Score One For Club Baseball

IndoorBaseballRecently, I had the fortune of observing an indoor practice of a Division 1 college baseball team. While I would have been happy just watching the simulated game they were playing in the cages, I found the uninterrupted 45-minute Q&A with the head coach quite interesting.

He had a wrinkle on the one-pitch hitting drill which I will incorporate this season.  Instead of each pitch being live, you put a runner or runners on and the batter gets three swings; the first is live for the defense and the runner(s), the second is a straight-forward BP swing and the third is live for everyone including the batter. It’s tailor made for the smaller roster sizes in youth baseball/softball.

He described their running philosophy. The runners are taught to keep going until they are stopped by a base coach. I knew I’d be using that as soon as he said it as it keeps the runners aggressive and decisive by eliminating the need to think along with the coach.

He likes hitting heavy balls (I don’t because I think it tends to make younger kids fly open in an effort to drive the ball) and he also said he would always take a catcher who was a better receiver over one who had a cannon for an arm something I came to believe early on. (I’ve written about it here).

The most intriguing part came when someone asked him what kids entering the program lacked. Base running and the ability to play off the ball were the answers. And then he said something along the lines of “The kids don’t play enough. They’re all better technically than we were back when we played. But they lack game sense. But they don’t know what to do when ball isn’t hit to them. I know what many people think about club baseball, with the number of club teams out there now. But I like club baseball. They need to play more games. They play more games when they play club ball.” I’m not sure what the reaction in the room was given he was speaking to a group of town rec and travel coaches.

My reaction was a bit “aha” and relief mixed in one. You hear so much about practice reigning supreme for development, and I had always been in that camp. That started to change last year, when I had a team play in a spring league and saw how much better the kids who played in the spring did when we got to the summer. This year, when my town program wouldn’t get behind a town team in a spring travel league, I had my son tryout for some club teams specifically so he could get more game time.

Am I putting my kid on a club team because I think he’s going to play in college? He’s 11-years-old; I don’t even know if he’s going to play next year, let alone high school or college. But he loves to play and compete and he got a lot better last year playing more than he had ever before. And his club will give him the opportunity to do that again.

We can denounce club teams all we want. They start too young, there are too many of them, they’re just interested in your money, etc. But when a college coach says he likes club ball, it’s worth taking note. Score one for the club teams.

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That’s a Wrap

Coach 001Over the holidays I decided not to coach the town travel baseball team this summer. There were several reasons for the decision; the main one being I am between jobs and didn’t want to make a commitment I might not be able to keep. Though I will still coach, as an assistant on the town travel softball team, the decision was agonizing.

It was agonizing not because I am worried about my son’s playing. He and his game will benefit from playing for someone not named “Dad” even if I feel we could have punted on that issue for at least another year. The decision was agonizing because I love coaching. I love the preparation that goes into it and I love the in-game managing. I love replaying every play after the games thinking about what I should have done differently.

I love the moments when baseball reaches out and touches your soul, and it happens just about every day at the youth level. I’ve written about some of the on-field moments, but the off-field ones are just as evocative.

We’re at a restaurant on Father’s Day after a tournament. My son and I are still in our baseball gear to the amusement of my wife and daughter (she’s yet to start her travel softball journey at this point.) A family scoots behind us ready to exit when the dad stops and comes back over to us and says, “I love your uniforms. Happy Father’s Day.”

I nod and say, “Thank you. Same to you,” without really understanding what’s to love about our jerseys. They are just plain red after all. Then it clicks. It’s what’s on the back of our jerseys.

But what I’ll miss most is the extra time spent with my son forging a bond as we’ve weaved our way through the parent/coach/child relationship. I can’t say every step has been easy just as I can’t say I have been perfect. There are plenty of moments I’d like to do over. Still, we’ve always been close, but baseball has brought us closer and being his coach even closer still.

Kid, I’m sure it hasn’t been easy having your dad as your coach. I know I’m hard on you, and I know I expect more of you on and off the field.

What I don’t know is if you understand how proud of you I am. Not because of what you do on the field; win, lose, ofer or three HRs, it’s just a game. I’m proud of you because you listen and make adjustments without fussing. I’m proud of you because you learned long ago that practice helps you improve and now you ask me if we can get more work in. I’m proud you because you show up every day dying to play, ready to compete. Don’t ever lose the fierce competitor in you. It’s okay to hate losing, and I’m glad you do, though you always have to be a good sport about it. And I’m proud of you because of the teammate you are becoming, they way you celebrate your teammates’ successes. In a world that is increasingly all about “I” remember what you give to your teammates you will get back five times over. I’m proud of you because you’ve grown in some many ways I never did.

Every year at the team introductions, I when I ask the players and coaches to name their favorite player, I name some pro. Here’s a well-known secret. You are my favorite baseball player. Why do you think I wear number 72? You wear 27 in homage to Mike Trout. I wear number 72 in homage to you.

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