Life in the minor leagues is far from glamorous- long bus rides, shoddy hotels, sparse crowds and Podunk towns are just a few of the vast differences between baseball “down on the farm” and in the Major Leagues. But one of the great things about the minors is that quite often, you get the chance to simply sit back and appreciate our national pastime and those who play it. Continue reading
by Darren Fenster
In Game One of last October’s World Series, the Kansas City Royals pedaled reliever after reliever into a 14-inning instant classic against the New York Mets, all throwing in the mid-to-upper 90’s. That was, until Chris Young entered the game in the top of the 12th, showing the baseball world and aspiring Big League pitchers everywhere that you don’t, in fact, need to have eye-popping velocity to successfully compete at the highest level of the sport.
Pitching out of the bullpen for three scoreless frames, striking out five while earning the win, Young hit 90 MPH on the radar gun in that game. That’s significant because it was the first time he did so since 2009. And he only touched 90. Once. For the past 12-plus years, Chris Young- who stands at 6’10” tall- generally has made his living as a Major League pitcher by throwing his four-seam fastball in the mid-to-upper 80s, one that averaged 86 MPH for the 2015 season.
In the age of velocity that baseball seems to be living in right now, that aforementioned fact begs the simple question of, “how?” How does Chris Young do it?
Velocity is a gift. Granted, a gift that can be developed and improved through hard work and dedication, but not one that most baseball pitchers at most levels of the game are blessed with. Velocity is magnified on television every night and at ballparks every day so much so, that many up and coming pitchers may get discouraged when the realization comes that they don’t have it and haven’t been blessed with the ability to throw a ball as hard as the next guy. Scouts love velocity. College recruiters love velocity. Professional coaches love velocity. But plain and simple, not every player who toes the rubber will be able to throw 90 miles per hour.
But the ability to throw the ball hard is just one piece of the puzzle to get a hitter out.
Allard Baird, currently a special assistant in the Red Sox front office, and former GM of the Royals, once said “tools are great. Everybody loves tools. But if you cannot translate those tools into usable baseball skills that can help you perform and your team succeed, then those tools are worthless.” Velocity without the ability to throw the ball over the plate may win you a stuffed animal on the boardwalk, but it won’t get hitters out. Continue reading
This past off-season, the San Diego Padres named Andy Green their new manager. To those outside of the baseball fraternity, and probably to many a part of it, the collective reaction brought more of a, “who?” than it did a, “WOW!”
Shortly after being named manager, Green conducted an interview with MLB Network’s Al Leiter, and said to him, “I sure do remember you, Al… but I doubt you remember me. Most don’t remember the .200 hitters.”
And most .200 hitters don’t get a ton of playing time. So their view of the game more often comes from the dugout bench than it does the batter’s box, as was the case with Green, whose primary position is listed as ‘pinch hitter’ on his baseball reference page.
By all means, Andy Green was qualified to become a Major League manager, having spent three years as a minor league skipper in the Diamondbacks system before a season as third base coach in Arizona, where he was widely praised for the work he did on the defensive side of things. As a player, he spent parts of four seasons in the big leagues with the Diamondbacks and Mets, as part of a ten-year playing career- most of which was spent in the minor leagues- in addition to one year with the Nippon Ham Fighters in Japan. Spanning 140 career games spanning four seasons in the Major Leagues, Andy Green was a .200 hitter. As is often the case with many coaches in our game, he did not enjoy a star-studded career as a Major League player.
This spring, the baseball community said farewell to a wonderful coach and a great American, Bill Arce. Coach Arce was not only a successful coach and Athletic Director at Claremont, he was also a pioneer in promoting and teaching baseball internationally. He was an American Baseball Coaches Association Board Member, former ABCA President and a recipient of the Lefty Gomez Award. More importantly, Coach Arce was a World War ll combat veteran, fighting for our nation in the Battle of the Bulge. We will miss this compassionate man. Continue reading
Soon after the ball is placed in our hands and the bat on our shoulders, we are quickly introduced to the beautiful frustration of our sport, not as our national pastime, but as a game of failure. The sheer mass of failure in our game makes it that much different than all the rest. You’ve heard it a million times: the very best in baseball are FAILING seven out of every ten times. And in the heat of competition, that statistical nugget does very little to ease the pain of yet another 0fer.
But to the very best in the game, that failure can be a player’s greatest opportunity, or to those who decide to hang up the spikes, it can be their career’s death sentence. The fortunate part of it all is we are afforded a choice as to how exactly we get to handle our lack of success. We can choose to embrace the struggle and see it as an awesome chance to get better, or we can choose to wilt under the mounting pressure from not getting the job done.
So why should we welcome something that tear us up inside? Continue reading
In each of the past two off-seasons, I have had the pleasure of traveling to the other side of the world to run a week-long baseball camp for 40 of Taiwan’s best high school players as identified by the Chinese Taipei Baseball Federation. This is basically Taiwan’s equivalent of USA Baseball’s National Team trials here in the states, with a bit more emphasis on instruction than competition.
The original opportunity came in the fall of 2013 when one of our international scouts reached out to see if I would be interested in organizing and executing a camp that will enable a different culture of baseball see and experience the way we do things here in the States professionally. While the chance to go to a different country to teach the game I absolutely love sounded awesome, there was just one small problem:
I don’t speak a lick of Taiwanese… and the kids who would be participating in the camp didn’t speak English.
So right off the bat, the essential key to being an effective coach- the ability to communicate- was a hurdle that would make the challenges of putting together a great camp that much harder. Luckily, I was soon assured that myself and the other American coaches joining on the staff would each have our own translator. Crisis averted!
Go to any foreign speaking country and you’ll quickly experience the communication barriers that exist from the moment you land. Every language is different and sometimes the specific way to say something in one language cannot be interpreted in another, either because the words or phrases simply don’t exist or are understood in a completely different context. So when we relate that fact to teaching a sport, we risk the distinct possibility of having things lost in translation for no other reason than what we want to say cannot be said in the exact way that we want to say it. That was apparent on day one of that first trip to Taiwan in 2013, and we knew right away that we had to change our approach if we wanted to make an impact. Continue reading