I saw the latest press release from USA softball and all I could think to myself was: Am I missing something here? For those that get the press releases, you may have seen what I’m talking about. If you don’t get it, USA softball sent out an Olympic Team open tryout form. This way, people can try to “play their way in” to the Player pool used to select the team.
Due to the USOC funding of National teams, there is a system in place which helps pick teams. A “checks and balances” of sorts. This system is used for the men’s team also, to a degree. But, the idea is there are certain standards and requirements necessary to make the US team. If it was left ENTIRELY up to coach’s discretion, then there would be far too many people cut and believing it was personal and that they really belong on the team. In fact, there is an Appeal system in place for people who feel they were wrongly cut. This means, sometime in the past, someone tried to sue because they didn’t make the US team and they demanded to know why they were cut. Gotta love lawsuits, huh?
One of the things I’m most criticized for in teaching girls to pitch is, I believe less is more. I’m always amazed to see “Sally Jones” say she has 8 pitches. For some strange reason, girls are taught from an early age they need a fastball, drop, curve, change up, rise, screwball, drop curve, rise curve, knuckleball, and who knows what else. Yet, when you watch the top pitchers in the world today (male or female) they practically LIVE on the “big 3”: rise, drop and change. Those are the 3 pitches to have, everything else that they work on will be detracting time and effort into mastering those 3 pitches, which they will need to succeed at the highest level. And while I’m aware that many younsters can have success with a curveball, I try to see the big picture for them. Meaning, why master a curveball when I could master a riseball? A rise will change plane, going up. A curveball, inherently stays flat and does not go up or down. So, if your pitcher is facing Crystal Bustos at the plate, would you rather her throw a flat curveball or a ball that is going up/down? My guess is that latter. So, you can work on what will get you by NOW. Or work on what will get you by NOW and LATER!
This brings me to the point of this entire rant: The USA tryout form. For pitching standards, it requires a minimum speed for various pitches. Sounds reasonable, right? Except, they listed the “Fastball” as one of these pitches! Now, those that know me will probably be laughing right now. The “fastball” is the biggest joke in softball. Why a pitcher would purposely throw a pitch that stays straight is beyond me! Yet, it’s routinely taught. Now, here’s the kicker… the minimum speed required for the “fastball” and minmum speed for the drop are IDENTICAL! So, let me get this straight… the pitcher is supposed to have both pitches but one is to move, the other one isn’t? Exactly when would the USA team be playing an opponent that they’d rather throw a flat pitch to, instead of one that breaks?
I’m going to go out on a limb here and make a bet: 90% of those reading this who catch for their daughters will notice from time to time their “fastball” will have a sharp drop action to it. Like falling off the table. Am I right? Do you notice that? Do you want to know why that is? It’s because there should be NO SUCH THING as a straight fastball! The Peel drop and “Fastball” are identical in every concieveable way, except one. What’s the difference? Well, we need to rewind first.
Again, those that know me will vouch for me on this… I believe MANY girls are being taught incorrect things from day one. And one of those things is that they are putting too much emphisis on the wrist action and not enough on other things. For those that do “Wrist flips” as a warm up, that’s an example. We are falsely being taught that “its all in the wrist” when it’s not. Every pitch we throw is done with the fingers. The fingers is what spins the ball, regardless of the pitch being thrown. And when they get used to spinning the ball with their fingers and not overduing the wrist… the action on the pitch will increase 10 fold.
So, when your DD goes to throw the “fastball” and it has that sharp downward break, that’s your indication that she used her fingers more than her wrist. She increased the ball rotation and is now throwing a PEEL style drop. They are the same pitch! Except, in one case, we’re trying to make the ball move and in the other… we’re inexplicably NOT trying to make it move. And before someone says “Yea but I can spot the fastball on the outside corner”… remember, if you can do that then you can also make the ball go up or down at the same time. And according to USA softball… the pitches should be thrown at the same speed so, why wouldn’t you want to make it move?
One thing that can lead to confusion of this situation is, many pitchers are being taught to alter their mechanics to throw various pitches. “Stride really short on the drop”. “Step out really far on the rise.” Step over the power line for the curve”. etc. How is a pitcher supposed to stay in their rhythm when they are constantly changing from one pitch to the next?
The reality is, a lot of people have just made pitching far too complicated. One thing people say about me is, “You make it look so easy”. And while I always appreciate the compliment, I’m not doing anything new or revolutionary… I’m just cutting out the stuff that isn’t good. In doing that, I’m going to have much more control and command of my pitches. The ball SHOULD move every pitch I throw, up or down, never straight or flat. I can’t even begin to tell you how many homeruns I’ve given up in my career on a pitch that stayed flat and didn’t move. For the life of me, I’ll never understand why someone would want to do that on purpose!