Take a ride with former big leaguer Jack Perconte and Sam Zagorac, owner of Diamond Edge Academy, Willowbrook as they talk baseball in their first ever podcast taped in the spring of 2016. Jack and Sam have over 45 years of coaching experienced combined and give coaches, parents, and players advice so that each help players reach their potential. They tackle many of the issues that are common in today’s youth and high school game, along with discussing the major league game too.
Listen to the podcast here:
Baseball Coaching Tips | Something Worth Catching Podcast EP1
Our main goal is to answer any baseball or softball questions, especially the how-to-play-the-game questions. We want to help your sons’ and daughters’ game and figure out why they are not performing up to their capabilities. We would love to hear your questions about anything baseball or softball. No question is out of play, too basic, or too hard for us. The presenters have over 45 years of baseball coaching experience.
We want to introduce our show’s host. I am Jack Perconte. I played Major League Baseball for seven years and professional baseball for twelve. I played for the Dodgers, Indians, Mariners, and White Sox. I have taught baseball and softball for the past 27 years. I will tell you of my three claims to fame in the Major League. One, I struck out against Hall of Fame pitcher, Nolan Ryan, on the day he threw his fifth no-hitter against my Los Angeles Dodgers. Second, I caught the last ball, another Hall of Famer ever hit in a Major League, a man who once won the American League Triple Crown, Carl Yastrzemski. Three, I belted two Little League home runs on buns against the same pitcher, Jack Morris, a guy that should be in the Hall of Fame, in my estimation. I will let my double play partner introduce himself and let you know about the awesome endeavor he has undertaken, a place we are broadcasting from today.
My name is Sam Zagorac. We are broadcasting from Diamond Edge Academy, an academy that we opened up in Willowbrook, Illinois, something that we’ve spent a lot of time on. The facility is up and running. A little bit about myself, entering my 21st year of coaching. I’ve had the ability and the privilege to coach at both the amateur and the professional sides, being able to work with players at the Major League level as far down as the players who are just starting with the tee-ball. You can visit us on the website www.DiamondEdgeAcademy.com. It is a state of the art facility that we feel is going to be an umbrella that’s going to carry a one-stop-shop tag. We’ve got sixteen cages and two infield areas. The facility itself is about 59,000 square feet. There’s sports performance speed and agility facility within us that’s 14,000 square feet. We have some of the best physical therapists, chiropractic health, and sports trainers in the area. We also are adding an academic center along with a sports division, narrow sports room, and academy as well.
It feels like opening day to me. A few nerves but mostly excitement. I want to invite people to stay to the very end as each podcast will include a funny or inspirational or maybe a true, or at least the way we remember it, story to pass on to your teams. We also want to hear any questions that people may have. The whole goal is to help people out there to help your sons and daughters. You can email Jack by using my coaching website, www.BaseballCoachingTips.net, or you can reach Sam at Sam@DiamondEdgeAcademy.com.
We’re going to alternate asking each other questions. When I ask Sam a question, he’ll answer first, and then I’ll put my two cents in and we’ll see where it goes from there. My son doesn’t play the position he wants or the position I think he should play. What do we do?
That question can be answered it several different ways. Age is a factor as well as one’s ability. In baseball, the number one goal is to get your son or daughter on the field and the privilege of playing and being in a lineup, whether that is playing shortstop or right field or left field. Trying to get your son or daughter playing at a position that they are comfortable at is the most important thing. I don’t believe in putting a daughter or son or a player in a position to fail. If your son or daughter has a weaker arm, it’s hard for them to play third base. They may fit more in the second base. If they decide they want to play third base, then it falls on their accountability and desire to get better arm strength, “What do I need to do to get better to play in a certain position?” Part of that falls into the ownership of the parent of not pushing their son or daughter to play a position that they may not be fit right to do.
The position they play now may not be the position they play next year or even in the future, so it is so valuable to learn different positions out on the field. One of the best things that’s happened for baseball is watching someone like Joe Maddon of the Chicago Cubs work where he’s willing to move players around from position to position in games and even from game to game. It’s helped coaches to be able to say, “Look at Kris Bryant. He’s playing center field. He’s playing third base. He’s playing left field.” That helps the young coaches to be able to move players around without everybody being upset that he’s not playing his favorite position or the one he’s best at.
The other thing that’s important is if a kid is set on playing a position because he may not be playing it for his team, he should be practicing that on his own because things change. That should give them incentive to go out and improve at that position. I hope coaches, from time to time, will give players an opportunity, not set things in stone from the beginning of the season where they will give kids a chance later on to maybe get at a position that they like to play. Those are other factors that are important.
Our responsibility is trying to get that son or daughter, that player, to play at the high school level. The easiest way to do that is having a player being able to play multiple positions. Getting back to the Joe Maddon analogy, it is perfect. At the high school level, everyone thinks they can play shortstop. There’re seven other positions defensively that needs to be played outside of the pitcher. Being able to play multiple positions and learning how to play and the willingness are going to get them to a higher level of play.
Coaches, they have to consider the whole team. They cannot say, “This kid’s the best here.” That doesn’t help the team. They have other players to consider and positions to consider and they do what’s best for their team a lot, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s best for each player or for the parents’ desires. Parents have to understand that coaches are thinking of the big picture, not of each individual player.
What is the best advice you can give to a youngster that wants to play high school baseball or softball?
There’s an easy answer and that’s the ‘work hard and play hard’. Play as much as they can. That would be the easy answer.GGet as much versatility as possible. When you get to high school, you may have been shortstop your whole career, and you get there and there’re three other shortstops that are as good. The more positions you can play and that you can tell the coach that you’re willing to play, the better chance you’re going to have. The other thing I would say is to field and throw as much as you hit. Everybody and parents often think it’s all about hitting the baseball. Once they get to high school, they’ll realize there’re a ton of kids that can swing the bat. Unless you can play a position and throw that ball across an infield, which is Major League dimensions, you are going to be sitting on the bench or not even make the team. Throwing and fielding are as important as developing the hitting aspect.
[Tweet “Being coachable and respecting the game are important. “]
What’s being lost in the game is the desire for skill development. Everybody wants to play games and you get some of these travel organizations that want the best for their kids, but I’m not quite sure if being on the field every day to play games is the right way to do it. The guys who work at their skill, taking ground ball to ground ball, and focusing on skill development are the ones that develop the best because of quality repetition. Another part of that is being able to be coachable. Being coachable and respecting the game are important as well. From the coaching standpoint, if you have two kids who are very similar in talent or maybe one is slightly better than the other, if he’s not a good person, he’s not a good kid, he’s not respectful, he’s not coachable, and he has issues in the classroom, the likelihood of him being selected to play decreases significantly.
I know kids in the past that have gotten cut from their high school team tryouts because they refuse to or didn’t pick up baseballs when everybody else was. If two players are of equal talent, the coach is going to go with a kid that looks more coachable and looks like a team player, so that’s important. It’s a different age. How important is it for kids to be playing Travel Baseball and Softball going into high school? I know there was a time when maybe it wasn’t as important. What do you feel?
The game itself has grown. There’re better players at the high school level than there ever have been. That is a result of the travel ball, especially the higher level of travel ball. On the flip side, there’s been such an emphasis on playing games and showcases. You’re getting some kids that are falling into the injury bug early because of that, but it gets back to the skill development. It gets back to working hard in the cage and working with whoever you may be, whether it’s a coach or an instructor, a friend, a dad, a parent. The repetition is something that is there that can’t be replaced. I’m an advocate of travel ball as long as the game schedule isn’t a 160 over the course of four months and playing all these tournaments. It’s an important piece, but that the good athletes find a way to do it with playing multiple sports.
The recreational leagues do not have the talent to challenge kids because there’re so many travel teams. Even the average players are playing travel. With the recreational leagues, it doesn’t leave enough competition. It’s a shame it’s come to that, but it probably has at this stage.
It has gotten to that because in the rec leagues, growing up, you didn’t have an outlet for Jimmy’s dad to take him off the team and he’ll put them somewhere because he’s not playing shortstop. The surplus of travel teams has fallen into that where you have a couple of parents who are upset because their sons aren’t playing shortstop. That has watered down the travel ball and it’s good and bad. The experience of the kids getting out and playing in other areas and playing is good, but sometimes you have to step back at what cost is that being done.
Starting a team, who are the two Major League ballplayers you want on your team?
We start with positional players. Number one would be Mike Trout. He has all the tools. He works extremely hard. He respects the game, he plays the game extremely hard, and he’s a player that can play all three positions. He can bat leadoff, he can bat third, he steals bases, he can hit for power, and hit for average. He would certainly be the number one that I would start with. The second one, there’re a lot of other players out there that you can grab and start a team around, but the next one would be Carlos Correa from the Houston Astros. He’s an infield, he’s a shortstop, and he’s not that pro typical, 5 foot 11, 200-pound shortstop. He’s tall. He’s well over six foot, but again he runs well. He plays well defensively. He will be multi-Gold Glove winner. He hits for average, he hits for power, and plays the game extremely well. Plays his heart in the right way. Those are my two guys off the top of my head. In the heat of the moment, those would be the two guys that I would start my team with.
Those were the two that came to mind with me. If Buster Posey was a little younger, I like the catching leadership position to be really strong on my team and Buster would come to mind. A guy like Kris Bryant, he’s in the mold of the guys you mentioned. He comes to play even from his rookie year and even with all the hype and everything. That guy would leg out hits and hustle and he plays multiple positions. Those two guys also, but I would agree that Carlos Correa and Mike Trout are the cornerstones. It is interesting that we didn’t mention Bryce Harper, even though he’s unbelievable. but there’s I/me feeling about him, but he is awesome.
There’s some question about his commitment to the team and how he is as a player in the clubhouse. We don’t get all that information. We see what’s in the media and what other players have said about him. With due time, that that may all iron out itself. If I was starting today, those would be the two guys that I would pick up and run with. Buster Posey is certainly one. The catching position is so difficult to fill. That leadership position is so difficult to fill and there’re so many great young players in the game. In the old day, you didn’t learn how to hit, and you figure it out on your own until you’re 26 or 27. Now, you’re getting guys who have blown that theory out in 22 or 23, and they’re stars already. That gets back to the player development at the younger age and the ability of those guys to get out and play under the big lights.
I believe that our academies in the past are a big reason why some of these players can walk into the game at twenty, 21, 22 years old and compete very well. They are products of academies like these. They’re receiving tremendous instruction at a younger age and they develop knowledge of how to hit, so that when they get to that Major League level, they’re able to compete. Whereas many years ago, they needed five or six years in the Minor Leagues to get to this level, so academies have served their purpose and we’re seeing the fruits of that now in the Major League.
That and technology. Technology has improved our instruction. Through technology, we know what happens as opposed to what we’re guessing happens. The openness of instructors like ourselves to be able to change our coaching theories and philosophies based on, “When I played, I did this,” or “Someone said do this.” Now, we have an idea of what is the right way or the efficient way of teaching things. Kids are bigger, stronger, and faster now than they were twenty years ago.
I often wonder if I would be able to play at this age. I was 160 pounds and I played Major League Baseball, but I figured with this new technology, I probably would’ve been bigger and stronger than this day and age, so maybe there was a chance.
My son’s high school coach tells him to do it one way and his travel coach tells him to do another. What should they do?
That is one of the biggest problems I run into. When I get a kid for lessons and they are so confused. One coach tells them one thing, another coach tells them another thing. The first thing I always tell them is, “Shake your head yes when a coach tells you something. No matter if you agree or disagree, no matter if you plan on trying it or not, shake your head ‘yes’.” No coach wants to think that you’re not going to listen to him.
[Tweet “The game itself has grown. “]
If you’re at the high school level, it will find you a quick way on the bench.
The first thing I tell them is, “Shake your head and say okay.” You have to discuss it with people and try to find out the reason why the coach wants you to do something a certain way. You may have to discuss it with your other coach and discuss it with your parents. That’s a very tough question, and it puts kids in such a tough situation. They have to go with what works.
It gets back to being respectful. Everybody who is trying to help a player at some point is going to give them some bit of information that is useful. The player has to start to be able to go through all those messages and figure out what best serves him and his skill set. I’ve always had the open-door policy to be willing to talk to any high school coach that may have an issue with the player that I’m working with. Some of it does come back to the old school theories. Some coaches aren’t improving their skills as a coach and that’s the one thing I’ll never apologize. I’ll never apologize for my work ethic of watching video and analyzing video over and over and studying and spending time in the office, pouring over video, and learning how to communicate with kids. I’m teaching things that I taught differently years ago. That, in itself, becomes an issue where something I’ll never apologize for me trying to become a better instructor and learning something new every day. Having that open line of communication is the important part with a high school coach.
A lot of high school coaches, that’s not their main area of expertise.
It’s a source of income for them.
They’re great English teachers and so they are not maybe up to date on the latest knowledge. The player has to go with what the more of an expert has to say.
Being respectful and trying to at least have an open line of communication. The coach, if he’s doing his job right and it’s truly in it for his kids, then he would be open to a conversation and try to find a middle way and a middle ground that is going to be best for his players.
Another thing players have to understand is they’re going to get that the rest of their career. Even at the professional levels, I had many coaches telling me different things. I always tried to have the attitude that everything’s worth a try. You try to settle on what seems to work for you.
It’s a matter of communication and feel and comfort level with who you may have as an instructor.
What do you tell a player who worked hard all off season and gets off to a tough start to the season?
The old theory of, “It’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon.” It doesn’t take very long to look up the early season of the Big League season and see players that are struggling. They’re playing at a much higher level and it’s more difficult to be successful at that level, but they spent a lot of time working hard in the off season to get ready. The sooner players learn how to overcome adversity, the quicker they can pick up the downside. Baseball is an up and down sport. The players who are the most successful are the ones that don’t stay down for very long. There’s a mental grind to it as well. The positive reinforcement and the positive self-talk is important. You have to be able to look at yourself and say, “Did I give everything that I could?” Knowing that this game is set up for failure. I say it all the time, “To be successful in baseball, you have to fail with confidence.” It sums up the game because that’s what it is.
We as coaches are responsible for helping kids deal with adversity and prepare for the future. It’s the nature of the game, especially hitting. You can do everything right and swing and miss a ball or you’re at a ball. You can do everything right, line out three times, and have nothing to show for it.
Numbers do mean something and numbers are important. Understanding what quality at-bats are versus non-quality at-bats, and you can have a game where you’re 0 for 4 and have four quality at-bats, hit the ball and run right at somebody. The very next day, you can have four terrible at-bats and go 4 for 4. The players who have the skill set, the right mental approach, the understanding of what they’re trying to do in a specific situation, those players who can stay consistent with that, their numbers are going to be there at the end.
I had a professional coach that always stressed that to us. Over the course of the long season, the numbers are going to end up where the numbers should be. If you’re historically a 300-hitter, you’re probably going to end up at 300 even though you’re hitting 150. If you can hang in there, good things will happen. I had a kid come in one day and his parent says, “He’s not hitting a lick. What can he do?” I say, “Take him out and hit a hundred ground balls to him.” They said, “Yes, but he’s not hitting.” I said, “If he’s not going to hit, he better learn how to feel the ball.” I’m trying to tell them that there are other parts that you can contribute to a team besides hitting. If you can save a run on defense, that’s as good as knocking one in.
Some days, the best medicine is a day off, to get away from the game. Do something where your mind is away from the game and go enjoy something else.
I’ve seen a lot of kids that work their way right out of a good spell because they work too hard. Sometimes, getting away from it may be best.
If a hitting student only has time to practice one drill before a game, what would you have them do?
There’re so many different hitters with different needs. I have a saying that you check your mechanics with a batting tee at the knees, down the middle, a low pitch down the middle, they can check their mechanics. With that pitch, they should be able to hit line drives through the middle. If they stay focused on that particular drill where they’re taking a pitch down the middle and driving balls, hopefully with some backspin and in the air to the oil field, that’s their ultimate goal. Their swing is there. That doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re timing is going to be perfect, but at least they feel comfortable that the swing is correct. Every hitter might have more trouble with a high pitch, and that’s something they can focus on.
There’re a couple of factors that play into this. One is how much time do we have? Is it a high school game? You get off the bs and you are tying your shoes and going to play or do you have time for batting practice? Is it a travel game? There’s a cage there. There are some physical adjustments and mental adjustments to prepare for a game. Trying to watch a pitcher warm up in the bullpen is going to give you a lot of answers as to what he’s going to try and do during the game. Did he throw any of his off-speed stuff for strikes? What was the catcher’s reaction to his fast ball? Was it straight? Did it move? It gives you an idea mentally as to what your approach is going to be. Hitting-wise, if you can get some swings in a tee or soft toss, trying to keep the mechanical thoughts out of your head.
[Tweet “Watching the games will give you a lot of answers. “]
Simplify them to one or two minor thought processes. If you only had time to do something, trying to get some timing off the pitcher in the bullpen and to see the ball and then try and give the best approach you can and watching the game. Kids get away from watching the game. If you watch the game, you’re going to learn a lot. Watching the games will give you a lot of answers. Is he throwing his off-speed stuff for strikes? Does he go to his fast ball a majority part of the time? That simplifies that because if he’s in trouble, he’s going to go to his strength. If his strength is his fast ball, then you should be prepared for that. A lot of that has to do with the mental preparation as much of the physical preparation.
The on-deck circle is great for getting loose, but it should be used for getting a timing off that pitcher, especially his fast ball. I don’t want to get up there and not know the speed of his fast ball. Take me three pitches, I might be already on the bench. You want to observe the pitcher, time that fast ball so you know when you have to get started. Watching the game, you can learn so much from what our other guys doing and how’s the pitcher pitching against them. I tell everybody, “If four out of five guys are popping the ball up or flying out, then you have to assume this pitcher is throwing some good high fast balls. What can I do to avoid that pop-up?” Little things like that can give you an edge and might make a difference.
Not giving in. You fight and grind every bat and not give in.
A big issue in youth sport is early specialization. What are your thoughts about it?
It is difficult. Growing up and still relatively young, I played baseball and basketball and golf. I tried to be as active as I can. Whatever season came up was the season that I focused on. Things have gotten more difficult, but I don’t think that that level of specialization shouldn’t come into play until you’re into your high school year. At that point, maybe your junior or senior year, one way or another, one sport may lead to the ability or the opportunity to play at the next level whether it’s scholarship-based or not. You become better athletes by doing multiple sports. Playing basketball helps endurance and helps your footwork. Volleyball, your explosiveness off the ground and jumping a lot. It’s important to play multiple sports.
It is difficult to play more than two sports in high school. How many athletes that you know you went to high school with that played three sports and went from sport to sport and were great athletes? Did them playing three sports take away from their development in other ones. The argument can go both ways. At the younger age, let the kids be kids and play. There’s time to get your skill set worked on for each sport. A lot of the arm issues have gotten tied to not taking any time off. Throwing twelve months out of the year and throwing in showcases in November when you should be working on strength and arm conditioning, but everyone’s out there with the radar gun early on. How are you supposed to be on a mound in November when you should be pitching in May, June and July? It is a very difficult question to get the exact right answer for it because I’m not quite sure if there is one.
That has been the biggest downside of the travel sports and the club sports over the years. It’s turned into almost a year-round thing for sports. Kids are stuck in the middle, so I get a ton of kids whose parents agree it’s important to not specialize, and yet their other sport is playing ten months out a year. They’re running from basketball practice to baseball practice to hockey practice. By not specializing, they’re running ragged and that doesn’t serve your players.
Those days of jumping on your bike and riding to the park or jumping on your bike and riding to your school to have basketball practice, the bike rides have been taken away and, in their place, a 45-minute car ride has been put in there. It does make it more difficult. There’s a cost to that, too. You can’t lose track that there’re a lot of players that have an upside ability‑wise, but for the financial side of it, the parents are strapped to try and give what they can the best for the kids, too. It’s difficult.
Junior high is the time where kids can start to focus on one sport, but that doesn’t mean they can’t play another sport at least recreational. Development is good for other sports. As far as playing travel in too many sports, I see that can be a problem for these kids.
You get some kids who are playing travel hockey, they’re playing travel baseball, they’re playing travel basketball. At that point, there needs to be a small window of downtime. Where does academics fit in there? The academic side of it, with what I do for a living, I’m very in touch with the college game, the recruiting side, and how that works. All these guys will tell me there’s a lot more money in the academic pool than there is on the athletic side. For that the college coaches are, “You may have a skill set, but if you have a grade point average or test scores that are below someone who has a similar skill set, you’re the odd man out because they’re going to be able to offer that better student a lot better package because of that.”
The size of the high school that your child is going to go to makes a big difference. If they are a small school with 200 kids, you’re playing all three sports. If you’re at one of these huge schools to play, even more than one is difficult.
What age do players begin strength training?
I don’t think any age is too young. As long as the plan and the program are age- suitable, in a sense. I get a lot of kids that seven, eight, nine years old that a few pushups wouldn’t hurt them to swing that baseball bat better. Body weight exercises at that age and age-old things like we used to do, just a few pushups, a few sit-ups, a few pull-ups. I don’t think that there’s too young of an age for it but getting them involved in weightlifting classes at that age is too young. I would say the body is probably ready for more beginning around age twelve or so where they can start to get serious about it. That’s the other thing. Injuries can come from weight training, so at least work with someone that knows what they’re doing run originally is so important.
It’s functional strength. It’s not putting 300 pounds on the squat rack and see what we can do. In that functional training and strength training, using your body weight and teaching kids at a young age how to do techniques properly and what they should be doing and using a band work and core work. Those are things that not only make them better athletes but make them healthier. The sooner they start some of that stuff, the likelihood of them maintaining that through their life is a plus. Here at Diamond Edge, we’re opening up a strength conditioning and speed and agility side of our business end. We’re going to be open to all ages, but again it’s teaching the right way what you should or shouldn’t be doing, when you should or shouldn’t be doing, and eating the right way.
[Tweet “It is difficult to play more than two sports in high school. “]
Nutritional side is important and getting back to the running from one gym to the ice rink, to the field, to the gym, you’re getting kids that aren’t eating as well as they may have in the past and not getting his main home-cooked meals. Trying to make the right healthy food choices falls into the same category of the strength training. There’s nothing wrong with having kids at a younger age doing pushups and sprints and getting them up on their feet and moving around and understand how to control their body. We get too many kids that will come in and look like that baby giraffe and don’t know where they’re going and when they’re going. It’s hard to get them to do any skills if they athletically can’t control their body and balance. The sooner they start, the better. It simply starts with push-ups and sit-ups and some sprints and doing things the right way.
Every sport has their areas where you have to be good at. I always tell everybody, “If strength was all it was to throw a baseball hard or to swing a bat and hit a ball over the fence, all the football players would be baseball players.” You don’t see that.
With the news and all these accusations of Arrieta being on PEDs, I can say from a personal experience, I’ve seen him work out with the Pilates and the eating the right way. He’s very strict in that, so it’s possible to do it the right way and do it naturally. His dad is 6’4”, his mom is 6’1” so the likelihood of him being a big boy was good. I don’t think if he was 0 and 20 last year, no one would have said anything about him being on PED.
What are some of the things coaches can do if a player has an obvious fear of the ball?
There’s always a natural fear in the back of your head. I remember asking you this. That’s the privilege of facing J.R. Richard. It wasn’t a privilege when you stepped into the box, especially with kids throwing much harder today at an earlier age. Trying to teach them to protect themselves is number one. Turning away from the ball the right way is the important thing. Number two is trying to give them the numbers. At the high school level, there are 21 outs and of those outs and how many hitters may hit during a game, you may go a week without anyone getting hit. The likelihood of you getting hit by the ball is significantly less than what you think it is. On the field side, fear is overcome by success. The repetition of fielding ground balls and trying to get them to do things the right way helps catching the ball the right way with what they do with their glove and how they open their glove to the ball. It becomes an important piece to that. Fear is overcome with success. You get a kid to get a couple hits, he feels more comfort in there.
One thing that has worked in the past is if I have to, I’ll go out and get softer type baseballs. To hit a kid 50 ground balls with a softer ball, they’ll start doing things correct without the fear. Once they start doing it correctly, it helps them. It doesn’t automatically mean when they go into a game, they’re going to do it right without the fear, but it certainly helps. The repetition can help. Same thing with pitching them a ball. If I have to go to a lighter ball for a while, even if it’s a Wiffle ball with a young kid, if that makes them feel comfortable and can only focus on their timing and their hitting instead of worried about getting drilled by a hard ball, that can help.
[Tweet “Trying to make the right healthy food choices falls into the same category of the strength training. “]
Fear is something that gets people thinking about what could happen. I try to get their minds into the present of what is happening. I always tell the kid that’s fearful of a ball when he’s hitting to expect the ball. I always ask him, “Where are you going to expect the ball?” He’s like, “I don’t know.” I say, “You’re expecting that ball in the middle of the play.” The minute he starts thinking, “It might come at me, then I’m in deep trouble.”
Before every pitch, I’ll ask him, “Where do you want this ball? Where do you expect it?” I get him to say every pitch and he goes, “Over the middle, that’s where I’m expecting it.” That could help in time.
In working some younger camps, the connection of a player’s hand, as soon as you put the glove on them, changes everything. I’ve asked this question for twenty years, “If someone could tell me why putting a glove on your hand gets you to do things different, we have a recipe for a lot of money.” You get a kid when you take the glove off and you underhand them a tennis ball or racquetball and they will catch the ball properly. Once you put the glove on their hand, their hand magically wants to do some completely different. I don’t know what the answer is to that. I’m starting with the younger kids and getting them to feel comfortable catching a ball with their bare hand and then trying to get them into the glove, hopefully helps as well.
Maybe one of the answers to that because I’ve dealt with that a lot too is coaches and parents are guilty of teaching kids to catch with two hands right away. The minute you have a glove on your hand and you go to catch with two hands, their style changes completely. Whereas when you flip a ball that is meant to catch it with the one hand, they tend to do it correctly. Two-hand teaching is only after they learn to catch a ball correctly first because the glove is what’s going to catch the ball anyway. That’s one of the issues that can be solved by not teaching two hands too early in a player’s career.
When you think about how many players were made during a game, very few are made with two hands. So many balls go to your right and to your left that if you put those handcuffs on them and keep them both hands together, it gets a little more difficult.
That’s the first thing parents teach kids with two hands. That’s the biggest detriment to learning to catch a ball.
Who are some of the Big League players you would tell your students to watch and why?
Being in Chicago, those are the games I’m seeing the most. I like Anthony Rizzo. I like the way he bats and keeps things simple and relaxed. He doesn’t give away at bats. The one guy in Major League Baseball that I ask kids about or hopefully they get a chance to see is Jose Altuve. My son played with him in Double-A years ago. I went and the third batter in the order comes walking out and I’m thinking, “This is the bat boy that’s sitting on the deck circle.” Jose is 5’5” and he’s batting third for a Double-A baseball team. I’m amazed but he has gone on to prove that size doesn’t matter. It’s how good you are and how much you hustle. He’s the guy I like kids to watch if they get a chance.
The baseball game itself is being played by bigger and stronger athletes than it ever has, but it’s still a game that if you can be on the smaller side and succeed, work hard, and grind and fight and improve your skill set. I agree with you on Rizzo for a number of reasons. One is he’s overcome and fought and won against cancer. He plays the game the right way. He plays it with a great deal of enthusiasm. He was a great teammate. His skill set is extremely high. Adam Eaton is a good one to look at, again on the smaller side, but plays the game with a high level of energy and has a great passion for the game. You throw out Mike Trout who we mentioned before. Those guys are the guys who play the game right way. If you get a chance to go to a Sox game, the guys who get down the line and hustle, those are the guys that’ll make it and play the game the right way.
It’s the guys that are coming to play everyday that you would pay to go see and enjoy. We covered areas we wanted to cover. I want to encourage people to email us questions that will help your sons and daughters or any baseball questions and we’ll take a stab at them. We’re looking forward to doing this. I thank you so much for being here with me.
Anything that we can do to help you and if you’re looking for facilities to train out of, feel free to visit our website at www.DiamondEdgeAcademy.com. We’ve got a great staff here.
I want to remind everybody to hang around. We’re going to finish every podcast with a little story that you will enjoy yourself. Thanks for listening. The podcast story comes from the answer to a question I get quite often. The question, “Who is the best ball player you ever played with?” That is difficult because there were so many great ones. My answer will probably surprise you, but the reason I consider him the best is the unlikelihood of him being so awesome. This ballplayer grew up on a small farm with eleven brothers and sisters. He didn’t even start playing organized baseball until the age of seventeen because his father wouldn’t let him. His dad wanted him to become a civil engineer. A few short years later, he became the talk of all of Major League Baseball. Let me go back to the beginning.
In 1980, I was a member of the Albuquerque Dukes, the Triple-A farm team for the Los Angeles Dodgers. We had won our division that season and we’re playing for the Pacific Coast League Championship. It is customary for the Major League team to send a few ballplayers from the Minor Leagues to help us win the championship. That season, the Dodgers only sent us one ballplayer. This ballplayer didn’t speak a word of English and looked nothing like a baseball player. In the three games series, we ended up losing the championship and this young man did not get into any of the ballgames. We left that season a little disappointed that the Dodgers didn’t send us more help, or so we thought.
The following season, this young man made the Major League roster. On opening day, he had to fill in for a pitcher who had gotten injured that day and he threw a shutout the first game of the season and went on to win his next eight starts. That season, this ballplayer won the Cy Young Award and the Rookie of the Year, the only time that has ever been done. His name was Fernando Valenzuela. Fernando not only was a great pitcher, he won the Silver Slugger Award that year as the best-hitting pitcher in all of baseball, too. He led us to a World Series Championship in 1981. Looking back, we wonder what would have happened if we let our only pitch to Fernando in our Triple-A Championship. Maybe we would had been champs that season.
I like to tell the story to my students because of the many messages that it covers. First of all, there’s going to be times that you’re going to be overlooked and there’re times that you’re going to sit the bench. It’s important that players keep working hard, stay optimistic, and they’re ready when that opportunity comes. If you’re not ready, your opportunity will pass you right by. The other thing that’s important is that it’s not the size of the ballplayer, it’s the heart of the ballplayer that makes all the difference.
Thanks for listening.