitt is setting – your target. Believe me, you will not locate all of your pitches, but most of the hitters sure believe that last ‘put away’ pitch – the one that got him out - was by design, not luck.
Hitters are like great white sharks: total eating machines. Now replace “eating” with “thinking.” He who thinks long thinks wrong (ala Jim Kaat). Laugh off that mistake pitch; the hitter just got himself out, and you’re back in the dugout.
Rehearsal is important. Making an exercise or drill progressively harder, with attention to detail, is paramount.
Breathing is a big deal. As you start your delivery – a full windup or an abbreviated one - inhale though your nose when your hands come up; exhale through your mouth when you move forward, then release the remainder of the oxygen upon release out over the front side. There should be 15-20 percent air volume in your diaphragm when you start to release the ball.
The hitter has a similar breathing routine, but he has to “time” the pitcher’s delivery: Inhale when the delivery starts, then exhale when the pitcher’s arm reaches the top. When the bat makes contact with the ball, the hitter should also have 15-20 percent air volume in the diaphragm. Go ahead and blow that bat contact out for a line drive. There are variables with the pitcher/hitter battle; remember the scoreboard tells us how to pitch and play a ballgame.
To a pitcher, location is top priority; movement falls in second. The backside arm path and getting the arm up to the optimal firing point is critical. Velocity should be dead last on your priorities list.
I’ve had people ask me why the pitchers I coached ended up throwing somewhat hard: why do they have velocity? Maybe the biggest reason is: I don’t talk about throwing hard. Rhythm, leverage, and making the body work as one unit – not a collection of pieces - is a plan that works to make pitchers effective.
My goal with pitchers was to calm their minds and get their minds and bodies into sync.
Remember the three Cs: Calm, Cool, and Collected.
Both teams play under the same rules, on the same field. The home team has a slight advantage, but if you prepare yourself, the visiting team can play on even ground, or better.
Go ahead and mix in a strike, or better yet, mix in an out.
You might as well have some fun out there. Why not?
GETTING A LAY OF THE LAND
I like to say my piece, and I just gave some sound advice to pitchers. But you don’t have to be an athlete to enhance your performance level in the daily trials of the business world.
Uncharted Territory Imagine that you just flew in from Fort Wayne, Indiana, and you have a 9am presentation in Wichita, Kansas in a room that you’ve never seen before.
Your throat is dry as you walk through the door. Thank goodness you spot the water fountain. You make a beeline for that needed quenching sip that will make all bad things go away, but the water tastes like shit. You want to spit it out, but Ms. Cessna, the receptionist, is waiting for you to check in.
“Yes, I’m Darth Vader with Harry Caray, Inc. I have a nine o’clock presentation.”
“Well, you are certainly the early bird, Mr. Vader! It’s 8am (goofy, high-pitched giggle). Early bird catches the worm, eh? Take a seat while I check with Enola Gay; she’ll know what to do. You did say 9am?”
You take a seat and think: what planet is she from?
Three minutes later, Ms. Cessna introduces you to Enola Gay, who explains that the VP of sales is running late and asks if we could start the meeting at 9:15.
“No problem, I understand; that would be fine. By the way, if it wouldn’t be too much trouble, could I take a look into the conference room where we’ll be meeting? It’ll only take a couple minutes.”
“Why, of course! Ms. Cessna will be more than glad to show you the room. Ms. Cessna, I believe that meeting is in the Scud Room.”
“Yes, ma’am! Follow me, Mr. Vader.”
When you step into the room, the linoleum floor is noisy to walk on; the low ceiling has claustrophobia written all over it; there are no windows, air, or sun.
You’ve taken it all in, and you think: yep, without a doubt, a worst-case scenario. But now you’ve seen what you’re up against – you have a lay of the land, and you can adjust, just like the pitcher who comes into a new ballpark.
Let’s go digest all this and set the stage for a win-win situation. Send in the clowns. We got this. It’s Showtime!