My own season begins the first weekend of May and goes through Labor Day (first weekend of September). Just like during my winter months, I will be boarding planes every weekend bound for tournaments and returning home on Sunday nights. So, from that perspective my life doesn’t change from summer to winter. I’ll be playing for a team from Texas a few weekends and a few others on occasion. I’m already starting to fill my calender for the off season 2008-2009. While that’s probably the LAST thing anyone is thinking about right now since the spring is right around the corner, just know that I usually book things about 3-4 months in advance. I hope I can get to some new places after the season and meet more of you on this email list. It’d be nice to put some faces to names who email me.
“Prejudice obscures the truth.” How appropriate that quote is. Think about it and you can probably find ways to apply it to all kinds of things in your own life. Whether it be politics, religion, or your belief in the correct mechanics for pitching softball, it can really be a very truthful statement.
I have jokingly said many times that I know I’ve ‘made it’ in the world when I’ve got people who are prejudice against anything I’d say. Most of those people are Pitching Coach Mafia members and followers. I don’t care if people disagree with anything I teach in pitching, in fact I welcome the chance to discuss it. I’m starting to believe however, that a lot of what I say is being twisted and taken out of context. So, I think I’ll clear the air a little with some of this stuff; these are in no particular order of importance.
1. I believe in teaching 3 pitches (Rise, drop and change up). However, I believe in varying all 3 with different speeds and locations. I personally will not throw or teach a ‘curve’ or ‘screw’ unless it also has the up/down movement with it. The way I see it, hitters are getting better and better with new technologies in bats, balls and video software for swing mechanics. If the ball does not change planes on it’s way to the plate, the advantage goes to the hitter in making contact. Making contact with a $400 cryogenic bat and rock hard polycore ball is not good! 20 years ago, the ball would actually get soft during a game. Today, they are rocks from start to finish. A hitter identifies the release point of the ball and swings their bat on the plane the ball is being released at (or at least that’s the goal). If that ball isn’t going up or down, the hitter has an advantage. So, I’m not a big fan of giving them that advantage. While it’s true that curve balls and screwballs are effective pitches, especially at young ages I really believe in perfecting what they need long term, not for the short term. Meaning, if you look at the elite pitchers in the world (Osterman, Abbott, etc.) they are so effective because their pitches are always going up/down, not side to side. Even when they do throw a pitch with horizontal movement, it also has vertical movement with it. Throwing a curve or screw at young ages may win games at young ages, but not necessarily will that help them as they get older. By working on the rise, drop and change up from the start, they will be working on pitches that will help them now AND later.
2. I believe mechanically speaking, men and women should pitch similarly. There are some who want to believe women cannot pitch the same as men because of strength issues. While it’s true that men are stronger than women and can do things faster and with more power, that doesn’t mean the mechanics in which they should use to do them should be different. Look at throwing overhand, for example. Just as there are correct mechanics to throwing overhand, regardless of gender, the same is true for underhand. Running, jumping, discus throwing, boxing, etc. take any sport… the form being taught to males and females is the same! Where I think people go wrong is: they look at the rule differences in place of men’s softball and women’s softball and get confused. But that’s no different than the rule differences between some high school associations, which allow softball pitchers to pitch with 1 foot on the rubber, and the college rules which require both feet on the rubber. The rules may be different but the mechanics and ways our bodies work effectively are not. People often need to be reminded that under the ISF rules (which are used by the Olympics) the rules for men’s softball and women’s softball are the same.
3. Mechanics effect everything, including ball rotation. At a clinic I was doing a week or so ago, a pitcher proceeded to tell me that her riseball was her best pitch. In watching her mechanics in throwing, I realized there was no physical way she was throwing a riseball correctly. Her mechanics made it impossible to create a backspin on the ball, which is what a real riseball must have. She was adamant that her rise was the #1 pitch in her arsenal. When we went side by side and each threw a pitch to her father who was catching, the difference was like the sun and moon. Her father had never seen a ball spin backward and had nothing to compare his daughter’s with. They were taught that a riseball required a tilting of the body to throw the ball at an upward angle and that is what a riseball is. Forgetting the fact that the ball was actually spinning FORWARD. By simply throwing it high, they were taught this is what a riseball is. While I see this situation nearly every week at a clinic, I’m routinely amazed that it’s so widely accepted that a high pitch is often all that is required for it to be considered a riseball. This is why I think the rise is the most misunderstood and complicated pitch to be learned. In addition to leaning back and throwing high, this poor girl was taught to step short for her drop, step to her right for her curve, step to the left for her ‘screw’, and slow her motion to 1/2 speed (ok I’m exaggerating) for her change up. She was basically taught 5 different ways to pitch in order to throw 5 different pitches. Learning ONE way to pitch is hard enough! I can’t imagine learning 5 ways! WOW.
The truth is, because this girl was taught so many things which are counter productive to correct pitching mechanics, she is unable to get the ball to spin backward on the rise. So, as a result, her pitching coach (a PCM’er) has her lean back and throw it high. The entire emphasis of the pitch needing correct rotation was eliminated because of this belief that throwing it high is all that’s necessary. Sadly this is what so many are being taught today. And most are buying into this teaching because they just don’t know any better. It’s kind of like the Marine Biologist at Sea World can virtually tell the crowd ANYTHING about Shamu and we believe them because, after all, that person knows more about whales than we do right? But this kind of thing is the equal to an employee at Sea World telling you something about Shamu and believing it without even questioning it. Then, you find out that Shamu really cannot drive a car 200 miles per hour and that employee isn’t a marine biologist after all. Then we kick ourselves for not using common sense. And as someone who goes to Sea World several times per year, I’m not speaking from experience here… I SWEAR! ha ha.
I’ve asked it before and I’ll ask it again: Why does someone need a license to catch a fish but yet just anyone can be qualified to teach pitching? That’s one of those rhetorical questions to ponder.