Make batting practice more game-like to prepare hitters for live pitching

ASK CAL

December 10, 2006|By CAL RIPKEN JR.

DEAR CAL / / MY 17-year-old son is a pretty good pitcher, but he can?t hit much. I took him to a guy who played semipro ball to fix his swing. He hit well in the cages but not live pitching. What can I do to help him?

John Rushnok, Middleburg Heights, Ohio

DEAR JOHN // It is not unusual to find someone like your son,who hits line drives all over the place in the batting cage or during batting practice but struggles against live pitching. While there is no perfect formula for how to fix this, from my experience the only way to improve a hitter?s performance in games is to provide that player with more opportunities to hit under game conditions.

Drills such as soft toss, short toss and tee work are the perfect way to develop and correct swing mechanics.

These drills are done in low-pressure environments that promote success.

The ball is moving straight and at low speeds ? or not at all ?which allows the player to really concentrate on developing proper mechanics without worrying about missing the ball or being embarrassed. We want the batter to develop the timing and feel of hitting a pitched ball, not the feeling of swinging and missing over and over.

Unfortunately, opposing pitchers are not so accommodating. Drills and batting practice don?t really prepare hitters for that, so my recommendation would be to make hitting sessions more like games.

Let them hit off the other pitchers on the team in intrasquad scrimmages or in small groups in which they get four or five at-bats against someone who is trying to get them out. When pitchers are not available to throw, coaches can turn batting practice into more of a game-like environment by announcing different counts and throwing appropriate pitches for those counts.

DEAR CAL // My son has been playing on a travel soccer team for four years. He plays for a Division I travel team that is very stressful. He also has played baseball in the spring since he was 8. He shows a lot of promise as a pitcher. We want to encourage him to continue to play baseball, but do you think he will develop as a baseball player if he?s not on a travel team?

Tracy Devore, Odenton

DEAR TRACY // I?m assuming, based on the facts in your letter, that your son probably is 12 or 13 years old. Your son absolutely can develop as a baseball player if he?s not on a travel team. If his experiences at the recreational or inhouse levels aren?t helping him progress adequately, there are plenty of coaches out there who canwork with himone-on-one.

I?m guessing that your son is not playing travel baseball because of the commitment required for soccer.

Playing more than one sport aids in the development of athleticism. At some point, though, if he hopes to play baseball seriously in high school and beyond, he will be at a disadvantage if he hasn?t competed against tougher competition. Individual lessons with a qualified coach can help bridge that gap, but not completely.

I would ask your son directly which sport he likes better and which one he wants to pursue more seriously. If he enjoys the commitment to soccer and is satisfied with his baseball experience, maintain the status quo. If he wants to pursue baseball more seriously, encourage him to try out for a travel teamandsee if the soccer and baseball coaches can compromise so that he can participate in both sports at that level. If he can?t participate in both at the travel level, look for a good recreational or in-house program in the sport he isn?t playing at the higher level and try to find other options that fit into your schedule to further his experiences in that activity (indoor soccer, one-on-one pitching lessons, etc.).

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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