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Measure twice…at least twice

Our son’s college team was on the road for a weekend conference series against a rival. (If you have a good team, you find that you have many rivals.) Along with the traveling band of parents, we watched the Saturday games, and something just did not look right.

I was convinced that the distance from the rubber to home plate was too short. The question was, what was I to do, and how would I get anyone to listen to me? I developed a plan.

First, I shared this observation with the father whose son would start the Sunday game. The pitcher’s father, let’s call him Bill, is a big guy, a big talker, and one not to turn down a dare. I knew he would want to be involved in whatever we did.

Bill watched a few innings and, dadgummit, by golly, he just knew (like me) that the distance was short. I was sure it was three inches. “Oh, every bit of it,” he said. “Maybe more.”

A big deal? Absolutely. Let’s suppose you have a pitcher who spots a so-so fastball and mixes in a very good change-up. That change-up starts below the belt to the batter and ends up around the ankles, or even in the dirt. But, throw that at a distance that is short by three inches and that same change-up ends up above the belt and breaks to above the knees — a pitch that can be launched deep into the alleys or beyond.

After the Saturday game, sitting around the hotel before making supper plans, Bill and I kept talking and we knew he had to find the truth. We had to somehow break into the stadium that night, take a tape measure, and do our due diligence. That, of course, would be trespassing, breaking and entering, and who knows what else a small South Carolina town constable might have on the books. But, that wind-down time in the hotel made us bold. As good parents, in the best interest of the game, we decided we’d scale the fence and take our measurements.

Typically our road suppers involved about 12 parents, and, since there’s not much else to do after supper, we return to the hotel for more wine and stories and conversation about other kids besides our sons. Of course, news spread about the plan Bill and I had stewing, and some — including some anxious and disapproving wives — went with us to serve, if needed, as a distraction while we performed our clandestine caper.

I’m a little foggy on how we got in, but we did get inside the park and we did move swiftly but quietly to the mound. That’s not quite true: nothing about Bill is especially swift or quiet. First, we both stepped off the distance, as if that is accuracy that is unquestionable. “It’s close,” I said to Bill. But we still thought it was short. Bill, a construction-type guy, had at least enough wits to bring a tape measure. So we measured it precisely, this time with no variations involved.

Bill held the tape at the rubber and I unrolled the tape to the front edge of home plate. Even in the moonlight I could see the tape, but pulled out a small mag-lite just to be sure. It was 60 feet, 6 inches.

The distance was perfect. I could not believe my eyes.

Bill and I changed locations, pulled the tape tight, and measured again. 60 feet, 6 inches. We accepted our own results.

“Sure looked short,” Bill said, scrambling to get out of the park, and then out of the parking lot. “It did,” I agreed.

What’s the point of this escapade? As The Baseball Parent, I can tell you that we do any and everything reasonable, and some things unreasonable, to make things right for our ballplayers. We don’t want to be cheated, short-changed, have something pulled over us, or be put in an unfavorable position because the “other team” is up to dirty tricks. We’ve seen the soggy baselines to slow a fast team and things like that, and you get used to some of the home team advantages. But field measurements are not something to change; that would be a total lack of ethics and standards. Had we been correct, we could have asked our coach to show the discrepancy to the umpires, play the game under protest, and, if we lost, probably demand a replay at our field. If your son plays for a traveling team or goes to any summer tournaments, you know you might run into some unusual settings.

Maybe we overreacted. But we found out for sure. Bill’s son pitched well, by the way, but did leave a couple of change-ups high in the zone and gave up two long home runs. We just looked at each other and sighed. “I still think it’s short,” Bill said.

Don’t Be That Parent!

Sooner or later, you’re going to be on a team with someone like Mrs. Smith. You know Mrs. Smith — that’s Johnny’s mom.

If you want to know anything about what a great kid Johnny is, just ask Mrs. Smith. If you don’t ask, she’ll tell you anyway. Because we all need to realize just how lucky all of us are to have Johnny on the team.

Johnny is great. Even at age 12, if you live in the world of Mrs. Smith, you are stunned and dumbfounded that the Atlanta Braves have not already secretly made a deal for Johnny in the draft six years from now.

According to Mrs. Smith, Johnny beats most teams by himself. He plays shortstop. Unless he’s pitching. If he’s playing shortstop, no ground balls will get through the infield. If he’s pitching, ground balls won’t even be in play because he’ll strike out everyone. Did you see how fast he throws? Did you see his curveball? The other team has no chance.

Mrs. Smith is easily the most vocal of all the fans and parents. As soon as Johnny gets a hit, she announces, “That’s my son.” She’ll also shout out an updated batting average. If you’re in a close game, as soon as Johnny comes to the on-deck circle, Mrs. Smith begins alerting the other parents — mostly of the other team — that Johnny is about the end this game. There might never again be a ballplayer as good as Johnny. Plus, he’s so good-looking and so popular and so, well, just everything!

Sometimes you just have to wonder how Mrs. Smith has not gotten her teeth knocked out in some parking lot.

Whether Mrs. Smith wears down the other team is debatable, but she definitely wears on Johnny’s team. If you’re on Johnny’s team, the other players aren’t even second best. Johnny is first, second, third and fourth best player of any team. Just ask her.

Fact is, Johnny is an above-average player. He deserves to hit high in the order. He does have good speed, and maybe would be a better centerfielder than shortstop, but shortstop, in Mrs. Smith’s mind, is the premier position. Johnny gets a few hits, but not many more than anyone else. He’s a kid like all the others, and he quickly learns that he’s not a hero every night. Despite what Mrs. Smith has told him. She also doesn’t tell him about how some kids peak early, some peak late.

Johnny is hardly equipped for failure. But, as he ages, he finds more and more of that. By high school, Mrs. Smith is a growing disturbance and embarrassment. Some of Johnny’s classmates show up at games just to snicker among themselves at what Mrs. Smith says.

Are you surprised to learn that Johnny dropped out of baseball? Johnny simply checked out, no longer interested in the game and definitely unable to live up to the expectations and promises of Mrs. Smith.

We could talk at length about Mrs. Smith. DON’T BE THAT PARENT! We know what each kid does, the ups and downs, the development, the performance. Support your kid, but not with bragging and nagging. Enjoy the game. And help your kid enjoy the game, as well. In fact, let’s turn that around. First help your kid enjoy the game. And you’ll enjoy the game, too. Here’s hoping we can turn down the volume of parents like Mrs. Smith.

Part 2 of 2 on Catcher Mechanics: Practice the Exchange For Better Times Throwing to 2nd

(This is a guest blog from one of the top catching instructors in the nation. For more info, contact Casey Clary in St. Pete, Fl, at clary.casey@gmail.)

Before we can talk more about the positioning of the right hand, we should know what a transfer is and how it should be done.

First, let’s talk about the mitt (not glove — a glove is used in all other positions except catching). The only purpose of a mitt is so the ball doesn’t hurt your hand when you catch it. That’s it. That’s why you buy one. Therefore, let the mitt do its job by catching the ball and giving it to the hand. As simple as that sounds, it is one of the hardest things for a catcher to perfect. Why? Simply, it takes work, long hours of work.

Regardless of where you put the right hand, the transfer will be in the same spot: about an inch and a half to two inches from the right peck (chest/ nipple) every time with few exceptions. Since we know where the transfer will be (every time) we know that the right hand will grip the ball — remember the mitt is giving the ball to the hand — in the same spot. Since that is true, why wouldn’t you protect the right hand knowing that the transfer will happen in the same spot!?

Remember, if you’re looking for a quick pop time (catchers!) then you need to know that one hundredth seconds (0.01) turn into tenths of seconds (0.1), which then turn into seconds (1.0) Let’s do some math..

Have you ever tried timing your transfer? Probably not. Tell your catcher to come “out of the shoot” as quickly as possible then start the clock when the ball hits the mitt. Then stop the clock when the catcher would be throwing the ball in a live situation. Remember, the catcher is not throwing the ball, you are just timing the transfer. Time this about 5 times and you will get an average. I can tell you that my best 15-16 year olds were getting .43-.48 and with work they are now at .22-.28. What does that mean? Here’s the math:

Your catcher has a pop time of 2.20 (remember all 3 digits are important) and his transfer time was .43. Let’s say he has worked very hard to get his transfer time down to .25 with the same throw and same arm strength. In this example, .43-.25 = .18.

That 2.20 – .18 just became 2.02!!!! That’s only working on transfer! Again, the transfer needs to be taught the right way. By the way, any kid can have those same numbers with his right hand behind his back. A 2.02 is a lot better than 2.20.

So, again, even if arm strength is stable and slow to increase, the exchange time can be practiced and the overall time of throwing to second base is dramatically reduced.

Details, catchers, details. Those are mechanics that make you better.

Part 1 of 2 on Catcher Mechanics: Catchers Need to Protect Throwing Hand

This comes up every year when quasi-coaches try to tell catchers where to place the throwing hand when receiving a pitch. Too many coaches are wrong and most have never played the catcher position. Let’s talk about it.

Putting the exposed hand behind the mitt is the WRONG mechanics and as a parent you need to question any coach who endorses that style. Yes, there are a number of catchers who do that, and yes, some of those can be seen on TV, at the major league level. They will say that this puts the hand and mitt together for a quicker exchange for the throw to second. Some even claim this helps with balance and better blocking.

That is faulty logic. The better mechanics would be protecting the throwing hand, either behind the back or tucked under the knee guard. The exchange is just as quick, because it’s the mitt that moves to the exchange position. For blocking and balance, the hand behind the guard is easier for shifting.

Some will say that’s old school, a Johnny Bench approach. If so, what’s the problem with that????????

Look carefully at the MLB catchers. By the time they’ve reached the top, they have established habits from long ago, and they are unlikely to change mechanics. But some of those catchers — including several who currently place the hand behind the mitt — admit they would and should have changed earlier.

Are you noticing DLs already this season involving catchers? Did you notice that, within the first week, two are out with busted knuckles? Those injuries would have been prevented had the hand been protected. The hand behind the mitt is an accident waiting to happen. Foul tips hurt bad enough when you are hit in the mask or chest or ankle. But when one hits the exposed hand, you’re out of the lineup for an extended time. (And while we’re at it, the idea of resting the right arm across the chest protector is just as senseless.)

Show some common sense. Protect yourself. And stay healthy enough to throw out those runners….which means being able to grip a ball.

Usually when we teach kids various parts of the game, we often tell them something like this: It’s an old game, and there are more ways than one to get the job done. But there also are exceptions and some absolutes, and we are adamant on this: catchers should get the throwing hand out of the path of the ball. Place the hand under the guard or behind the back. Someday, you’ll thank us.

(For more information, we can connect with one of the top catching instructors in the nation in St. Pete, FL. Contact Casey Clary at clary.casey@gmail)

No One Walks Off The Island

Some recent travel took me to the Dominican Republic. I saw a lot of baseball fields. Those fields, including some that were primitive, were constantly in use. Even elementary schools had multiple fields, and the recess periods were used for baseball.

I saw several “stadiums”, totally fenced and with manicured infields, and with bleacher seating areas, some with shade. Outside the stadiums were other fields, like a miniature version of spring training compounds in Florida and Arizona. The local soccer fields were divided into two baseball fields. Some had long since worn away all traces of grass.

You know how many Dominican players are on MLB rosters? (The answer is more than 100.) You ever wonder why? Kids in the Dominican play baseball. Year round. Every age. Every opportunity, it would appear.

You think your kid is the best in your school, the best in your league, the best in your area? Good for you. Then introduce yourself to the world market talent boards. The kids in the Dominican play, probably more than your kid does. Kids also play baseball in Japan, in China, in Australia, in Canada, in Mexico, in dozens of Latino countries, in Europe…Suddenly being one in a million is not the standard odds. Maybe it’s closer to one in 10 million. Who knows?

The point is, whatever advantages we might have here in fields, equipment, coaching, and even competition, can we overcome the desire (and climate) of the Dominicans? How strong is baseball in the Dominican Republic? Look at how many MLB players participate in the Dominican winter league, which is televised and played in sold out stadiums. The names are too well known: Martinez, Ortiz, Pujols…

My son’s years in minor league baseball showed rosters dominated by Latino residents. One year, he was one of four Americans on the roster of 24. He learned Spanish. He also learned some baseball.

Of all the lessons, one stands out, and we need to be very much aware of this. We sometimes criticize the Latino players for their free-swinging styles, chasing any pitch, good or bad. But there is a reason for that, and has everything to do with the hitting skills of the island players. There is such wisdom in one succinct statement about how and why the Latino players are here, putting up impressive offensive stats:

“No one walks off the island.”

Kids and parents, figure it out. No one walks off the island. They HIT themselves off the island. They swing the bat. They put the ball in play. They hit to all fields. They advance the runner. They HIT.

My son’s team picked up a Dominican player, who was flown to the town where the team was in the middle of a road trip. He came with a small bag, basically a change of clothes. We wondered how he even got to the airport, and later discovered that he arrived by donkey. Sounds crazy? Last time I flew into the Dominican Republic, I noticed the hitching post outside the airport. He found a way out. He played first base, hit 3rd in the order and put up some good numbers. He had too many strikeouts and no walks, but he was a threat every time he stepped in.

We know another Dominican player in Class A who took his small salary and used it to buy shoes, which was sent home to his family. We have a hard time understanding the poverty of some of the Latino players, but we can fully understand their desire for getting out. Their ticket: the arm of Pedro Martinez, the bat of Manny Ramirez.

No one walks off the island. Don’t ever forget that. How much is your son playing right now? How much is he swinging the bat? A thousand kids who look a lot like your son are doing that right now, every day, in another part of the world. They’re not looking for a walk. They are looking to drive a pitch — good or bad — into a gap. When you see it, you can believe it. And then you can understand it.

Should NBA Adopt MLB Rules for College Players?

College basketball games began this week with powerhouse teams in head-to-head competition to get us wired for the coming season. What stood out was the excellent freshman class nationwide. The question, probably already answered, is this: will these frosh phenoms continue the college trend of “one and done” early departures?

For the life of me, I cannot understand the NCAA and NBA logic that allows a basketball player attending one year of college and then being immediately eligible for pro drafts. This is not allowed in baseball, which requires age 21 or at least completion through the junior year in college. The MLB model causes young players to make a decision: minor leagues following high school or three years of development in college. Certainly factors come into play, such as the round drafted out of high school and a question of which track for development is most productive — college or minors. Regardless, if a baseball player goes to college, he sets himself up for at least three years outside the pro draft. This clearly helps the school, and likely helps the player mature in various ways.

Basketball, though, prepares a player for something more immediate. The one year of college is a joke — everyone knows the player won’t be on campus next year. So why bother with class details the freshman year? I can’t see a college coach enjoying that one year of stardom for an elite player, who probably is treated differently from actual “student-athletes”. Of course, the school likes the income from more TV games, potential deep runs into the tournament, etc. But wouldn’t this relationship between gifted player and college be even stronger if assured three years instead of one? Of course it would, assuming the player belongs in college. Many do not, but that’s another issue. I just believe the MLB system makes more sense for the player and the school.

Here’s another point that escapes me: Why does the NBA Players Association step in with demands that these “one and done” freshman departures be eliminated? Every time a college player enters the NBA, another seasoned NBA player leaves. Don’t the NBA players see that, and understand that? Wouldn’t they benefit from keeping college players in college as long as possible? Not many people can argue commonsense or basic player financials within the NBA, but I can’t believe this current model is accepted. Yet it is.

If a high school player is that good, does one year of college make much difference? Let the players who are scholars go to college and let the thugs go pro.

Or, why doesn’t the NBA develop a minor league program? The NBA Developmental League is not exactly a minor league system. But give basketball high school players the same options as high school baseball players — college or the minors — and we’d see a win-win-win-win situation. The players would fall where more comfortable and best suited for excelling; the colleges would have players they could shape and improve during three years; the pro players would not see the quick-spinning revolving door of releases; minor league towns might enjoy minor league basketball.

Maybe that just makes too much sense. Does the MLB-college relationship work? Yes. For MLB and for colleges. So why does the NBA (and NCAA) not do the same?

Choosing a college?

One of the most important decisions you’ll make as a baseball parent is the way you steer and advise your son in selecting a college. While the choice involves a basic, commonsense discussion, let’s look at some scenarios that might hit close to home.

First, before reviewing the baseball program, let’s look at the school. Your son will spend time as a student and he’ll have to remain eligible with good grades. What type of school best fits your son? A big school with big classes and a lot of support, probably in the way of tutors? Or a small school with small classes and a sense of actually knowing a professor to help get you through a course? How many distractions are in the area — is it a metro area, a college town, an isolated location — and how easily is your son distracted by outside options? How is the dorm — an athletic dorm or a mixed dorm? How is the food service, and options outside the dining hall? What are some of the priorities on campus — is it art and drama, athletics, research? Chemistry and engineering or more slanted toward liberal arts? Overall, how will your son fit in, given the overall campus environment?

That will help you rein in possible baseball programs for your son. Although you might think differently, you son will still spend more time in class and on campus than he will on the ball field. You have to remember that and make sure there is a comfort level in college life.

Now, considerations for the program. Assuming your son did not get drafted out of high school, you’re now looking at three years of college baseball, maybe more. Some options:

Junior college. This is the two-year program that can assure success in the classroom and help your son get past the “general college” courses before transferring to a major school. Some very good junior college programs exist and they are a viable option. Competition is good, the schedule is good (sometimes playing against four-year schools), facilities are good, and scouts show up. It’s not a dead-end. These days, a lot of the power college programs recruit directly from the junior colleges. Think about it: would the coach of a major college prefer a seasoned, matured player or an untested player out of high school? Ask around about which pipelines run between the JC and various large programs.

• Small college. This can be Division I, Division II or Division III, but the smaller college option often leads to Division II or III competition. That means the schedule is not as strong, the facilities less glamorous, and the budget much leaner. The classroom setting is a major plus. But here is a very good reason to consider a small school: does you son want to play right away, as a freshman, or is he okay to sit for a couple of years, which is a reasonable scenario at a big school. There are no guarantees on playing time, of course, but often the small college coach can sweeten the offer with this: “You’ll go in as the back-up with a chance to pass the starter. You’ll play regardless. And, I can promise this: I will not recruit over you for the next four years.” (Or three years, or even two years — that’s a huge statement. That says the coach is willing to stick with you and build a team around you.) Conversely, be prepared for these deflating moments, when the coach rips your son after a game and adds, “If you were good, you’d be somewhere else. You think you’re good enough to play for (put name of ranked school here)?”

  • Large college. Like the classroom, you face the numbers games. How many players are already on the roster at your position? How soon might you move into a starting position on the depth chart? How does you son feel about not being a big part of the program until possibly the junior year? How does he feel about “wasting” two years? Then, the junior year arrives and suddenly a JC transfer moves in. You get some good practice shorts and t-shirts, but is it enough? It depends on how good your son really is, what his temperament is, how he handles rejection, etc. And, face reality: if you’re good enough to play right away at a big school, how did your son not show up in the draft after high school? Yes, a low draft pick might be less appealing than three years of college development; with anything, there are exceptions. But there is much to think about. A common “offer” from a major school coach might go like this: “I’ll give you book money and if you work hard and gain a spot, we might can free some scholarship money next year.”

How big is your fish, and what size pond would you dominate?

Set aside time for an honest conversation with your son, and help him see the pros and cons on the options. Read the recruiting letters, listen to the phone calls from coaches, and try to weigh it all. Whatever the decision, you’ll second-guess many times and always wonder if you did the right thing. It’s tough being a parent. Sometimes it’s doubly tough being the parent of a good ballplayer.

Key Question When Viewing Colleges

Over the next few months, your son might be studying college options — and congrats in advance on having options. Your high school coach can help a lot with setting up appointments, sending digital clips, etc. When you’re ready to make some visits or really weigh the pros and cons of a program, here’s one of the most important questions you’ll ask: How does the program get funded? You won’t believe how many parents never ask about the budget. Be prepared for some surprises.

Unless you’re a Top 20 college team, you realize very quickly that the program is underfunded. This is true almost anywhere. While the football and basketball teams travel well, eat well, sleep well, and generate a lot of income, baseball is treated as almost a minor sport. Some are self-funded.

If your son is being recruited, be sure to ask about the budget and the expected ways to enhance the program. Some are unusual.

Here’s an example. Our team in North Carolina annually made a road trip to Talladega, AL. Sounds good, right? Play a few games along the way in South Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama and treat it as spring training. But, no, that’s not how that went. The annual trip was to the Talladega Speedway was an unusual perk for the players? No, that’s not how that went.

Instead, the players were hired to clean the stands and infield after the race, at a price that put a lot of money in the program.

A good deal? The players would say no. Even if they were able to watch some of the race… Even if some of them could sneak into some of the sponsor tents, such as site of the Miller Lite girls with an open supply of beer… Even if the afternoon included some “fun,” the late afternoon and evening was more of a nightmare.

Picking up trash is hard enough. But unless you’ve spent some time in the infield at a NASCAR track, you really don’t know what you might find discarded. Use your imagination. Sure, chicken bones and cans and liquor bottles. Some chairs and charcoal grills. But don’t forget the used feminine products or the soiled diapers. Or clothes that would not even burn — even though someone had tried. Or used condoms. Or shotgun shells. Or fireworks. Or an open latrine when someone thought the Porta-Jon was too far away.

The players had pointed sticks to spear trash and garbage bags, but no surgical masks to handle the smell and only upperclassmen knew to bring gloves. Most were gagging, adding nausea to the ground already trampled by things thrown up and thrown out.

More than 100,000 fans attend the race. They generate a lot of trash. Cleaning the area is an all-nighter…followed by a cramped van ride back to NC.

Where does the money go? Maybe an extra meal on the road, or a better buffet. Maybe, at tournament time, two players to a room instead of four. Maybe an alternate jersey for special games. Maybe a few more bats in the bag, or an extra batting cage.

And you’re thinking, don’t teams have all that? You’d be surprised. Many college baseball teams are a shoestring operation, and almost everything is parceled out… including scholarships.

Ask about such details during the recruiting visit. Unless you happen to have a big sponsor, you might find your son cleaning a racetrack.

The Art of Long Throwing

This happened at our AAA game earlier this month. The centerfielder tracked a long shot to the deepest park of the park. He just missed the catch, crashed into the wall, fell, then scrambled to his feet and found the ball, still on the warning track.

This looked like an inside-the-park home run. Even the runner thought so. But the centerfielder picked up the ball and threw a strike — in the air — to the catcher, holding the runner at third. The centerfielder was standing right in front of the 400- foot sign.

That’s a long throw. A laser. On line. No hops. He’s shown off his arm in other games, but this incredible.

Which leads to a good autumn topic for players waiting on spring: strengthen the arm.

First, let’s be smart about this. If you son’s arm hurts, shut it down, let it rest — plenty of rest, especially if the pain is in the elbow area. But if the arm is just tight, work it out. He’ll know the difference between a tired arm and a tight arm. This is a very delicate area, and best handled individually between you, son and possibly an ortho professional. Maybe the arm hurts because you son is growing or maybe there is some damage and the pain in lingering. Sometimes, ice does not cure everything.

Anyway, let’s not chase that rabbit. You’re talking about strengthening the arm, and you probably already know all the drills. For pitchers, throw behind the mound, on flat ground. Then move to second base and throw, using the same pitching mound mechanics (wind up and stretch). You’ll like the results.

For position players, and catchers in particular, practice the long throws. Gradually increase the distance over time. Expand throws during the week or month. This is a long-term project. It’s ok if the throwing partner cannot match the distance. The balls can be gathered if you take a bucket with each player. Just be sure proper mechanics are in place and realize that long throwing is an art.

A goal: older high school and college players should try to throw pole to pole. That’s left field foul pole to right field foul pole. Yes, that’s a long way. A guy who can do that can definitely throw. Not many can. Keep that in mind: not many can throw that far, and that’s ok. The point is about strengthening the arm. In terms of long throws, what’s the longest throw you need, realistically, during a game? Fence to cutoff to base…what, maybe 200 feet at best? So the long throwing is not because of game conditions, but simply to strengthen the arm and shoulder.

If you do this in moderation and allow enough time, the player will see gradual and effective improvement. Of course, proper stretching is required, good warm up is required, and good honest “communication” with the arm and shoulder is required. Stretching is another area that needs much more attention from players and coaches, and certainly before long throws.

Does the AAA centerfielder I mentioned earlier do this? Without a doubt. Show up early for batting practice, and watch how he warms up his arm. He’ll back up further and further. And notice how often the partner is a catcher. Catchers, maybe more than anyone of the team, take care of the arm. The Baseball Parent’s son was a catcher. He’s an instructor, and a proponent of long throwing.

Very short lesson: strengthen the arm with long throws, and encourage this as an added part of the fall workouts.

Back To School

We enter the second half of August, and if not already, within a few weeks school begins. As a baseball parent, what concerns do you have with the new school year?

Let’s narrow the field a bit, and in this case let’s assume your baseball son is in high school. Several decisions will be made in the coming months, so let’s get these on the table first. If a freshman, your stomach is knotted because he has to make the team. If a sophomore, you might have a choice: move up to varsity and watch upperclassmen play or stay down on the JV team and get a lot of at bats. If a junior, you know that this is a big stat year for college recruiting; after all, by the spring of the senior year, the colleges have already signed top prospects. As a senior, you again feel the pressure of putting up a solid year and being a team leader.

Those are basics. But some other issues have a way of getting in your head. First problem is football. Regardless of size, the football staff wants, and expects, the top athletes on the field. But what if your son is a baseball player. Period. There’s pressure applied, believe me. You have to stay firm, reassure your son’s stance, and somehow not be so adamant or defensive that other coaches make life harder than usual for your son. What’s worse, sometimes the baseball coach is an assistant in football; at some schools, every coach finds a position on the football staff.

But there are some “baseball schools” and, in a best-case scenario, your son attends a school where baseball is “year round” and the baseball staff deflects much of the football criticism. (In another blog, we’ll talk about choosing a high school for baseball.)

Then, there’s the fall conditioning program. Be very much in tune with who is leading the weight program. If the baseball staff supervises, you should be fine. But if this is coordinated through a class period and is taught by (of course) a football assistant, then some compromises are going to occur. Your son will do what the coach tells him to do and he probably does not know the difference. It’s YOUR job, parent, to know the difference between football muscles and baseball muscles. If needed, get involved and help the supervisor develop a shoulder program or plyometrics. Actually, some coaches enjoy setting up a special program for a special player.

Football muscles typically are aimed at bulk, excessive strength, explosive moves. Baseball muscles typically are aimed at flexibility, stretching of small muscles around the shoulder and neck and rotator, the small of the back, and general tone more so than “strength”. What you can dead lift or what you can press has little to do with throwing a baseball or hitting a baseball. In fact, too much upper body strength can interfere with good throwing mechanics.

Encourage your son to find time to get outside in the late afternoons. Long tossing is good. Also, throwing a football is good therapy, and the person running football routes to receive those passes also helps conditioning. Keep throwing until weather turns cold. Then shut down the arm for a few weeks. Let the fall workouts include cage time, and that can be soft toss or tee fundamentals as well as standard BP. Work on hitting to the opposite field. Have a plan. Have your son find baseball players who welcome practice partners. Just stay out of sight of the football players.

Finally, as parent, make sure your son stays on top of his studies. You have to be eligible for the spring. With each year, you’ll find more and more distractions: additional school activities and clubs, girls, cars, movies, dates, girls…try to find the right balance of social and physical growth that puts your son ahead of others when late winter rolls around and the first day of baseball practice is announced. Oh, and on the other side of campus, you might see some spring football drills. But chances are, the baseball coach is not pressuring the football coach for players. Other than a freak of nature like Bo Jackson, the sports are that different. Your son plays baseball and that’s a year-round project.