Usually I wait until after the women’s college world series before writing thoughts about it but, I just can’t help myself. By the time this is printed in some of the magazines, the WCWS will be over.
First, let me remind everyone that in July (I think July 22), ESPN will be showed a tape delayed game of Men’s fastpitch. The National teams of Japan vs USA. If I’m not mistaken, this will be the first time men’s fastpitch has been shown on ESPN since 1993. Sadly, for multiple reasons, many of the top players in the USA turned down the opportunity to play for the National team despite the ESPN telecast. What a shame because this is a window of opportunity that won’t stay open for long and men’s fastpitch needs all the publicity it can get. It would’ve been nice to field our best team.
I watched part of the opening round games on ESPN last night Texas AM vs Tennessee, then Butler vs Arizona. A couple things came to mind, and these are in no particular order. If you watched the games, you may know immediately what I’m talking about.
#1. When did it become in vogue for pitchers to be stepping so far to the side as they deliver the ball? In the games last night, Tennessee’s pitcher is the only one that pushed off directly to the catcher. And, is it a coincidence that she is head and shoulders above the other pitchers? Stepping sideways does a couple of things to a pitcher. First, it takes their energy in a sideways direction instead of forward. If this is better, then why don’t sprinters and long distance runners run diagonally? The energy, momentum, and drive needs to go in the direction you want the ball. Not crooked. Second, by going sideways it automatically means the pitcher is going to be throwing around her body, not through it. This makes backward spin IMPOSSIBLE for riseballs. Without going into the painful debate of the riseball, the bottom line is; a correct riseball does not have bullet spin nor is it merely a high pitch. But, because of the mechanics used by many pitchers, that’s all they will get and that’s all many will see. This is not to say that pitchers who step straight are guaranteed to get backspin. Far from it. But, without stepping straight, it’s impossible. Third reason: by going sideways a pitcher will have to make added compensations and corrections in their motion to get the ball to go straight. If she’s pitching around her hips then she’s got to make an adjustment somewhere to get the ball back in line with the catcher.
#2. Listening to the announcers on TV makes my teeth hurt. But, that’s not new, I say that every year. My favorite part is when someone throws a pitch inside and it’s immediately called a ‘screwball’. Anything outside is a curve, high is a rise, and low must be a drop. Now, I consider myself to have a pretty keen eye when it comes to pitching. I just don’t see how someone stepping to the left and throwing to the right makes it a screwball. It looks to me like an inside pitch because the pitcher went around her body!
#3. More and more male fastpitch players are getting into coaching at the college level. Mike Larabee (Wright state), John Bargfeldt (Tulsa), Ken Eriksen (So. Florida), Shawn Rychcik (Boston U), Ehren Earlywhine (Missouri), Gordon Eakin (BYU), and Peter Turner (San Jose St) are a couple examples of former teammates of mine, former national team players and world class caliber hitters. Part of being an elite hitter in men’s fastpitch is learning how to pick the pitcher. Reading his/her body movements to identify what pitch is being thrown. Coaches can also look into the pitchers’ glove and relay a signal to the batter verbally about what pitch is coming. It amazes me that the pitchers are not doing more to conceal their pitches. Equally puzzling to me is that these hitters are not trained to watch these things. It’s one thing to swing and miss at a pitch. It’s another to be completely fooled by it. By simply watching the pitchers, I’m willing to bet my house that the hitters could identify the pitch so early that they would know which way to swing before the pitch has been thrown. If a hitter knows what’s coming, that is 1/2 the battle. Now, I’m not saying they will get a hit every time but they would at least DOUBLE their chances of it when they know how it’s going to move. It’s amazing that they aren’t even watching for this. Try an experiment with your team sometime: Throw batting practice (over or underhand) to her. Throw fast, fast, fast, then a change up. She will swing like a fool. Then throw fast, fast, fast, and then TELL her the change up is coming. I guarantee she will be ready for it. No, put that into a game situation… wouldn’t you want to know what’s coming before she throws it? Of course.
#4. I think, perhaps, the most ridiculous thing I’ve EVER seen is the 5 second to deliver the pitch rule. If a pitcher shakes off a signal, that’s it… 5 seconds is up. And it gives the umpires another tool to become a factor in the game. The last thing we need is people “over umpiring” the game. The spirit of the rule is great.. make the game fast and keep the pace up. But, this is fastpitch. 1 run wins or loses most games and if a pitcher has to throw a pitch that is the wrong one, at the wrong time because of this speed up rule.. then it is no longer the game it should be. I have a radical idea: if you REALLY want to speed up the games? Lets get rid of the entire infield running into the pitcher’s circle after every single out to give each other high 5’s. How about just throwing the ball around the horn and letting the pitcher get back to thinking about the next hitter and what to throw?
#5. Perhaps it’s a gender difference but, I can’t fathom pitching a game and constantly being vocal to my teammates about how many outs there are in between pitches. In the world I live in, I’ve never seen that. But, it seems to be common place in the women’s game of fastpitch. After outs and sometimes after individual pitches, the pitchers are always reminding their team how many outs there are, etc. I’m not saying it’s good/bad, right/wrong. Everyone has their own ‘thing’. But, for me.. I try to keep my thoughts to myself and I don’t want anything to take away from my mental preparation for the next pitch. The next pitch could win or lose the game!
#6. I was amazed at watching Bulter’s right handed batters last night. With 2 strikes on them, nearly all did a modified batting stance where they almost looked as though they were going to bunt the ball then pulled the bat back to swing. This means added movement to the batter and most hitting coaches will tell you to not make any extra movements. These moves also makes them extremely susceptible to low inside pitches. The more movements they make, the more their eyes are moving, which means the less it’ll stay focused on the ball. I know they are trying to shorten up their swings but, I’m just not sure this is the right way. A good drop pitcher with a brain will eat them up. And while I’m on the subject, the whole play of faking the bunt, pull back and swing should be banned altogether. It’s just way too dangerous in 2007. See below!
#7. Last but not least: I’ve preached about this, without much support, for the longest time. Take away the arguments from people who don’t know the real difference between and illegal/legal pitch. How can people with the bats/balls used today worry so much about the illegal pitches? The Arizona game ended last night in extra innings on a ball hit just over the fence. If it was 2002 instead of 2007, it would’ve been a routine fly ball. The bats and balls today have gone beyond crazy. There are reports all the time from pitchers and corner infielders who’ve been deformed by line drives off high tech bats and balls that are like rocks. And on top of that, fly balls are now home runs. The technology in the game has evolved, so should the pitcher’s abilities to get those hitters out. Yet, people scream about illegal pitches. They want small strike zones. I know my opinion is
biased on this subject but, I simply don’t understand how people can allow one side to evolve but not the other.
Enjoy the games on TV and I’m sure I’ll have more thoughts next month.