Bat speed is a funny thing
Some players have natural athleticism and have bat speed early in their careers. But, for many players, it develops over time. It is almost like one day it is absent, and the next day it is there. As their hitting coach, it is a thrill for me to notice the ball jumping off their baseball bat after years of not seeing it.
“Coach Jack, I hit a home run,” were the first words out of one of my student’s mouth.“ “I told you a few years ago they would come,” was my response. Home runs are momentous things for ballplayers to experience for the first time when they come at a later age. Sometimes even a life changing event. After years of having trouble getting balls out of the infield to suddenly belt one out of the park is awesome. Of course, hitting home runs are not what hitting is all about, but having the long ball experience makes all their hard work seem worthwhile. Additionally, it tells kids that many things are possible with practice, dedication and perseverance.
A short story
Early in my career, I attended the Arizona fall instructional league with the Los Angeles Dodgers. One day we went to play the San Diego Padres team. When we arrived, they had what appeared to be a young teenage boy taking ground balls. “Pretty cool,” we thought, assuming they let some of the players’ sons on the field for a while. During the customary pregame infield practice, the same young man was taking it, and he was the starting shortstop in the game. Wow, the things he could do in the field were amazing and made me wonder if I was deserving to be on the same field. I’m sure by the title of this article that most have figured out the player was “the Wizard” himself, the remarkable Ozzie Smith.
However, on the offensive side of things, it was different. At the time, Ozzie seemed to be overpowered with a bat in his hands. He had little strength and bat speed appeared to be lacking. No way at that time could one predict Ozzie Smith would one day be in major league baseball’s hallowed Hall of Fame. It was hard to imagine he would have the bat speed to be a productive hitter. How wrong I was, and I assume others were. With hard work and strength development, Ozzie went on to have over 2400 major league hits. His career even included 28 home runs, and some historic ones. I believe that was the only time I played against The Wizard of Oz. The memory of it was like yesterday and the story of his hitting transformation is one I tell my students.
Bat speed arrives for most who can hang in there
I have seen it too many times to remember in my teaching baseball days. A player who had no pop off the bat one year would suddenly have it the next year. Many things go into that bat speed showing up. The most important thing is adherence to the correct fundamentals. Many kids have little hand, wrist and forearm strength, so they rely on swinging with the big muscles of the arms only. They never develop the smaller muscles that eventually add the whip of the bat. They stick with the wrong mechanics for too long and never learn the necessary compact swing. Players who stick with the fundamentals of hitting, even though the early results are minimal, usually have the chance at increased bat speed at some point. Strong hands and forearms develop with the right mechanics. The strength comes in time and presto, the ball flies off their bat.
Of course, the second part of getting the force to hit the ball with more authority comes from swinging the bat often. The players I see that suddenly have greater bat speed from before, swing the bat for about eight months a year and many days a week. They work hard because they love to play the game and have patient adults around them who offer encouragement. On the other hand, many players do not have the patience or the encouraging coaches and quit baseball before the noticeable increase.
I tell my students who are weak and rarely hit balls to the outfield to hang in there and keep working. I tell them that their bat speed will come. I tell them they and others will notice it and they will then realize all the hard work was worth it. Their ground balls that used to get caught now go through the infield. Their line drives to the outfield pass through for extra base hits when they used to get cut off. And maybe, just maybe, they will hit a home run or two or more.
Believing more power will come some day is all the more reason that young players, who are not the best hitters early in their career, should keep playing. Their day will come, and they will pass up many of the players that were the stars in their early years. Patience pays off when it comes to hitting a baseball.
Often, that bat increase arrives when kid’s bodies begin to mature around junior high or high school age. That is the age when athletes begin to weight lift and strengthen the muscles in the hands and forearms.
Finally, I know the Ozzie Smith story, may seem a little amusing coming from the owner of 2 major league home runs. But I still believe my bat speed will come someday, and the reason I remain active in the game at my not so young age. Ha
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 help 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” and “Raising an Athlete.” His third book “Creating a Season to Remember” is in the works. Jack is a featured writer for Baseball the Magazine. You can also find Jack Perconte at YouTube with over 80 fun and innovative baseball instructional videos.