It's time to lay down some tips about bunting for a base hit

ASK CAL

Youth sports

October 07, 2007|By CAL RIPKEN JR.

DEAR CAL -- I am 15 and play high school and Babe Ruth baseball. I have decent speed and am told many times to bunt. But I find it hard to bunt an inside pitch down the third base line. Should I take the pitch down the first base line or should I try to bring my hands closer to my body and still try to put it down the third base line?

Joshua Plowman,

Greenville, N.C.

DEAR JOSHUA -- We like to teach players to bunt the ball where it is pitched, just as with hitting. Doing that increases your chances of being successful.

Let me explain: When you bunt a pitch, it is essential that you position the bat head in front of home plate to maximize the chances that the ball will stay fair. If you contact the ball in front of the plate and it travels straight down off the bat, there still is a good chance that it will be a fair ball. If your bat is behind the plate at all and that ball drops straight down, there is little chance it will stay fair.

So, if you were to bring your hands closer to your body to try to push the inside pitch down the first base line, several factors would be working against you as you attempt to bunt for a hit. First, to do that you have to angle the bat so that it's more perpendicular to the ground, which gives you less margin for error as far as contacting the ball properly.

Second, to pull your hands in, you have to go from a position where your knees are slightly bent to a more upright position. That changes the level of your head and eyes, and anytime we do that it becomes more difficult to see and consequently more difficult to execute a skill properly.

Third, by bringing your hands in and standing more upright, it will be harder for you to get out of the box quickly, thus making it more difficult to beat out the hit.

Instead, try having a coach throw you nothing but inside pitches. If there is a fear factor involved, do it with rubber baseballs first. Use the bottom hand like a ship's rudder to guide the bat, pulling the hand toward you and angling the bat so that you are contacting the ball well out in front of the plate and pushing it toward third. Work on accuracy first, standing still and getting the feel for bunting the ball to a place that will make it difficult for the defense to throw you out under any circumstances.

Don't worry about running out of the box until you get the feel for executing the perfect bunt. You might want to set up cones as your target and attempt to stop the ball in between them. After you can do that pretty consistently, work on getting out of the box quickly after the bunt - which will help when you aren't able to place the bunt perfectly.

Remember, even the slowest runners can beat out a bunt to the perfect spot, so master the fundamental first before worrying about getting out of the box quickly.

DEAR CAL -- I am 12 and attend a college prep school with no sports programs. I am in seventh grade and next year I have to decide to stay or go. If I were to stay at that school, I wouldn't have an opportunity to play high school baseball. How important is playing high school ball if I hope to continue my career into college and hopefully beyond?

Aaron Lebo, Stockton, Calif.

DEAR AARON -- Although I don't live in California and am not sure about the specifics there, the gist of your question is easy to understand. Yes, it's important to play baseball in high school if you hope to continue playing into college, but luckily for you, it is not essential these days. It is imperative for you to play somewhere during that stage of your development, however.

College coaches and pro scouts now spend as much time watching players on traveling summer and fall teams, as well as players who attend individual and team showcase events, as they do high school players. They may see a kid play in high school and add him to the list of players they want to contact or follow, but they care about a lot more than just a player's high school statistics.

My advice to you is to check the Internet and look in your local newspapers to find travel or more elite teams that play together in the summer and fall and to try out for a few of them until you find a good fit. Many of these teams practice through the winter months, so you should be able to keep your skills sharp during the time when others are playing high school ball.

If that isn't the case, maybe your parents can help you train during your offseason or you can find a local coach to give you individual lessons or take you through your workouts.

The bottom line is that if you are a good player and find a team to play on at any time of the year, you will get seen.

You also can maximize your visibility by checking online for baseball showcases that are attended by college coaches and professional scouts. If you are good enough, the more they see you play, the better your chances become of playing ball beyond your high school years.

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

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