Joe Maddon must not forget the fans
Joe Maddon is looking out for his team. That is understandable because the season is a long grind. I just hope it does not lead to this. There is a concern that kids are not watching baseball anymore. Maybe these suggestions would help that.
It is important to note that I write for the youth game and try to see how big league things affect it. With that in mind, I have some suggestions for the MLB. If the major leagues want to bring kids back into the game, make it more youth player friendly. Bring back pre-game infield practice and push batting practice closer to game time. The teaching moments and excitement during those two things are often better viewing than games. The action of batting and infield practice is continuous, and the learning possibilities are better. Maybe those pre-game activities should be televised too. Kids learn from seeing those and their appreciation for the game grows by watching, too. Dads could watch with their sons and daughters and teach the game without having to sit for the three hour duration of games.
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What has me thinking of all this was a recent interview I saw with Chicago Cubs skipper, Joe Maddon. First, I love listening to Joe Maddon, as any baseball coach should. Every time I hear him, he imparts coaching wisdom for coaches of all age players. It’s like listening to a coaching clinic. But recently, he said something that raised eyebrows, at least mine. Talking about pre-game batting practice Joe Maddon said, “I think it’s the most overrated thing that we do on a daily basis, is swing the bat way too often.” Even though I think I know what Joe Maddon’s point was, it is not what I want youth coaches and players to hear. They will hear that and not understand his reasons for it, thinking practice is not that necessary. Of course, I realize a difference exists from the everyday nature of professional baseball to the usually less taxing youth game.
In the article, it mentioned that one of Joe Maddon’s team went a week straight without taking batting practice. That is cause for concern. “Does that mean the day is coming when Major League Baseball eliminates pre-game batting practice? MLB eliminated the before the game infield practice, which i did not agree with. I go to games early just to watch batting practice, and I miss watching pre-game infield practice. Those activities are the times to observe the fundamentals of the game and how players go about perfecting their craft. Many coaching lessons come from watching the best players in the world prepare.
During infield, the coaching points are many. Kids would see how players complete play after play in a smooth manner. The ways players prepare their feet before the ball comes. How players move in controlled ways to balls before gobbling them up with soft, quick hands before making strong, accurate throws. There is a beauty in watching the big league players perform complicated actions. They make those efforts look easy. It is something youth players need to see more. Often, one has to wait innings to see a play or two because many games now have double digit strikeouts on both sides. Waiting to see some fielding plays is not worth the wait for TV viewing fans.
Pre-game Batting Practice
The same learning situations come from watching the best players take batting practice. How players handle the bat like baton twirlers, making it look easy. How balls jump off the player’s bats with incredible acceleration. Those are the things young ballplayers need to see, the routine plays and swings. Instead, kids think that everything revolves around awesome diving plays and hitting home runs, the only things they see on game highlight shows. Everyone’s appreciation and knowledge of the game grows by watching pre-game hitting and fielding.
Joe Maddon has his reasons
My other concern is that many will not understand Joe’s main point. Joe’s explanation has merit, “Extra batting practice, and hitting off tees and hitting in cages and hitting and swinging and swinging and swinging… I think it could be counter-productive,” Maddon said. “I think guys could hit themselves right through feel. You could be feeling really well. Joe went on to say, “sometimes you actually need to do less and not more.”
Joe is right. I see the situation a lot with experienced ballplayers. They swing their way right out of a great groove. The problem comes from people telling them the only way for ultimate success is
to work harder than the next guy. The result is that they practice their way out of the zone. But, that is not the problem for most youth players. Young players, who are trying to refine the hitting mechanics and timing need the practice. Batting practice is never overrated for youth players. Great value exists to having the batting practice routine, but, as Joe Maddon implies, it can become a crutch that players mentally depend upon too much. Coaches should convince players that they can still hit in games on days they do not take batting practice.
Finally, with tongue in cheek, I propose that major league teams have different admission prices. One for watching the pre-game practices and games, one for the games only and one for just the pre-game. I, for one, would recommend the before the game action for my students, with the games optional. On the serious side, I propose the MLB bring the pregame infield practice back for the fans, even though it is tedious and tiresome for the players.