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In this episode of Something definitely, certainly, positively, unquestionably, undeniably, without a doubt, surely, clearly Worth CatchingJack Perconte and Sam Zagorac discuss some fun topics from the major and little league levels.
As a bonus, the long-time youth baseball coaches,  former major leaguer Jack Perconte and Sam Zagorac, the owner of the Diamond Edge Academy discuss the World Baseball Classic played this last March and how a coach from their past influenced them in their lives.
For coaches and parents who want to get an edge for their child, Something Worth Catching is absolutely that.
Jack Perconte has dedicated his post-major league baseball career to helping youth. He has taught baseball and softball for the past 27 years. His playing, coaching and parenting stories create better experiences for athletes and parents. Jack has written over a thousand articles on coaching baseball and youth sports. Jack is the author of “The Making of a Hitter” now $5 and “Raising an Athlete.” His third book “Creating a Season to Remember”  is now available. Jack is a featured writer for Baseball the Magazine. You can also find Jack Perconte on YouTube with over 80 fun and innovative baseball instructional videos. 

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Big and Little League Banter

Our goal here is to help parents and young ballplayers improve their games. I’m with my partner, Sam Zagorac. We’re very much interested in getting your questions and. We look forward to any questions you might have to help improve your coaching or your sons or daughters’ ball games. Sam, it’s great to have you again.
Looking forward to show and what we have on the tab.
First, I want to ask you if you’ve been able to watch any of the World Baseball Classic and your thoughts about it?
I have. It’s been a great baseball to watch. Emotionally, everyone is extremely bought in the intensity from the first pitch to last pitch. I’ve got a chance to watch the USA win the semi-finals against Japan.
At this time of the year, early spring training is a great time because it puts a lot more interest into baseball. Whereas, the early games of spring training are boring and now we really get some excitement early and get the interest on baseball. I think it’s been great too. Like you say, the players have really bought into it and it seems like America’s side much more than in the past this year or so.
This is the first time we’ve made it to the finals, which is somewhat amazing actually. It’s good to see that some of the stars have come out and played. There’s certainly a level of intensity and emotion that you don’t see typically in March baseball in Arizona or Florida.
As always, we have a number of questions. Sam and I do not know who’s going to receive which question and after we get the question, we’ll debate it a little bit and move on from there. Sam, I’ll let you go first.
Question number one: Which Major League players playing today do you feel would be a great manager someday?
I guess, you first would look at the catchers. They seem to provide the players that really know the game the most. Just looking at catchers off the top of my head, I would go with someone like maybe Buster Posey who seems to be a great leader also along with knowing the game so well. A lot of your stars today may not want to manage when they get out because it’s not always a fun job but I would think someone like Buster would be a great manager. The Cubs have a guy there, Miguel Montero, their catcher. He seems like a leadership type that the players respect and look up to. From the Latin side, he would really be probably a good manager someday.
I’m going to go with Yadier Molina. He’s been around the game for a long time. He’s won championships. The guys buy into his leadership style and obviously, being bilingual that helps with the amount of Latin players that we have in the game. He would be my number one. I think Molina would be the natural fit into that. Obviously catchers for Tennessee have their heads up in taking the manager positions but I definitely would see Molina falling into that.
He’s a great leader and you can see how well he’s respected. I was really happy to see Dave Roberts have a lot of success his first year and last year. For the rest of us, I was real happy to see a non-catcher have some success and seem to really know the game and gain the respect of his players. That was nice to see.
Having some talent with an unlimited budget helps as well.
Here we go with question number two. If you have to win one game to clinch the World Series and can have any pitcher in the history of the game, who is that guy?
Nolan Ryan would be one, Sandy Koufax, Roger Clemens. If I had to choose one, I had to tab one to pitch out there at game seven, I think I’d have to go with Sandy Koufax.
That was my choice. I was thinking of him back when I was a youth. Every time he pitched, it was just such an event. He was so dominating from everything. I’ve read about his World Series history is obviously pretty awesome. He pitched some unbelievable games, which was a testament to how great he was. I got to know him a little bit when I was at the Dodger Organization. Just knowing the type of person he was too. I love to see Sandy on the heel. Another guy that comes to mind would be Jack Morris with his history; maybe not considered as great as Sandy but his history in the World Series is pretty dominant.
The Koufax decision for me comes too from talking with Billy Williams. I’ve been lucky enough to work with Billy’s grandson, Will. We have a talk about pitchers that he faced and he would always say, “Koufax.” He said, “Trying to hit off of him was trying to hit boulders that were rolling downhill. Even when you squared it up, he can square it up and such a heavy ball.” I am going with Billy’s choice too.
I remember as a kid, I listen to the ballgames late at night from the West Coast. Sandy Koufax would pitch against the Cubs and it was quite a memory to have.
This is a great question because I think everyone who has had some success in this game always have someone to lean back on. How did a coach from your past influence you?
There were so many. I was fortunate in high school to have the great Gordie Gillespie as a mentor in a sense. I never really played for him but I worked with him at Joliet Catholic High School. Gordie was a great influence on my life in a number of ways. I think in college too I had another great coach by the name of Johnny Reagan. There’s one story about Coach Reagan that always stood out and it really made a point for me. He had a way with freshmen especially. If we missed a groundball, I remember him walk out with a fungo bat all the way out to me and he’d say, “Jackson, why’d you miss that ball?” I’d say, “Coach, it took a bad hop.” He goes, “Yes, it did but we can go in any dorm on campus and find someone that can catch the good hops.” He just turned around and walked all the way back to hit more fungos. He really made the point. I understood that he expected more than just being average out there. It really inspired me to work harder, to not just catch the good hops.

SWC 009 | Big and Little League Banter

Big and Little League Banter: If you saw him work hard as a coach, then you want to work hard as a player.

I feel the same way. I had a coach when I was young, the father of John Mallee, the hitting coach of the Cubs, they called him Zim because he looked like Don Zimmer and talk like Don Zimmer and he really instilled the word ethic of commitment. He was emotionally attached to us. There was never a day off with him. If you saw him work hard as a coach, then you want to work hard as a player. Our hitting coach in college holds a special place my heart. He was influential both on and off the field. There’s always a coach that you always feel attached to, and those are two that left a major mark with me.
You make a great point, Sam, that the coaches you’re attached to and you really care about, you have a way of giving that little extra for them. You don’t want to ever let them down either. I think that’s a great message for young coaches is the more you show you care about players on and off the field, that they will give that little extra. Even though I always felt like I played hard for everybody, those guys you care about the most, you’re going to give everything you have. What do you think we will see more of in the future: the knuckleball pitcher or the ambidextrous pitcher?
I think the ambidextrous. I know that there is an academy down in Florida trying to start the Knuckleball Academy and I don’t think that went very well. We’re starting to see more kids trying to throw with both hands. I think that would probably be the next one. I think we’ll definitely see more of that than the knuckleball guy. It’s funny because the game on the bump has become so much about velocity. I think that’s weeding out the knuckleball guy. Even though that would make him even more of a difference maker potentially, but I do think the guys throwing from both sides is the next one coming.
When I think of how I can throw my opposite hand, how weak it is, it’s just amazing to me that anybody can do that. I think with the knuckleball I just heard, it’s just so hard to control and to throw. Over the years, so many have tried and just cannot master it enough to pitch at that level. It will be an interesting chance to see the Venditte boy pitch live once and it was just amazing to see him be able to switch arms and throw both hands. I think there are parents out there that are going to push their kids to do both.
Throw both hands with velocity, with accuracy, with movement, all of those things tied together, it’s different.
It would be interesting to see in the future how that all pans out.
This is a great question and I think it’s one that’s asked quite often. What can be done to bring kids back to baseball or at least keep them in?
There’s a couple of things, I’d like to see the game watched more and they can only be watched more if it’s on the times where kids could watch it more. There are so many games that seem to start so late. It cuts into their bedtimes with school and things through some of the year so just being able to watch the game. When we grew up, it was watching or listening on the radio and you really got hooked on the game in that way and the kids just don’t do that too much anymore. I think we have to make it more fun for kids because it’s such a hard game to excel at and we have to make it more fun and more productive for kids at a young age One way to do that is to get more ex-players like myself out there back in the game so they can pass on their knowledge. Especially coaches like yourself too that know how to make things fun and also challenging. Sometimes the other sports challenge kids more and baseball doesn’t maybe enough to where they want to stay involved with it. Just getting better coaches at a younger age definitely make a big difference.
I think it’s twofold. I like the direction of travel baseball in terms of allowing kids to compete against similar kids and I think that’s important. I think the losing at the House Leagues and the Little Leagues and we’re having a day where you’re sitting in class all day next to a kid that you’re going to play against at 5:30.The bragging rights and the rattling the cage a little, a little bit of talking, I think that kept a lot of kids involved. I do agree with games on TV. I’m not that old, I’m mid-40s and coming home after school and turning on WGN and watching a Cubs game was always on. Having kids watch or at least be able to get to the ballpark is important too. You start weeding some people out because financially it’s $400 or $500 trip to the ballpark to watch a game when you talk about tickets, parking, food, you buy a souvenir or you get dessert. That’s becoming an issue as well. In Chicago I think with the Cubs winning, the players on their roster make it a little more enjoying to watch. They got some carefree guys and they try and make the game fun as well, spectator standpoint. I think it’s a little bit of everything that we talked about. It’s trying to get the kids involved and hooked and the success is the most important thing. The game is cruel and it sets up for failure. It’s trying to get them to understand that.
[Tweet “Success is the most important thing. The game is cruel and it sets up for failure.”]
I know the Major League baseball has invested in the RBI Program for the inner cities and that’s a great start. We really need to get people maybe that do not have much financially, get them more involved in the game too by making things affordable. Businesses may have to step up or something to help the inner city kids and afford the equipment to play the game. When you think of bats these days costing $300 to $400, that’s going to weed out so many kids right away. They can’t afford a glove and things like. There’s so much more we can do and hopefully with Major League Baseball’s league those things will start to happen and we can get the better athletes back involved in baseball. Like you say, then we have kids going to school that are looking forward to playing against each other at night and things like that. We have two more questions here. What do you suggest when parents say their child has no power when hitting the ball?
I think age has something to do with that. We’re going to get back to getting kids back into the game and understanding and have some fun while they’re young. Hitting should be the fun part of the game. At the younger ages, let’s just put the ball play. Let’s hit it where it goes and run and let’s have some fun. As you get a little bit older, power comes from your legs, it comes from your core. Are you staying in the ground? Are you in sequence? A lot of those things come into play. Then as you get into your teenage years into high school, baseball is a strength game. The athletes that are playing the game now are physically and functionally strong. You’ve got guys who are throwing harder now than they ever have at younger ages. You’ve got to be able to fight that and be quick enough with that, but again it’s being unsure, are you using the lower half or you’re turning through the ball? Some basic stuff like that. If you’re not physically strong, it’s really difficult to do much of anything.
Power to me is different for every player because there are strength factors involved. I think when parents say, it’s usually a matter of squaring up balls and without the proper fundamentals, kids aren’t going to square the balls up. No one is going to have power no matter how physically strong you are if you can square balls up. That gets back to the fundamentals. Usually, when I see kids improve their fundamentals, they square more balls up and that ultimately is going to result in more power just because they hit the ball and they’re batting more often. I think getting the players fundamentally correct will solve a lot of problems for parents. I always tell them that power to me is the ability to hit a groundball through the infield that can get through and not cut off in a sense. From there, they can learn to lift the balls and they can hit the ball even further. If you can’t hit a ball through the infield hard enough to square it up in that manner, then they definitely need to get better fundamentals. When their strength shows up a little later in life, then with the right fundamentals they’re going to show the power that they’re capable of having.
Here’s the last one and this is a good one too because it comes up often in the summer especially dealing with the age of my own kids. At what age players do you think coaches should be allowed to intentionally walk?
I want to ask you that because you’re involved in it every day. My first thought is that it shouldn’t really be allowed until high school. I know there are some high level games being played at younger ages and they want to make it real baseball. I could see where in big tournaments at the age of thirteen and fourteen maybe they could have the intentional walk. I would guess offhand because you want to keep things fair and have good sportsmanship, I would say the high school levels is the first place that intentional walk should be allowed. I’m anxious to hear your answer on this.
I agree with you. I don’t think that any game is too important that you don’t let a nine or a ten or an eleven-year old kid hit. It gets back to the same thing that we’ve talked about with tournaments and some organizations playing tournaments every weekend. There are some organizations now as we talk with ten, eleven and twelve-year-olds who have already played twelve games. I think that also influences kids to back off the game. Let the kids play the game. Teach them the fundamentals, teach them how to win, teach them how to compete, teach them how to understand a loss. I’ve never been one to accept a loss but learn how to lose and learn from those experiences. I think the important part again is the fundamental part. You get some of these organizations is they play to win and win and win. You’ve got a twelve-year-old kid who’s played seventeen games or fifteen games and he’s pitched two innings in every one of those games and all of a sudden he’s already well over 300 pitches so far. There are a lot of things I think that are good but also bad about the game.

SWC 009 | Big and Little League Banter

Big and Little League Banter: Let the kids play the game. Teach them the fundamentals, teach them how to win, teach them how to compete, teach them how to understand a loss.

Sam, have you seen intentional walk at the young age. Is it allowed or would that be allowed at that level?
It is allowed. I have seen it. I personally have never done it. I don’t like it. I don’t understand it. If a nine-year-old kid is going to square up the ball and beat us, then so be it. I think it’s good experience for both the pitcher and the hitter depending on whatever side you’re on to be able to compete. “I’m going to beat him today.” I think that’s an important experience to go through.
Before we move on here Sam, I guess that’s a natural lead into your thoughts about the four-pitch intentional walk in the Major League level now just being four fingers instead of four pitch. What are your views on that?
I don’t like it and ironically, the preliminaries, I think it was the Dominican Republic, they were walking a guy in the first pitch, almost flew over the catcher’s, he knocked it down with his glove. Anything could happen. There’s so many different ways they can choose to speed up the game. That’s not one of them.
I guess it’s just window dressing and maybe they’re just saying, “We’re working on this,” but that doesn’t seem like the right way.
Cut off a couple of commercials.
There are a lot of ways they could do it besides that. Sam, it’s been pleasure once again. Sam Zagorac is the owner and head instructor here at the Diamond Edge Academy in Willowbrook. Sam, how are things going and what are you looking forward for the rest of the year?
Things are going well. We had a great winter. A lot of kids are coming in and a lot of organizations and teams. Our main goal here is instruction-base. We have cages for rent. Parents can come in and work with their kids. Again, our main focus here is instruction and skill-based development. We’ve expanded into the sports performance side. We’ve got partnered up with physical therapy and we’re expanding into the hockey area now with hockey biomechanics coming in. Eventually, it’s going to be a one stop shop for everything that a student athlete would need.
For you in the area that haven’t been here yet, you should really take a trip out here. It’s a beautiful facility. There are so many great coaches that are working out of here. If you have a chance to get out here, drop in some time. I just want to let you know about my book for coaches called Creating a Season To Remember. Once again, we are looking forward to your questions. Sam, how can they reach at the academy?
Students can visit our website at www.DiamondEdgeAcademy.com. The phone number here 630-601-7171. We are located in Willowbrook just off of I-55 in Route 83; very convenient, easy to get to. We look forward to helping you.
I would like to invite you over to my www.BaseballCoachingTips.net. Tons of good information there for coaches and ballplayers and videos and all kinds of fun stuff for baseball, I’d like to invite you there and there’s a contact button down below if you have some questions. As always we have a story here at the end for your kids; an inspirational or a funny story. Stay tuned and we look forward to seeing you again sometime. Thanks, Sam.
Thanks, Jack.
[Tweet “One’s attitude and smile will open up a lot more doors in life than one’s talent.”]
Welcome back to our story for our ninth podcast of Something Worth Catching. As always, it’s really nice when people talk about our podcast, discuss the things we talked about and you tell your friends and teams about the podcast. Our story has a great message for your team and your kids. When I was in Triple-A baseball, the Big League Club was looking to call up one of our players to fill a roster spot in the Major League team. They sent a scout down to watch a couple of players in particular. One player struggled the whole time the scout was there whereas the other player just tore the cover off the ball. The scout left and a little time later, the Big League Club called up one of the players. To our astonishment, they called up the player who struggled the whole week. After a period of time, our manager in Triple-A talked to a few of us and he mentioned how much the scout love the player who struggled all week, how he had a great attitude. He kept hustling. He was a great teammate. He played defense really well and he was not hitting. The point to the story is that more often than not, one’s attitude and smile will open up a lot more doors in life than one’s talent. Best of luck and we’ll see you next time.

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