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TIPS FOR TODAY’S PLAYERS

(From JUNIOR BASEBALL MAGAZINE—Don March)
Tips to Playing First Base

One of the prime requirements for being an excellent first baseman is being able to dig bad throws out of the dirt.  This is where hand-eye coordination—your ability to make your hands react to what your eyes can see—comes into play.

A practice skill:  Start by standing 10 feet or so apart and with your feet squared.  Have your friend make some low throws to you.  Starting with your feet squared and facing him gives you the chance to see the ball with both eyes.  Once you’ve mastered that, then turn your body 90 degrees so that your left shoulder (if right-handed; right should if left handed) is turned toward your friend.  Now you’re seeing the ball much more with only one eye.  Practice fielding some bad throws this way, as well.  Don’t be tempted to stab at the ball; let the ball come to you.

You don’t always want to stretch when the throw is coming.  As you become more comfortable with the position you’ll learn that stretching is only done on close plays.  Otherwise, if the throw is coming easily in time, try to stay as squared to the ball as possible.

Now let’s talk about footwork.  Each base has four corners.  Learn to work only off the two corners that are in fair territory, not touching the middle, not standing on top of the base.  Have your back foot touch the inside corner—the corner closest to home plate—when the throws are coming from either third or short.  Have your foot touch the outside corner—the corner closest to right field—on throws coming from second.  Don’t plant your foot on the base too soon.  If you anchor your foot to the bag before the throw comes, it will be harder for you to react to the throw that’s off line.

One of the more difficult things will be in learning when it’s best to come off the base, out of your stretch position, in order to keep the ball from getting to you.  That’s another thing you can practice with the drill just discussed.

Get lots of practice at the position.  Saving a bad throw from becoming a two-base error will earn you the thanks of your pitcher, your coaches, and the whole team.

(PARENTS COACHES CLIPBOARD—By Cal and Bill Ripken)
Basic Key points to help Catchers Improve

Gear.  Catcher clearly is the most dangerous of all positions on the baseball field. Therefore, it is imperative that your team’s catching equipment be in good working condition, be the proper size and be worn properly.

All players – not just catchers – should wear an athletic supporter and a protective cup. In addition, catchers need a helmet that covers the ears and has a mask strapped to it or a hockey goalie-style mask. The helmet and mask should fit snugly enough so that the player can move his or her head up and down and from side to side without having parts of the helmet or mask obstruct vision.

The throat area must be protected – either with a throat guard or by a mask that has a throat extension. For younger players, the chest protector should have a flap that covers the groin/upper thigh area. Older players usually prefer a shorter chest protector that extends to the waist and provides more mobility, but this is only safe for experienced catchers who, of course, are wearing a cup.

Make sure that the chest protector isn’t so loose that it leaves certain critical areas exposed or makes it too difficult for the catcher to throw.

Shinguards are always worn so that they are hooked on the outside of the leg. You don’t want hooks on the inside of the legs rubbing together and coming undone. The shinguards should cover as much of the top part of the foot as possible without restricting movement.

Catcher’s mitts can take a long time to break in. The catcher should find a glove that he or she is comfortable with during the off-season and spend some time breaking it in before the season starts. Using a brand new glove during the season can lead to a lot of dropped pitches and frustration on everyone’s part.

Basic Stance.  Even young pitchers might have signals for two-seam and four-seam fastballs and/or change-ups. For a catcher, the basic stance is how you set-up before the pitch is thrown.

  • Get in an athletic position (feet shoulder-width apart, weight on balls of feet, knees slightly bent) and squat
  • Foot width in squat to be determined by comfort.
  • Squat should be comfortable, balanced athletic position with knees just far enough apart for pitcher to see signs
  • Give sign with hand placed close to protective cup
  • Legs too far apart or signs held too low can allow opposing team to steal signals

Receiving Stance.  The receiving stance is how you set-up once the pitcher has decided what to throw and has gone into his motion. 

  • Be comfortable
  • Find a relaxed stance so that you can receive the pitch with soft hands
  • Elbows outside of shinguards and wrists loose
  • Weight on insteps, not toes
  • Keep weight out in front
  • Turn glove slightly counterclockwise to receive pitch
  • Throwing hand protected behind the mitt or along the outside part of the leg, keeping weight more forward

Runners on Base—Two Strike Stance.  With runners on base or with a two-strike count, your catcher needs to stand in a slightly adjusted ready position, with the legs flexed and the rear end raised a little higher in order to quickly transition into a throw or a block on a ball in the dirt. 

  • Adjust stance to get in good throwing position
  • Athletic position with weight forward on balls of feet
  • Rear end up higher so you can throw or drop to block a pitch - if rear end is down, first movement has to be up and not toward where the throw will go
  • Knees pointing toward second base
  • Left foot slightly in front of right
  • Throwing hand placed behind mitt, balled up loosely to protect fingers
  • Follow the ball as it travels with both hands; watch the ball travel all the way into the mitt

Blocking Pitches.  Blocking is what separates good catchers from great catchers; and it's also the toughest skill for catchers to master. Anticipate the ball in the dirt, especially with two strikes on a batter or runners on base. 

  • Throwing hand behind mitt and glove placed between legs to keep balls from rolling through
  • Butt as close to the ground as possible
  • Curl shoulders and swing hips around to create angles parallel to the plate and help guide the ball in front of you
  • Try to smother the ball with chest protector; mitt stays in position on the ground between the legs
  • Keep chin down to avoid getting hit in neck
  • Take your mask over the spot where the pitch bounces
  • Try to block ball into fair territory
  • Whichever direction you have to move to block, turn that shoulder in toward home plate
  • Block wild pitches to the sides of home plate at 45-degree angle to deaden the ball around home plate
  • Move forward and down on balls in the dirt; get to knees as quickly as possible
  • Pick up ball with the bare hand after blocking

Throwing.  "Pop time" is a familiar term to most catchers - it's the measure of how quickly a catcher can receive a pitch and deliver the ball to second base. Pop time indicates how good a catcher is at stopping runners from stealing bases. But the clock starts as soon as the ball hits the catcher's mitt. To reduce their pop time, catcher needs to work on a lot more than arm strength. 

  • Footwork is key; anticipate a steal on every pitch
  • Catch the ball first, but don’t reach for the pitch; get the call for the pitcher first and foremost
  • Catch the ball as close to body as possible so you can get it out of the glove more quickly
  • Use a four-seam grip
  • Get momentum toward the base you are throwing to, pointing front shoulder toward target
  • Release the ball as quickly as possible, but try to stay balanced.
  • These tips should give you a good start toward helping make your catcher, and your team, better.

(From Babe Ruth Headquarters)
Do Not Stress Over Your Competition

Many athletes sometimes get anxious when they play against a tough opponent. They get nervous on whom they are playing and they get so worked up that they lose focus on playing their game. In the end, they make mistakes and end up beating themselves up if they do not win. As a result, here is a list of techniques that an athlete can use to help manage the stress of playing against the competition. 

The first step is to learn as much as you can on your opponent. Although this may seem obvious some players may think they already know what they need to know. Remember there is always something to learn about your competition. Read the stats and reports about your opponent and watch him or her play. Try to figure out an angle on how you can beat your competition. The more you know about your competition the better your chances are you will win the game. This will also help to reduce your worries about who and what you will be facing in your next game.

Do not assume anything about your competition whether they are stronger or weaker than you. Every player has his good and bad games and just because you may be facing a stronger opponent does not mean that you will lose. Remember that before you start playing, you and your opponent both have an equal chance of winning. You are both starting from scratch. This should help you to give you confidence going into your next game.

Focus on how you can best strive for perfection in your own game instead of worrying about your opponent. For instance you are playing the number player in the tournament and you are nervous. Instead of focusing on how good your competition is, focus on how you can play your best game. Concentrate on how you can better play the game or how you can best improve on your problem areas. Focusing on your game will definitely help you when you are nervous in playing a stronger player.

Realize that you cannot win all of your games and that also includes your competition. You may be the best player in the world; however you will still lose eventually. No one player can win all of their games. Yes, they may have some winning streaks or win ninety percent of their games, but they will still lose some games. When facing a tough competitor, use this fact to your advantage. Even the best players will make some mistakes and lose.

(From Babe Ruth Headquarters)
10 Things That Matter Most to Being a Champion

  1. Carry your own stuff.  As a step to personal responsibility, carry your own equipment to and from the ballpark.  If you need it, you should carry it!
  2. The harder it is to do, the better you are when you do it.  It means if you work hard enough and are then able to do something that considered hard then you’re special.  The easiest path won’t get you anywhere.  The harder something is to do the better you are when you do it.
  3. Make plays not excuses!  Sports aren’t about excuses, they’re about results.  So practice making results instead of excuses.
  4. Stop talking and start playing.  No one wants to hear why you couldn’t practice; they want to see you practice.  No one wants to hear why you can’t throw strikes; they want to see that you are able to recognize a strike zone.  Talk less and play more!
  5. Take responsibility.  Own your actions no matter what the outcome.  If you made the pitch whether it’s good or bad, own it.  Everyone knows you aren’t out there trying to make mistakes.  Remember if you own it when things go good, you have to own it when things don’t go as well.
  6. Say please and thank you...to your parents, to your coaches and to your teammates.  Being nice to each other matters!
  7. Remember than the game doesn’t know which team is favored.  It doesn’t know which team is the underdog, which team won yesterday, which team never won, which team plays in warm weather and which team never gets outside until mid-April.  The game only knows what you’re doing right now because the game doesn’t know your team is favored to win, it only knows that the other team worked harder and won!  So play in the moment because the game doesn’t know.
  8. Be ready when your name is called...when the ball is hit to you, when you’re called on to get the bunt down, when your team needs you to strike out the hitter, when your team needs your leadership...whatever it is, be ready.  Instead of sitting on the bench complaining that you don’t get to play as much as you think you should, be ready when you do get to play.  Be ready instead of being negative.
  9. Pay attention—look at things that matter.  Look to see if their infield is playing back, if their pitcher is always throwing the first pitch for a strike, if the runner before you got on and you’ll probably need to bunt.  Pay attention to anything that might matter and help you play better and help your team win!  
  10. Remember that you’re a teammate and not the team!  No matter what position you play, who you play for and how good other people thing you are or will be, it doesn’t matter.  That’s why stats don’t matter.  The only stats that matter are runs so do everything in your power to help your team get more runs than the other team.  It takes a TEAM to win so be a great TEAMMATE!

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