Trying to keep practice hitter good in games

ASK CAL

June 04, 2006|By CAL RIPKEN JR.

We have a problem with hitting. In the batting cages, my son hits the ball hard and never misses. Against a pitching machine or coach during practice, no problem hitting. However, during a game, NO LUCK. He is 12 and plays at his local Little League. What do you think it can be, and what can help him?

Michele Aucone, Sayreville, N.J.

DEAR MICHELE / / This is the same situation that often arises with golfers. They'll go out on the range and hit the ball very well, but when they get on the course and try to play, they find that it's not nearly as easy. The key for your son is to help him take that same relaxed mind-set he has at practice into the games. Of course, that can be easier said than done. It is important to practice hitting in batting cages off of coaches or pitching machines, but I think that it can be more beneficial to take more batting practice on the field in game-like situations.

I would advocate breaking a team down into several groups, each made up of three or four players. They would then hit against a coach or pitcher and a full defensive lineup. Balls and strikes would be kept and batted balls would be run out as if it were a real game. Each batter might get three or four at-bats before another small group would get a chance to hit. The group that scored the most runs would win.

This type of game enables players to take that relaxed, practice mentality into a game-like situation. They get used to hitting in different situations (with runners on base, with different numbers of outs, with different counts) and can develop a certain comfort level with being on stage. Hopefully this comfort level will transfer to actual games and enable the players to achieve the same results that they do in practice.

My son is stuck in an unusual position: he's a lefty, and a catcher. Now that he's 13, he'll be heading to high school next year, and from what I'm hearing, he won't even be considered for a catching position because of being a lefty. He's a great catcher, and the coaches in the league throughout the years have known it, but have also known that he won't be able to play high school ball as one. They don't want to give him up as a catcher, so have never given him experience at any other position. Any advice?

Thelma Tiemann, Richboro, Pa.

DEAR THELMA / / Your question is one that I've often wondered about myself. I've never understood why more left-handed catchers couldn't play at higher levels. If a catcher has developed all of the skills necessary to play at a certain level -- if he has a quick release and throws accurately, knows how to call a game and can block pitches -- I don't see any problem with having a left-handed catcher. Whether or not a player catches at any level should be defined by how good he is, not by which arm he throws with.

While it never hurts to learn to play other positions, I wouldn't let your son give up hope. Maybe some of the coaches he's already played for and against can speak to the high school coach on your son's behalf. Use them to help convince the coach at the next level that it would be worth his while to take a look at your son. Good luck.

My son is 14 years old and is very good at baseball. Where can I take him to play and be seen by people that would be able to help send him in the right direction?

Jack Deckelman, Millers Island

DEAR JACK / / For kids who play on high school teams and in "travel" leagues, as well as those who attend the various showcase events that can be found around the country, there are many opportunities to get scouted. If your son enjoys playing the game, continue to support his efforts and allow him to play at the highest level that he can. If he does this and is successful, word will spread and people will come to see him play.

Of course, it never hurts to attend a showcase camp or tournament, however sometimes these can create false expectations and pressure. It can be difficult to perform when you are paraded in front of college coaches and professional scouts and you only get a few opportunities to display your talent. I believe that if your son is good enough and continues to improve that the exposure will take care of itself.

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Have a question or issue arising from your involvement in youth sports? Send it by e-mail to askcal@baltimoresun.com.

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