Saturday, January 31, 2009

The importance of relaxing at the plate and hitting the ball the other way

Gordon following new overall plan this winter

Below is an article on former Husker Alex Gordon and his work this offseason to improve his hitting by workig on relaxing at the plate and using the whole field. The article speaks of how Gordon was trying to "muscle up" and pull everything which is a common trait of many high school hitters.

Kevin Seitzer went to a few Royals games last season, and he saw the talent and the power in third baseman Alex Gordon. But he also saw a hitter who seemed too conscious of pulling the ball -- and his swing was not conducive to the kind of consistency needed to haul a hitter through the inevitable struggles of a 162-game season.

So when Seitzer was named as the Royals' new hitting coach several months ago, he already had a good sense of adjustments he wanted to address with Gordon, the Royals' slugger. Weeks ago, Gordon started going out to Seitzer's place to work on his swing, and he feels as if he's made great strides as he prepares for the third season of his career.

"It's really about the approach, mentally," said Gordon, who also has been working on his defensive play with former Royals third baseman Joe Randa.

Gordon feels like he lost focus in his approach and that, in taking batting practice, he'd gotten into the habit of trying to launch the baseball. "I was trying to muscle up when I took BP," he said.

What Gordon and Seitzer have done in their work together is to change the hand path of his swing -- to change the way he swings the bat, to put him in a better position to use the whole field, to hit the ball up the middle and the opposite way. They've talked about making him more fluid in his swing, less rigid -- "letting his hands work better," Seitzer said.

Gordon starts each of their sessions with tee work designed to make him use his hands properly, with his feet essentially flat, "to get the mechanics going the right way."

Then, when he starts to take regular batting practice, they talk situations -- different counts, different runner alignments, different pitchers. The default swing for Gordon, throughout, is that approach to hit the ball the other way. It's an adjustment that Seitzer believes will serve Gordon well through the long season.

"I think there's probably 10-15 percent of the season when a hitter is smoking hot," said Seitzer. "There's about 10-15 percent of the season when a hitter is ice-cold, when they have no clue. And about 60-70 percent of the time, they feel OK, when they have decent days. Hopefully, we can shorten the ice-cold part for him, and increase the smoking-hot time."

Gordon had some really cold spells last season. His month-to-month OPS, at-bats, walks and strikeouts:
April: .799, 98, 10, 24

May: .745, 107, 13, 25

June: .748, 98, 14, 24

July: .704, 84, 14, 23

August: .877, 56, 11, 11

September: .888, 45, 4, 11

Gordon's work on his defense with Randa has been in cleaning up a lot of his mechanics, of getting his feet in the right position so that he doesn't have to rely so much on his arm, which has tended to drag as he makes his throws.

Team First Mentality

Good article in the Omaha World Herald about Creighton baseball. The article talks about how the team is hoping to learn from what happened outside the lines last year to help their team inside the lines this year. Here are a few quotes from the article.

CF Robbie Knight on the team this year:
"The good thing about this year is that we seem to have a bunch of guys that are into the team concept and not into that whole me-this or me-that kind of thing," center fielder Robbie Knight said. "There's not a lot of egos in that locker room now, and that's a huge thing."Everyone saw the success that Fresno State had last season. They might not have been the most talented team, but they played as a team. It was never about this guy or that guy."

"We never came together, we never seemed to believe in each other," coach Ed Servais said. "We did have a couple of players that had a difficult time playing the style of ball we like to play. Our game is based on execution, not waiting for the three-run homer. We've always been about the details and making sure the other teams earn everything against us."Looking back on it, we had some guys that were more concerned with the me than the we."

"I'm not going to rag on someone that's not here anymore, but there are reasons why some of them are not," Ruf said. "Creighton baseball has always been about team first and individuals second."We still have to get a couple of guys bought in but hopefully through the leadership of the upperclassmen, they'll get the message early."

RUF on Preparation:
"It's all about getting better every day at practice, improving from week to week and just having fun with the whole thing," Ruf said. "We can't be so uptight."

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Mighty MO


" If you get caught up in things over which you have no control, it will adversely affect those things over which you have contol." - Advice to John Wooden from his father

You know it when you feel it. The momentum is shifting the other way. But remember -- that is just a thought. It does not have to be a self-fulfilling prophesy. Momentum is just a few poor actions that lead to a negative mental shift that in turn leads to more poor actions. You can turn it around because you can control your thoughts. If you want to stop momentum focus on positive thoughts, which will lead to positive actions. The old saying holds true that "the team that loses its poise will probably lose."

Respect for the game

Here are a few great quotes from Ryne Sandberg that were forwarded to me by legendary ex-legion JV coach, Joseph Cooley. In 2005, Ryne Sandberg was inducted into the baseball Hall of Fame. Ryne Sandberg was widely known as a hard nosed, hard working blue collar player that played the game the correct way. He was greatly respected by teammates and opponents. Here are a few excerpts from his HOF speech.

“I was in awe every time I walked onto the field. That’s respect. I was taught you never, ever disrespect your opponents or your teammates or your organization or your manager and never, ever your uniform. You make a great play, act like you’ve done it before; get a big hit, look for the third base coach and get ready to run the bases.”

Sandberg motioned to those inducted before him, “These guys sitting up here did not pave the way for the rest of us so that players could swing for the fences every time up and forget how to move a runner over to third. It’s disrespectful to them, to you and to the game of baseball that we all played growing up.

“Respect. A lot of people say this honor validates my career, but I didn’t work hard for validation. I didn’t play the game right because I saw a reward at the end of the tunnel. I played it right because that’s what you’re supposed to do, play it right and with respect ... . If this validates anything, it’s that guys who taught me the game ... did what they were supposed to do, and I did what I was supposed to do.”

Thursday, January 22, 2009

It is all about the relationships and experiences

Phillies pitcher Jamie Moyer, who at 45 became the second-oldest pitcher to start a World Series game, on what he treasures most about his long career:

"What you end up remembering is the human relationships. I mean, you'll get money, you'll spend it, but it ends up being about the people you meet and the games you play and the life experiences you have. That's just how it works."

The importance of controlling your emotions

Great stuff from sports psychologist Gary Mack's book "Mind Gym" about a conversation he once had with Edgar Martinez, a 7-time MLB All-Star who spent all 18 years of his pro career with the Seattle Mariners.

At one point during their conversation, Mack asked Martinez to describe what he worked on as he moved from the minors to the majors. Surprisingly, it had nothing to do with batting or fielding.
"I worked a lot on my emotions," said Martinez. "I don't have a real bad temper, but I can remember some things I've done in the past, like hit the wall or hit the helmet box. But I learned from experienced players that that's not the way you do it. Don't let your teammates or the other team know that you're down or struggling. It's going to hurt your teammates because they're not going to trust you. If you're going to get upset, don't do it on the field. Go into the bathroom, or someplace where you are along and just let it go."As Mack writes, "the best athletes [and coaches] are masters of their emotions and not servants to them."

Monday, January 19, 2009

Will to win

Separated from the pack by the will to win
Good article about Greg Maddux, who retired after 23 years in the Major Leagues. [In 23 seasons, he won 355 games and 18 Gold Gloves, pitched in eight All-Star games, and won four Cy Young Awards.]

According to Rangers pitching coach Mike Maddux, Greg's older brother, he knew Greg was a special pitcher when, as a 12-year-old, "he struck out 17 of 18" in a Little League game.

Recalls Mike: "The coach said he was never going to pitch him again. He told him, 'It's no fun when you pitch; nobody else gets a chance.'" When asked what made Greg special, Mike claims it was more than talent:

"Day in and day out, it was his will to win. That's what separated him from the pack: his will to win. You can't teach that. That's taught by your big brother beating up on you while growing up."

Believing in a process!

Believing in a process
New Milwaukee Brewers manager Ken Macha on what he values as a coach:

"What you need to do is let these players know what is important to you. Playing good, fundamental baseball is important to me. Going out there and grinding it out every day is important to me. Putting a good day's work in every day and trying to get yourself improved is important to me.

I believe in process. You've got to think what you're going to do every day to get yourself better and go out and follow that process. If you follow that process over the course of the whole year, you're going to see results. You go out and play hard and prepare yourself properly and you're going to get the most out of what you have."

Thursday, January 15, 2009

What's Our name?


A must-read story in the Baltimore paper this morning about the origin of the Ravens' "What's Our Name?" slogan. Before the season-opener, BAL coach John Harbaugh had his father, Jack, who earned ACA National Coach of the Year honors in 2002 after guiding WKU to the NCAA I-AA title, to address the Ravens. Growing up, the Harbaugh boys would often hear their Dad tell "the story of Muhammad Ali as a teaching tool. He would tell his sons how Ali never quit against Joe Frazier, how he outsmarted George Foreman. And of course, how he repeatedly asked a heavyweight fighter named Ernie Terrell, "What's my name?'"

As he stood before the Ravens team, one that wasn't highly regarded going into the season, "Jack Harbaugh told them how Cassius Clay had changed his name in 1964 after converting to Islam. And how nearly three years later, Terrell still refused to call him Muhammad Ali. He told them how the two squared off in the ring and that their fight wasn't about money or some championship."
Jack Harbaugh told them how Ali kept punishing Terrell but wouldn't put him down for good. At 69, Harbaugh is still light enough on his feet, and he started shadowboxing in the locker room, calling out Ali's words. "What's my name?"Pop! Harbaugh threw a jab. "What's my name?"Boom! A hook. "What's my name?"Bam! An uppercut. According to the article, "he concluded by telling the players that they had to earn their name and start demanding respect. And for the past 4 1/2 months, that's exactly what they've done."
John Harbaugh repeated it in his locker room speeches and in the season finale against the Jacksonville Jaguars. "What's our name?" appeared in big, glowing letters on the scoreboard. Before long, the phrase was stripped across the front of shirts, hung, tagged and priced for sale at the team store.Says one Ravens player:
"We wanted to make everyone understand that we are the Baltimore Ravens and each and every time you play us you're going to realize that. You're going to know who's coming to town or you're going to know whose town you're coming into - and that's the Baltimore Ravens. And we preach that every time we step out of that locker room: What's our name? We make sure everybody understands and realizes that this team you're about to fight, you might not want a piece of 'em."

Friday, January 9, 2009


From Steven Ellis

How To Set Goals To Increase Pitching Performance
"This year, I want to ____________________."
What baseball pitching goals would you write in the blank space? Take some time to think about it: What would you like to accomplish on the pitcher's mound this year?
Did you come up with a set of goals? Write them down on a piece of paper, and then tape it next to your bed, on your dresser, or on the bathroom mirror. Put your goals in a spot that you'll see them on a daily basis.
Visualizing your goals is a great way to accomplish them. Many successful pitchers do it. They set short-, mid-, and long-term goals every season. When they accomplish one, it gets crossed off the list. Then more are added.

Here are 7 simple tips to have a more productive baseball season.
1. Set a clear precise goal
Start with one thing that you want to achieve. Whatever the goal, make it specific and put it in writing. For example, "throw first pitch strikes to hitters," or "put hitters away when you have two strikes on them."
2. Set a realistic time frame
There are no unrealistic goals, just unrealistic time frames. For example, if you want to throw harder, it simply won't happen overnight. Instead, if you dedicate yourself to following a quality training routine, you can expect to see the results you desire.
3. Break down long-term goals into short-term goals
Arrange long term goals into short term goals: daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly. What can you do today, right now, to start getting better at pitching?
4. Measure progress
Make corrections as needed. Note progress, and write it all down so you can reference it in the future. This way you can see what made you successful or unsuccessful and can make adjustments accordingly.
5. Create motivation
"Desire" what it will mean for you to accomplish the goal.
6. Mental picturing
See yourself attaining the goal using all senses: touch, sight, hear, taste, and smell. Bring the visualized experience to life!
For example, picture yourself making the perfect pitch in the last inning of a close game with runners on base, threatening to score. Hear the crowd roar, smell the hot dog stand, see nothing but your catcher's glove, etc.
7. Believe in yourself
Maintain a positive attitude and never, ever give up!

OK, now let's go back to that question I asked at the beginning of this chapter. Fill in the blank: "This year, I want to ____________________ ... and because I've set goals, written them down, established realistic time frames to accomplish them, and prepared to the best of my ability, I will accomplish them." That's how winners are made, and that's how to become a great baseball pitcher.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Eight Qualities of Great Teams

from Bruce Brown

Over the years, every sport has witnessed its share of great teams. While recogizable differences between these teams certainly existed, a number of common traits can also be identified. These commonalities suggest that no matter the sport or the competitive level, certain qualities tend to elicit greatness in teams.

The eight qualities of great teams:

  • Leadership

  • Guiding principles

  • Pride

  • Communication

  • Motivation

  • Persistence

  • Role players

  • Positive Attitude