Pitchers are their own breed of people. Do you realize how often I hear that? There’s always someone that shakes their head at me and just says “Pitchers!” and walks away. As if I’m just an absolute nut. But, those same people that think pitchers are headcases, are the same ones that routinely try pitching before games. You know what I mean: before every game there is a team full of pitchers, warming up underhand. Then when gametime comes, everyone reverts right back to their mindset of “pitchers are looney”. But, why is it everyone wants to be a pitcher? We don’t see shortstops warming up, practicing to be centerfielders, do we? No. Yet everyone wants to throw underhand before games and pretend to be the pitcher. But, as I have printed on my House of Pitching Tshirts… if just anyone could be a pitcher, then everyone would!
Now, let me clearly state… I’m talking about pitchers here, not throwers. For every Greg Maddux pitching in the majors there’s 2 dozen guys throwing in the mid 90’s who are clueless how to set up a good hitter. For every Lisa Fernandez in women’s softball or Micheal White in men’s softball, there’s countless people who simply just don’t get it. They don’t know how to pitch with their heads. So, I could probably surmise this entire article into one statement: Unless the Good Lord above turned your arm into a thunderbolt throwing machine, you’d better learn how to pitch not throw!
There I was, coaching 3rd base on an idle Wednesday evening for my wife’s city rec fastpitch team here in Erie. She was on 2nd, and we had a runner on 1st. Being the ever daring coach that I am, I called for a fake bunt, double steal. Now, I was purely trying to catch the others off guard. My wife is not exactly Ricky Henderson or Natasha Watley on the bases. But, if the chips fell where they were supposed to, she’d have been safe on the pure element of surprise. As the play unfolded, the throw came down to 3rd as the team was trying to get the lead runner out in the double steal. My wife slid into third and I heard this unGodly scream coming from her. I watched it all happen from the 3rd base box in slow motion as her cleat caught on the ground and she tumbled over her own ankle. The scream she let out could be heard for miles and her ankle was broken in places I didn’t know exhisted. While she’s screaming at me to dial 911, I was screaming at the crowd for a camera to take pictures of this foot hanging. Fortunately, I was able to do both… dial 911 and get some good shots of it. (Email me if you’d like to see the pics! LOL).
So, what does this have to do with pitching softball? Well, this happened on Wednesday evening and I was scheduled to fly to my games on Friday. This wasn’t just any game… this was the world’s most prestigious invitational men’s fastpitch tournament. Only 8 elite teams are invited and after being on a waiting list for 3 years and having signed me to pitch for the 2005 season… my club got invited. On Friday night, opening the tournament, we were scheduled to play a doubleheader vs. the #2 and #3 ranked teams in the entire world. The Farm Tavern (#2) from Madison Wisconsin and Circle Tap (#3) from Denmark Wisconsin. I was scheduled to throw against the Farm on Friday night. In the ambulance, I called my coach and told him it was highly unlikely I’d be able to attend the tournament because of my wife’s injury and I’d be at home caring for her and our 15 month old monster who gets into EVERYTHING. Naturally, with all jokes aside, softball was the last thing on my mind and I wanted to make sure things were secure at home. An emergency surgery later, with 8 screws inserted in her leg, the hospital sent my wife home. Thankfully her friend was visiting from her native country of Denmark and was able to help out with everything. But, on the Friday morning after this all happened, my wife encouraged me to go to the tournament. My team was in dire need of me and there was very little I could do at home, so with relucatance… I went.
The whole flight to Allentown PA was a nightmare. All I could think about was that I didn’t belong playing softball and I should be at home. Yet, if I was at home, all I’d be thinking about is how my team is doing and that I should be there pitching against the Farm Tavern. So, I was torn.
When I got to the park, and I stepped onto the field, I knew immediately that my team’s best chance of winning was not with me on the mound. Neither my mind or my heart was into the game. The only thing worse than my personal performance that game was the way I felt knowing I shouldn’t be there to begin with. But, it reinforced a lesson I learned a long time ago and should’ve paid more attention to. In order for a pitcher to be their best, they cannot be thinking about ANYTHING except the next out.
Regardless of the opponent, team, game, or event a pitcher’s job is to get 21 outs per game. They need to this without surrendering more runs than their team can score. But, it’s not always that easy. When stepping out onto the field there is no way around it… I need to be 100% focused. Fastpitch is a game of inches and mistakes. The one who makes the fewest, often wins. With the balls and bats used today by the batters, there is no margin for error. There cannot be any second guessing or any doubts on ANY pitch.
As a pitching coach, concentration is one thing I cannot teach. I cannot teach a girl to forget that her boyfriend is in the crowd. We’ve all heard the
expression “Tune it out” meaning to forget everything and focus on what’s in front of you. This is easier for some than others and I was completely unable to “tune it out” that night. And it showed. We lost the game 9-0 and it could’ve been much worse. It SHOULD’VE been much worse.
As a pitcher and someone who’s been in the pitcher’s circle in every situation from a city league championship all the way to championship game at the World Championship, I have to have compelete and utter confidenence in what I’m doing. I need to look at every batter and know that I’m better. I often tell my students to think of the most feared hitter in women’s softball (Bustos, Fernandez, etc) and challenge yourself, thinking they are in the box. “OK, Lisa… you’re a good riseball hitter? Hit MY riseball!!!!!” But, that mentality also has to be combined with smarts about what to throw and when to throw it. Afterall, we don’t want to pitch to someone’s strengths.
A clear confident mind is the pitcher’s best asset as they take the field versus any opponent. From a coaching standpoint, you must know your pitcher inside and out. Know what’s going on in her head both on and off the field. Mental issues can be both the best and worst thing for a pitcher! Because pitching is primarily mental. Physically… a pitcher can have his/her best game when not feeling their physical best. Every pitcher has had games where they didn’t feel like they had that extra “snap” on the pitch, yet location and smarts help win those games. Personally, I’ve had my best games ever when I’ve been physically sick. When I’m not feeling well, it means I have to focus 100% on each pitch without room for mistakes. I will use less energy and all the efficiency possible to get 21 outs. If only we could all do that when we’re feeling well!
So, the $64,000 is: how do we teach pitchers to be focused and motivated every game. Well, sadly, there is no cookie cutter answer. Everyone is different. For some, the inspiration for the game IS the game. For others, it has to do with things I cannot comprehend. There is also type that is actually
inspired when her boyfriend is in the crowd! So, it’s my job and any coach’s job to find that motivation and use it to it’s fullest! It may be hard to find so, be patient. Afterall… pitchers are a different breed!