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Wind-Pitch: Articles

Defensive Face Masks

  • The player's first thought: "I'm not wearing one of those".
  • The parent's first thought: "Her braces".

    Both are interesting first thoughts. I remember when the girls were not required to wear a facemask on their batting helmets or chin straps. The ASA brought in chinstraps first and you would have thought it was the end of the sport! But the game became safer. The following year facemasks became mandatory on batting helmets and the game got safer. Again with the complaints. But they trudged onward and got over it.

    Every year the game gets faster and the players are bigger-better-stronger-faster-smarter. Every year, more kids - specifically pitchers, 3rd baseman and 1st baseman are hit in the face by a sharply hit ball. Despite attempts by the ASA to 'mush' the ball from a core .50 to a core .47 and despite attempts to slow the bats down...from eliminating titanium, to the BPF regulation, to the MPH limitations, and now to the new composite restictions. Restrictions which by the way, are so severe that some bat companies are getting out of the composite business completely. All of this and the balls are still coming back at the players faster and faster. In case you have not noticed, the ASA is in the process of systematically moving the pitchers back farther. It started years ago when they moved the 12U back from 35' to 40'. Then 18U Gold went back to 43'. Then 18A followed with a 43' pitching distance. It is just a matter of time before 16U and High School ball is at 43' (both should be there already). With these changes, you'd think there would be fewer injuries. But the facial injuries are increasing.

    The braces and the teeth are important and broken noses are bad - don't get me wrong. I do not mean to minimize these injuries...but dude...if you get hit in the eye orbit with a ball, you are in trouble. The bones of the cheek and eye orbit have hollow areas behind them; the sinus cavities. A hard blow to these areas can shatter these brittle and thin bones. Now you are talking about reconstructive facial surgery. And I have not even mentioned the thought of a detached retina or actual eyeball damage.

    A defensive mask can prevent these serious and potentially life-altering injuries. For those players who don't like the looks or claim the mask obscures your vision ...yeah-yeah-yeah...I've heard it all before with the batting facemask. But now it just a given and nobody is complaining any more. In fact many players don't know anything different as they have always had a batting facemask.

    And parents, think beyond the money that goes into the braces. Think about the potential for disaster that lies in being hit in the face. Get your player(s) a mask and make them wear it! It won't be long before it is mandatory anyway.

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  • "Just Throw Strikes"

    I don't think there is a phrase I dislike more than "Just throw strikes". You usually hear this from the the typical dad and/or coach. They generally have no clue about the actual form required or the trouble-shooting process to make necessary corrections to actually accomplish the task they are asking the pitcher to perform.

    I liken this to taking a kid fishing and then yelling at him or her to "CATCH FISH ...what's wrong with you?...your are doing it wrong". Can you imagine doing that? The KNOW they are supposed to catch fish...they are fishing. They don't need to be told to catch fish...they need to be told and shown HOW...with patience and understanding. They need to know how to cast the line out, what techniques work for what fish. How to tie the hook or lure on. As they get more advanced, they need to learn that each day is different, how to read the water, and understand the circumstances of this particular outing. Pitching is not much different. You have to learn the basics first. Then you have to learn more advanced topics like reading batters and understanding the situations.

    One of the most memorable remarks I ever heard in response to dad yelling "JUST THROW STRIKES" came from a 12-year old girl who said; "I know I'm supposed to throw strikes...Tell me what I'm doing wrong". ...OUCH!...a well-made point.

    Like the fishing example, the pitcher needs to be taught how. Pitching is no different. They need patience and understanding. In a game, rather than using the common hurtful phrases, use helpful phrases like; "Trust your mechanics". "It's just like know what you are doing". "Smooth and quick - don't slow down and guide the ball...use your mechanics". All these are positive examples of phrases that will draw out better performances from your pitcher rather than embarrass them in front of their friends, teammates and the spectators.

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    Mouth Pieces

    You probably know someone, or know somebody who knows someone who has been hit in the mouth by a batted ball. In fast pitch softball, the pitcher, 3rd baseman and 1st baseman play quite close to the batter and occasionally reaction times are just not fast enough. Often the result of being hit in the mouth is broken teeth or worse yet, teeth knocked completely out. Mouthpieces have been successfully used in contact sports for years and have a proven track record. They are readily available and affordable with a price range of $1-$3. All it takes is once and they can pay for themselves in untold trauma, not to mention thousands of dollars. Consider wearing one. Even football players with helmets and facemasks STILL wear a mouthpiece. Even if you are wearing a defensive facemask for softball, you should still consider wearing a mouthpiece. Your toothbrush can get the dirt out of your teeth...your mouthpiece can keep your teeth out of the dirt. Get one and get used to wearing it. Remember avoiding an injury situation before it happens is better than treating it after it happens.
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    Toe Plates

    Pitchers, is the toe of one of your cleats wearing out faster than the other? Check and see. If you haven't experienced this phenomenon yet, you will. The windmill pitching motion causes the 'strong side' toe (right toe for right-handers, left toe for left-handers) to drag in the dirt. Eventually, this causes excessive wear on that shoe. To stop this premature wear, get a toe plate. This is a plastic or rubber molded piece that fits onto the toe of the shoe. In my opinion, the soft, rubber toe plates are the best. The hard plastic toe plates attach by the shoe laces and with screws on the sole of the cleats. These have not lasted long enough for us. You will find yourself in a game when one of the screws comes out and gets lost. Then you are stuck with a toe plate flopping around. The soft rubber toe plates come with a special glue. After applying the toe plate, hot air from a hair dryer is blown on the toe plate to help soften the glue and mold the toe plate to the shoe. I have found that a little 'Shoe-Goo' to seal the edges works well also. The brand of toe plate that I have found to work the best is 'Tuff-Toe'. You can get it at your local sporting goods store or at the various softball catalogs for about $10.00. Make sure you purchase the correct one...they are available for left and right shoes. Lefties, you need one for the left foot. Righties, you need one for the right foot. Make sure you read and understand the directions before glueing it on the shoe.
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    Advanced Pitches

    When should you start advanced pitches? Advanced meaning anything other than a fast ball or change-up. The time is different for each pitcher. But as a rule, when a pitcher starts becoming relatively dependable in spotting the four corners. The four corners are 'up & in', 'down & in', 'up & out' and 'down & out'. As the pitcher develops control, four corners should become part of routine practice for about 1/3 of the practice. The ability to hit those four corners and consistently throw the change-up, is critical. Pitch location is much more critical than different types of pitches. Armed with the four-corners and a change-up, pitchers have a real advantage over the batter. Once that is accomplished, it is time to move on. Some of the more common specialty pitches to follow are the off-speed, drop, screw ball (also known as an inshoot), the curve and the rise ball. The off-speed pitch is fairly simple to throw and most pick it up quickly. The other pitches are difficult and often frustrating. What surfaces quickly is the fact that each of these pitches requires different mechanics. The straight-away fastball mechanics are the root of pitching, but they cannot be used to throw the specialty pitches. Foot placement, arm location, wrist action and follow-through are all different. Be patient, you'll get there.
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    Bat Sizes

    How do you know if you have the correct bat? It is not rocket science. Nor is it based simply on the batter's height. Simply stated the correct bat for any batter is the heaviest bat that can be swung without loss of speed. There are devices which strap onto a bat and measure the MPH of the swing. Short of that, you have to sample the bat. Two good rules of thumb are;
  • 1.) With the batters arms at their sides, the bat should be long enough to reach the batter's wrist.
  • 2.) The batter should be able to control the bat one-handed with either hand when whipping the bat back and forth.

    Be careful any time you swing a bat. You can quickly cause serious injury or damage if you are not paying attention. New innovations in high-tech aluminum are allowing lighter and lighter bats. These bats are often referred to as -9, -10 or 10-drop. The 'minus 10' simply means the bat is 10 ounces lighter than the length of the bat in inches. A -10 bat could be a 34"/24 oz. or a 30"/20 oz. The 'drop' means the same thing - a '10-drop' is 10 oz. lighter than the length of the bat in inches. So what is all the fuss about light bats? A lighter bat will develop more bat speed due to a faster swing. In the formula used to calculate energy exchange from one object to another, the speed of the exchange is much more important than the weight. You have probably heard that the faster the ball is pitched, the harder you can hit it. The same rule applies to the bat itself. The faster you can swing it, the harder it will hit. As a pitcher, learn to be a good batter. There is nothing more devastating to another team than a pitcher who can also hit.

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  • Glove Break-In and Care

    I am often asked about glove care and break-in. Everyone has their own "secret sauce". In recent years, many new glove conditioning products have been introduced. Everything from traditional glove oils to foams, to products that are heat activated. I don't know about you, but I think there is something fundamentally wrong with putting a fine leather product in the oven especially if it has velcro closures. I certainly would not put a new leather jacket in the oven. That just does not seem to me like a good way to treat a fine leather glove. I have tried them all, including the oven treatment. I decided to perform my own research ...and you know what I found out? Petroleum jelly is the answer. A regimen of petroleum jelly and good old catch and throw to break the glove in. PJ has traits that oils do not have. For one, it will not soak into the padding of the glove like oil does. Once oil gets into the padding, the glove becomes heavy and floppy. When oil penetrates into the hide, saturating the leather fibers, it causes it to rot from the inside out. PJ, on the other hand, seals the pores of the skin and keeps dirt out, but still allows the glove to breath. Rub some PJ into your current glove and wipe it off with a clean white cloth. What you will find is surprising. It will lift the dirt out of the pores of the glove. I found this out from a guy who does custom saddle work. Also the folks at Harley-Davidson suggest their own Petroleum Jelly for their seats. When you use PJ, remember to get it everywhere...on the laces, on the knots, INSIDE where your hand goes. It will feel sloppy and greasy at first, but only for a while. Soon, that slippery feel will be gone, but the PJ is still there doing its job. PJ and good old catch and throw. THAT is how to properly break a glove in. Store your glove with a ball in the pocket to keep it formed properly. Don't allow the glove to fold flat. Look for a product called 'The Glove Locker' to stretch around the glove and keep that pocket protected. I sell the Glove Lockers in the Pro-Shop here on this site.
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    Everybody wants 'speed'. When you ask a pitchers what they want, about 90% of the answers will be 'speed'. Everyone dreams of blowing the batters out of the box. As you are all finding out, it is hard to do. Pitching and learning about pitching is comparable to the layers of an onion. There is always another layer to get through. As you finish one, you find out there is another to get through. We have all been working on speed by talking and practicing on the 'Speed Elements'. These power-points, when simplified are 5 places in the motion where we can get leverage. They consist of:
    1.) 2 1/3 grip
    2.) load the knee
    3.) swipe the ear
    4.) sharp snap (hand inside the elbow)
    5.) torque in the hips

    Remember pitching faster is good in many ways. It is harder for the batters to hit, it makes your off-speed stuff better and it helps ensure your pitching form is in reasonable shape (you can't pitch fast with bad form). Speed is intimidating but don't forget, there is much more to pitching than speed.

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    Strengthening & Stretching

    In order to become a 'fire-breathing, heat-throwing' pitcher, you will need to perform some strengthening of the muscles involved. Don't think you have to look like Arnold Swartzenager to be strong. You do not need bulky muscles to pitch, you need strong, quick muscles to pitch. If you lift weights, use lighter weights and perform more repetitions, rather than heavy weights and few reps. Another alternative and much more convenient, is surgical tubing. This stuff is the best thing since sliced bread. You can get it at almost any medical supply house and it is cheap at anywhere from $1/ft to $1.75/ft. With the tubing, you can perform multiple exercizes right in your own home...even while you watch TV! Tie the tubing around your foot and pull it with your arm. Use your wrist, your elbow and then your shoulder. If you need some help with this, let me know. You can even drill a hole in a ball, run the tubing through it and tie a big knot behind a washer in the end to keep it from slipping though and stretch with a ball. Secure the other end (with a clip) to a strong object, like a fence post and pull the ball through the 1/4 motion. You can even stretch overhand as though you were throwing the ball. Do not make fast motions or you may tear a muscle. This type of warm-up allows you to warm up to throw/pitch the ball, rather than throwing/pitching the ball to warm up.
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    Pitch to the Umpire

    Pitchers must constantly make adjustments. Some adjustments are to correct pitching problems such as pitching too high or too low. But other adjustments are for the umpire. No matter what, you must place the ball where the umpire wants it. All umpires have different strike zones. Some will call a low pitch, while others favor the inside or outside corner. Early on in a game, the coach, catcher or pitcher must start searching for the umpire's zone by moving the ball around a bit. The secret to pitching to an umpire is to find what they want AND keep the ball away from the batter. One way of doing that is to check the batter's location in the box, their arm/hand position, and their build. Here are some general rules for pitching around a batter...
  • Stocky batters: will usually swing at high pitches
  • Tall thin batters: make them reach...down and away
  • Hands high: up and in
  • Up in the box: throw high
  • Back in the box: throw low
  • Crowding the plate: throw inside
  • Away from the plate: throw outside
  • Slow bat: throw inside
  • Always try to make your pitching mistakes low. When in doubt, throw an opposite location of the last pitch. Pitch your best stuff to the weakest batters. Weak batters cannot hit fast pitching. Never throw a weak batter an offspeed pitch and be *VERY* careful when throwing a change-up to a weak batter.

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    Face Masks

    Just Throw Strikes

    Mouth Pieces

    Toe Plates

    Advanced Pitches

    Bat Sizes

    Glove Break-In & Care

    Pitching Speed

    Strength & Stretching

    Pitch to the Umpire

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