Today, when I felt the most frustrated, to the point that my friend and other coach asked “what is wrong w/ you, you seem more frustrated than normal”, our team decides they know what they are doing and started showing off how great they can be.
Not because we won the game, who cares about that, but because they went to positions they were supposed to on the field, ran under balls and actually caught a few, and threw strikes. Mind you, these are 8-10 YO boys, so any expectations are high, but they came through.
The best of all was one kid who didn’t have a hit all year. It has been frustrating because he has a fantastic swing, has been working hard w/ his dad, and there is no doubt if he begins connecting he will be a star hitter.
Today, he connected w/ a shot in the gap! A two RBI double! Sweetttt!! You should have seen the smile on his face! I am positive he is still smiling in his sleep to this moment! That’s not all though, he also caught a fly ball AND got a strike out.
All this from a kid who had never touched the field before this year, really had no baseball skills at all, but had a genuine desire to learn, had his head in every pitch all year long, and constantly searched for how he could do better, to the point of asking too much!!!…lol.
Just when I was ready to give up on this team and get frustrated, they pull something like this. The nightcap came on the last play of the game. The other team has the best player in the league on it, a larger boy who will definitely move up to majors in the spring. He was barreling home as a play was being made on him, my son, who had not had the greatest game of his life, was the catcher.
This boy had at least 25lbs, if not more, on my son, but he held his ground blocking the plate perfectly as the throw came in. The kid from the other team slide (properly) hard into the plate and the catcher. There was a very loud “thud” sound, as the two ran into each other. The sound was that of a large ball being slammed against a wall, the place went quiet and everyone was still.
Suddenly the runner realized he hadn’t made it to the base yet and the throw was slightly off-line so my son didn’t make the catch. The runner crawled around him and just touch the plate before my son could gather the ball and tag him. I didn’t care if there was an out recorded or not, the point is, the kid slide hard and perfect, the plate was blocked perfectly, and, believe it or not, apparently my son does listen to what I tell him.
In fact, it appears the whole team does! Do you have a story that makes you feel like it is all worth it? Please share it.
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Stupid Little League Rule
One of the stupidest Little League rules is the one that does not allow an on deck batter. Batters on deck gain so much insight into the pitcher and the come to the plate much more prepared to hit. That is the obvious downside of this rule, a more subtle one is the on deck batter’s responsibilities to the runners.
On Deck Batter’s Responsibilities
What you ask? The on deck batter is supposed to help the runners? Yes, this subtle and often overlooked skill can save you a few runs over the length of a season. The on deck batter must help the runner coming home and alert them to:
2. Stand Up
3. Which side of the plate to slide on
This is done very simply. Let’s assume there is a runner on second base, the batter hits a single and there is an inevitable play coming on the the runner at home. The on deck batter should line up beyond home plate, but out of the path of play. Basically, continue the third base line through the batter’s box, over the plate, and into the space where a runner would run if he overran home plate. That is where the on deck batter should position himself.
How to Communicate
This position gives the runner the best opportunity to see him without and additional effort. We do, after all, want the runner going full speed, there is a play being made on him. The runner approaches third, picks up the third base coach and gets the go signal. At this point he rounds third base and heads for home. About halfway home he should pick up the on deck batter. The on deck batter should signal to the runner what to do in the following manner:
Stand Up-The on deck batter should stand tall and hold their arms up in the air while yelling "your up, up, up, up, up"
Slide Left (inside the plate)-The on deck batter should bend down and swipe his hands in the direction right of the line or inside the plate shouting "get down, get down, get down"
Slide Right (outside the plate)-The on deck batter should bend down and swipe his hands in the direction left of the line or inside the plate shouting "get down, get down, get down"
The swipe should be a big two handed wave similar to a "swoosh" or big loco wave motion. How does the on deck batter decide which way to tell the runner to slide? He has to watch the play develop and watch where the throw is going to end up.
How to Decide
If the catcher is moving towards the pitchers mound or "leaning in" to the field of play, he tells the runner to slide outside. If the catcher has to go up the line a bit or has to go into foul territory to make the play the runner should slide inside. If the throw is on the money and the catcher is in perfect blocking position, then the runner is probably going to be out, but since the catcher usually reaches towards the inside of the diamond to catch the ball then reaches back to make the tag, the default location to slide is outside.
So how do we accomplish this in Little League? Well, the first runner is on their own, but if they score standing up, they should turn around and assist any trailing runners.
This often overlooked fundamental of the game will help you pick up a few runs during the season. Don’t neglect it in the older divisions, and make sure to use it for trailing runners in the younger divisions.
Do you have another overlooked fundamental you like to focus on?
One of my most favorite plays is the "fire play". It is simple, and most teams use some variation of it, but calling and utilizing it as the "fire play" makes it simple to communicate w/ the players involved immediately.
What is the "fire play"? Very simply it is when the
right fielder throws to first to retire the batter . The ole’ 9-3 out so rare but so exciting. Why do we call it the "fire play"? Because as the right fielder is approaching the ball, we can yell "fire, fire, fire, fire!" and then he can focus on fielding the ball. He doesn’t have to look up and make a decision thereby giving the runner an extra step.
The fire play is almost always close, so it is important to take every last inch away from the batter. Yelling to the fielder helps, having a
first baseman w/ a good stretch helps also. Catcher Backs Up
catcher HAS to back up the fire play. He should run down the line and get in behind the first baseman in line w/ the throw. Quite often you will get a cheap out at second because the runners instinct is to immediately take off for second.
Do you have any cool plays you use? Let us know!
Quick Play Drill
I found this pretty cool
"quick play" drill at the Ohio Fastpitch Connection. They have a ton of drills on there, but most of them are not my style, too slow. I prefer drills that keep all the kids active and moving and simulate game situations. The "quick play" drill almost does this, so we modified it slightly. Follow is what we did. Original Was Slow
The original quickplay drill had 2 lines of players w/ 5 balls lined up, grab one, throw to first, grab the 2nd, throw to first, etc. This is a great drill in and of itself, and if you only had 3 or 4 players max working on it, that would be fine. We have 12 to keep busy though and I hate to see kids standing around!
To counter this we modified the drill. I added a
catcher to the mix. Then had the 3B throw to 1B and 1B throw to the C. The problem with this was it slowed down the "quick play" portion of the 3B. So we added a "suicide" effect to it to help w/ conditioning also! Likewise, we set up a bunt station just outside of 3B. We had the kids leave their bats and hats at the bunt station and carry their gloves with them. (Of course we had a pitcher/catcher combination working at all times!)
It worked great! One of the best practices we had!
Here is the rotation:
Coach places the 5 balls in a line from 3B to
home plate 3B runs to the first
ball and throws to 1B 1B throws home and catcher simulates a tag
3B backpedals (very important skill) to the 3B
position and then charges back up to the 2nd ball. (This gives the 1B time to throw to the C) This is repeated until all 5 balls are thrown to 1B and C
After the 5th ball, the 1B runs to 2nd and slides, then gets in line at the bunting station.
The C runs through 1B and gets in line there.
The 3B moves to the C line
The bunter goes and gets in line at 3B. (now that I think about it probably would have been better if we had our bunt station behind 3B, but we will update that next time)
Having at least one extra player at each station gives the players a chance to catch their breath and get all of their things in order for when it is there turn to perform.The coach has plenty of time to place the balls while the girls are moving up, but he has to be quick. Keeping this thing moving is the key to its success and increases the "fun factor" for the kids. They are moving and conditioning and don’t even know it!
Don’t be afraid to take things you know and modify them slightly. The kids love the variety and it keeps them focused at practices. This is very important as it is easy to lose them and then everyone is wasting their time. Do you have any cool drills that you modified to make them more exciting? Let’s hear about them!
The Key Position
Catcher is second only to
pitcher in Little League , yet it is often the most underdeveloped position of them all. The catcher must have a very strong arm, a quick snap throw, cat-like pouncing skills, a tough demeanor, preferably baseball smarts, and a willingness to be bruised.
The old days of putting the big kid behind the plate are over. The catcher must be fast to retrieve
passed balls and able to hop quickly left and right to block errant ones. Likewise, they have to be able to pop up and field bunts and swinging bunts without hitting the runner in the back.
Catchers should have an accurate and strong arm. They often have to catch and immediately throw to second or third to nail a stealing runner. Likewise, they pretty much have to be
right handed . You can get away w/ a left handed catcher in Little League, but it will make stealing third an option for the offense whereas a right handed catcher typically eliminates this option.
Here are some characteristics of a good pitcher:
Solid throwing fundamentals
A catcher that can block balls in the dirt, eliminate the
steal from the offense, and live bumped and bruised at all times can be a major asset to a team.
Can you think of any other valuable characteristics a catcher should have? Please share them.
Tonight we did a variation of the “around the horn” drill. Everyone has thrown the ball around the horn. While it seems pretty boring, if you get the ball moving fast enough, it can be very effective. We like to usually do it like this:
Straddle 3rd, 2nd, and 1st base.
Pitch to the catcher.
Have her whip the ball to 3rd, then 2nd, then 1st, then home.
Catcher whips to 3rd and you start all over.
It is fun to see how many times you can get around without an error.
For variety we advance to “making a tag” when they receive the throw at each base.
Tonight we switched it up a bit. We had the following throwing pattern:
Catcher —> 2nd —> 3rd —> 1st—> home.
I feel that the catcher to 2nd is a more effective practice for the catcher. Likewise, 2nd to 3rd is a good practice for “pickoff” once the out is recorded at 2nd. Third to 1st is a throw that is often made and almost always the 1st baseman has to catch for the out and immediately fire home.
This went very well, and while it didn’t move quite as fast, it was much more “game friendly”.
Throwing and catching are simple skills that are often overlooked. It is usually boring to practice them, so coaches sometimes neglect them. They are too important to neglect, finding fun drills that hone those skills w/0 the kids even recognizing they are practicing is the key.
Have you used a modified drill before? Post a comment below and let us know about it.
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