Sa-wing Batta!

Whether the sound is “Ping!” or “Crack!”, contact from a baseball bat on to a ball is where the action begins. Without it, nothing is going on other than a pitcher throwing to a catcher. It is the hardest thing to do in sport. Make contact on a round ball with a round weapon in less than half a freaking second. Pictures are better than words, here is a break down of the swing scientifically:

There ya have it. I couldn’t have broken it down better myself. It is a sweet science to behold. Like the quote in the graphic says, it is “clearly impossible.” I assure it is not. But it has to start somewhere and that somewhere is the stance. Each batter has their own unique batting stances. At point of contact, all batters (when doing it right), look the same. But how they get there is what’s great about it. There are certain characteristics at the foundation of a stance that will hold true. However, it is the natural skills of the batter that will ultimately determine how the stance forms. The stance can, and will, change. It won’t be things noticeable to the fan, until compared side-by-side. But, thanks to the scientic breakdown above, players must spend countless hours making the swing become natural. The timing, the positioning, everything has to become second nature because of the little time to react and hit a baseball. Below are some of the more recognizable stances in baseball:

The stance, though, is only the beginning. End of they day, you have to put the bat on the ball. Breaking down all-aspects of the swing would take too long and even start to bore me writing it. No, we are going to look at the one-on-one show down a batter goes throw facing a pitcher, and the clash of egos that ensues with each batter. It starts in the on-deck circle. You grab your helmet, bat, possibly some batting gloves, step out of the dug out, and head to the “circle.” Whether there is an actual circle to stand in or not, there is a general area where every batter can loosen up and prepare mentally for the upcoming at-bat. Standing in the on-deck circle, you really get a feel for the situation. You get away from your teammates and any other distractions going on. Each batter goes throw his own little routine in the box. Some will swing multiple bats while others will just use a donut (weight that can slide over the bat). Some will take full speed swings while other will just go throw the motions. Whatever gets each person ready is all that matters. But now it’s go time. Your mind is racing about the current situation. If it’s a big spot in the game, you have to get your nerves under control. You also can’t think about failure. Great baseball players fail 70% of time when they come to bat. But that is the last thing on your mind. It’s one of those realities that you block out when it’s your turn to bat. Why? Because in your mind, all you’re saying is “I’m gonna rip the shit out of this ball.”

You approach the batters box and, again, the customization continues. However you get settled into the box is up to you, but you have to feel comfortable. It’s important to make everything as natural as you can so all you have to worry about is reacting to the pitch. Once you settle in, it’s a waiting game. In all reality, it won’t be more than about ten seconds from the time you step in the box to the time the pitch has been thrown. But it lasts forever. The anticipation only adds to the pressure to focus solely on the upcoming pitch. You re-grip that bat a few times, maybe swing it back and forth, all the while telepathically telling the pitcher “Throw the damn ball already.” The pitcher receives your message and starts his wind-up. The moment grows larger and larger with every movement of the pitcher. Then the pitcher reaches his release point and your mind starts racing. You are trying to determine the spin on ball, and thus predicting where the ball will be when you are trying to make contact. The harder it’s thrown, the less time there is complete the process, equaling a smaller window of error that’s already way too small to begin with for someone who is supposed to be on offense. Shit this one is coming for my head!! You duck out the way and save your face. You brush yourself off and stare back at the pitcher. He’s staring right back at you. The egos take visual form on the field and you can watch them throwing alternating blows. Oh it’s epic.

Time for the next pitch, and the pitcher gets the batter to swing and miss. Another stare down commences. Now the egos have turned into giant middle fingers being shoved into each others face. With this next pitch, however, the pitcher makes a mistake. He tried to throw a curveball and it’s not curving. It’s just a floating, spinning, beach ball at this point. You lick your lips, knowing that the pitcher is done for. Your hands start to whip through and you make contact. You have made such perfect contact, that you can’t even feel the ball leaving the bat. The ball has a tight back spin on it as it continues to climb and travel farther and farther away from home plate. When you can’t feel the ball leaving the bat, you found the sweet spot. You know the ball is crushed. This is how you feel watching the ball fly over the fence:

Nothing like admiring your fine work with some serious swag (that Griffey Jr. guy did that pretty well). You start to trot down the first base line, and work your way around the bases. As you round third and finally cross home, you pound fists with your teammates on the way towards the dugout and take one more look back at the pitcher. You just want to send one more message to him, “Suck it.” Yeah, there are plenty of other times that won’t go your way. But that’s the nature of the game, and it’s only the times of success that need to be glorified. Everyone makes outs; few people drop bombs. There is nothing like blasting that pearly white over the fence. The only thing that tops this is the walk-off home run. It goes something like this:

Step 1: Crush

Step 2: Admire

Step 3: “Cruz” around the bases in pure joy knowing you are the man

Step 4: See the Half-Circle formed around home plate by your teammates ready to erupt when you hit that plate

Then you bounce around and celebrate the glorious victory. Oh happy day. Baseball is designed where the defence is in control and the offense has to be the one that reactionary. Because of this, it gives the offense that much more satisfaction when it triumphs. Making solid contact on a baseball is such a unique sports feeling. It takes thousands upon thousands of swings to get it right. But all those times in the batting cages hitting off of tees, soft toss, pitches from behind an L-screen (a protective screen in the shape of an L to keep pitchers from getting destroyed by line drives) and live batting practice on the field is worth it when you see that ball flying away. And if the pure satisfaction of achieving a goal through hard work isn’t enough, there is one more indisputable fact about hitting home-runs as well…

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Announcement!! Announcement!!

“How you uh, how you comin’ on that novel you’re working on? Huh? Got a big, uh, big stack of papers there? Got a, got a nice little story you’re working on there? Your big novel you’ve been working on for three years? Huh? Got a, got a compelling protagonist? Yeah? Got an obstacle for him to overcome? Huh? Got a story brewing there? Working on, working on that for quite some time? Huh? Yeah, talking about that three years ago. Been working on that the whole time? Nice little narrative? Beginning, middle, and end? Some friends become enemies, some enemies become friends? At the end your main character is richer from the experience? Yeah? Yeah? No, no, you deserve some time off.”

-Stewie Griffin

So this post is nothing more than an announcement. Back in college I was working on a novel, until I forgot to back it up, and 100 pages of work was erased when my computer crashed last year. So, as of today, I’ve started writing another novel. The goal: Have it completed no later than 365 days from today. Just like the last story, it will be based on true events from my life. Events and places will be real, and the characters will be based on those who shared these experiences with me along the way (could be a mix of people for one character, could just be one person). I will still have posts on the blog while working on the novel. I was really enjoying the last time I started writing a novel and I am serious about getting this done (seen by this post).

Paintin’ the Black

No man is an island entire of itself…

-John Donne, 1624

John Donne’s famous line still resonates today. Staying with a basic interpretation of this line (and the entire poem), Donne is telling the world we all depend on one another and, in a way, all our actions affect others. Very true, especially in the world of baseball. But, I’m here to tell you, if his 17th century-ass stood on a pitcher’s mound, he might have reserved that line for another moment. Because the position of pitcher turns a man into an island. One man stands on a small hill 60 feet, 6 inches away from a white, irregular pentagon with thick black edges. He has 7 defenders behind him and 1 catcher in front of him waiting, anticipating. At the root of pitching, it doesn’t seem that difficult. You just throw the ball to the catcher. Oh wait, there is that damn batter standing there with a bat trying to crush the shit out of the ball. When you think about it though, the batters fail about 70% of the time, so why is it that difficult to pitch? Basic logic says throw the ball around that white thing up there and just let them hit it. But, it’s not that simple.

Lots of it has to deal with the fact that most of those guys are pretty good. If pitchers just floated the ball in the same area of the plate, at the same speed, with the same amount of movement on it, batters would be getting out far less often. And while it would be fun for a bit to watch baseball scores turn into low scoring football games, it would get old really quick. A pitcher has to face 9 different batters, with 9 different strengths and weakness, who are going to face him at least 3 times a game. So the pitcher has to always be changing things up during the game.

A pitcher has to handle so many thoughts between each pitch. The pitcher essentially has a constant conversation with himself during the game. Here is an example of what a pitcher’s “conversation” looks like. The two separate “voices” are going to be distinguished by one being in italics. In this scene it is a 0-0 count, no runners on, in the 1st inning:

“It feels great to be on the mound, time to do work.” (Result-fastball thrown for a strike)

“Good, now what?”

“Well, he’s standing off the plate, I’m gonna throw another fastball down and away.” (Result-missed wide enough to get pass the catcher, count now 1-1)

“That worked out well.”

“No shit, no worries, we will come back with something off-speed because he’ll be expecting another fastball after that one missing poorly. Worse case, he gets a weak swing on the ball.”

Ok, just keep it down. Don’t try to over throw it” (Result-ball missed low, but batter was way out in front, count now 2-1)

“Ass-hole somehow held up.”

“You’re behind now; you should attack with the fastball.”

“Na, I’ll throw a curve-ball over. He was lunging at the last one, should catch him off guard again.” (Result-curve-ball thrown for a strike, batter swung right over it, count is 2-2)

“I’ll get him a tennis racket when the game is over.”

“Maybe you should get him out first, everything has been low and/or away, come up and in.”

“Like that, gonna bring the heat.” (Result, hits a weak ground ball to 3rd, rolls right under 3rd baseman’s glove between his legs, reaches 1st on an error)

“You shitting me? That’s how the game starts? Whatever…holy crap who is the brunette?”

“Where?”

“Behind our on-deck circle, she just showed up.”

“Oh that’s whats her face? Man she’s got some great legs! And she’s got a sexy tan!”

“I’m gonna break off a nasty curve-ball to start this guy off, show her some serious skills from the mound.” (Result-spun the curve-ball, floated over the middle, batter holds his follow through for about 5 seconds after he crushes the mistake, ball traveled farther than an intercontinental ballistic missile, the outfielders had to get rushed to the hospital from severe whiplash trying to get their heads’ around to see where it would land, batter crosses the plate, stares down the pitcher and pops his jersey, team is now down 2-0, hot brunette now spends more time on her phone instead of watching you pitch)

“Wow…”

“Shut it, don’t wanna hear it.”

“She looks real impressed hahahaha!!”

“God, I hate you.”

…And just think, that’s only 6 pitches into the game. Pitching is such a mental game; without a solid mental game, it is impossible to be a good, much less great, pitcher. I don’t care if you throw 100mph, with some nasty breaking stuff. If you can’t control your own mind, you can’t control those pitches. Different types of pitches add to the complexity of the position. It’s not enough to just learn the ability to throw them, you have to master them in order to be successful. If you only have one pitch worth a damn, you can’t be effective after one trip through the lineup, if that long. With that said, we are gonna take a quick look types of pitches commonly thrown from the bump.

Fastball: I mean do I really need to go into depth? Good ole number 1. Rear back and let that sucker fly as hard as you can. This is the most basic pitch, but can be tinkered with to be more than just heat. Grips will dictate the movement on the ball. Hitting something traveling 90 mph is tough; hitting the same-speed pitch that slides 3 inches, well that’s why I’m writing about baseball instead of still playing.

Change-up: Again, pretty self-explanatory. This pitch is used to change-up the speed of the ball (slower) without slowing down your arm. The grips will vary, but basically you grip it closer to the palm of your hand, relax your fingers, and just let it roll of your fingers instead of “pushing” it like you do with a fastball. Generally, the ball will drop off close to the plate and if executed correctly, will have the batter way out in front with little to zero power.

Curve-ball (aka Uncle Charlie): This is where things get really interesting. The ball does what its name implies, but the curve they take are unique to each chucking it. Some are big, loopy curve-balls that are much, much slower than the pitcher’s fastball. Some don’t break as much, but have a tight spin and are closer to the speed of the fastball. Also the angle of the break is going to vary by the arm angle of the pitcher. This pitch can, and does, make batters look awfully silly at times. You will see the knees buckle as the batter bails out before realizing it breaks back across the plate. Oh it’s a great feeling to throw a pitch that does that to a batter.

Slider: Similar to a curve-ball in the fact that it breaks more than a change-up or fastball. But sliders are much closer to the speed of the fast ball and has more horizontal movement than vertical movement. You come to bat against a hard-throwing pitcher with a great slider, just go home.

Knuckleball: This pitch is the most unique of them all. This pitch barley has any spin/rotation on the ball and has an unpredictable path to the plate. It is extremely difficult to throw because of its grip, how differently you have to release that ball, and because you can’t predict where it will go when it leaves your hand. It isn’t thrown hard, but is very difficult to hit. The biggest thing working against the knuckleball, if thrown and it spins/doesn’t knuckle, the pitcher basically threw a slow-pitch softball up there. Be prepared to duck and cover.

Ok, now you’ve mastered that voice in your head. Standing all alone on the mound doesn’t bother you. You have done a great job learning 3-4 pitches and can control them. Go back to the scenario up top. Since the 2 run home run you gave up, you go on to retire ever single batter you face. Not one batter reaches base and you managed to strike out 11 in the process. By all standards and averages, you did your job as a pitcher. Not just did it, but did it pretty well. But the offense didn’t show and you suffered a loss to your name. I mean come on? You guys couldn’t get any runs on the board. But that’s the way it goes. Shouldn’t have been checking out that brunette.

But there are also days when you as a pitcher can pick up a win while sucking. Go out, give up 7 runs, walk a few batters, throw a couple to the backstop, sail one over the 1st baseman’s head and walk away with a 9-7 victory. It’s funny though because pitchers, for the most part, are pretty arrogant. Pitchers know damn well they can’t get a W if the offense doesn’t produce runs. But it doesn’t matter. Standing on that island changes your mental state. You start every sequence in the game. The game doesn’t move forward until the pitcher does. So you start to think you are waaaaaaaaay more important than everyone else on the field. But in the same poem, Donne reminds us:

…every man
is a piece of the continent

In that case, pitchers would be Texas. Bigger, badder, and more dominant than the rest of the country (Of course, Donne was referencing Europe in the poem, details. If Donne met Texans and knew baseball, he would agree with me). You can laugh all you want about how much of a head case a pitcher can be. But, don’t you want a guy standing on the mound, who controls the tempo of the game, to have unlimited confidence? You want someone on the mound that’s gonna say “Give me the damn ball and y’all get on my back.” As a defense, you can pick up on that, and it can carry over on both offense and defense. So, when talking about baseball, let a pitcher be an island. He stands on one, let him control it as his own. That island is where he goes to work for his team. Let that bright, bright spotlight be a sun for him on his island. Go ahead and let his ego run a little rampant. After all, there is a batter standing at the plate with a bat who can remind that pitcher how much he actually sucks. Oh the egos of baseball players…

With that closes the door on the position of a pitcher. Yep, not just a dude on a mound playing catch with another player. Quite complex actually. As mentioned though, there are plenty of batters pitchers face. So the next blog post will examine the awesomeness of hitting in baseball. Nothing like being on offense even though the defense controls the ball.