Category Archives: Instruction

Ivy Tech’s Hershberger extolls the virtues of vision training

RBILOGOSMALL copy

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

“Ridiculous attention to detail.”

That’s how Lance Hershberger goes about his business as head baseball coach at Ivy Tech Community College Northeast in Fort Wayne, Ind.

That attention was on display as Hershberger talked about “Vision As It Pertains to Hitting in Baseball” during the Huntington North Hot Stove clinic session hosted Sunday, Dec. 1 by new Vikings head coach Mark Flueckiger.

Hershberger, with the assistance of Ivy Tech players Grant Hershberger (his son) and Connor Knoblauch, presented information and a number of drills designed to help hitters improve the way they use their eyes.

“Don’t underestimate the importance of vision in baseball,” says Hershberger, who has led the Titans to a 58-32 mark in the first two years of the Ivy Tech program. “If you think it’s not important, try playing the game with your eyes closed.

“It’s the most overlooked and under appreciated skill in the game.”

Hershberger broke his talk into four areas:

• Vision.

• Focus.

• Tee and drill work.

• Live hitting.

“A lot of this vision stuff is really focus,” says Hershberger. “I’m not an optometrist. I can’t give you a prescription for glasses.

“But I can give you some things that will focus on baseball.”

Hershberger said the first place to start is make sure that players can see well. They may need to see an eye doctor or simply commit to wearing their contacts or glasses to improve their vision and performance.

“Don’t take any of that for granted,” says Hershberger. “There is something to that.”

Hershberger talked about the dominant eye vs. back eye and used a water bottle at the edge of the stage as a visual.

He invited the audience to mimic the players and make a triangle with their fingers and put the bottle in the middle.

In closing one eye, the bottle will move outside or close to edge of the triangle.

Closing the other one will make the bottle stay inside the triangle.

The latter will be the dominant eye.

Hershberger says that if the dominant eye is the one closest to the pitcher, they should be fine. If the back eye is dominant then twisting the head to face the pitcher with both eyes is the way to go.

“Here’s one thing about (dominant eye),” says Hershberger. “You can’t change that. I can’t give you any drills. I can’t give you anything to work to change that.”

Rather than concentrating on something they can’t fix, Ivy Tech works on the back eye.

“We make sure our hitters see the pitcher, the ball, the window with their back eye,” says Hershberger. “We’ll do short toss or tee work with the front eye closed.”

For about $1.79, an eye patch can be purchased at the craft store and can be worn for these types of drills, including batting practice.

Hershberger brought out the Brock String, a device that is used in vision therapy that is a 4-foot piece of rope with colored tape every six inches.

“We’ll have our guys focus on that,” says Hershberger. “We usually tie it off on a fence or a post and put it at an angle to simulate the angle of the pitch.

“During this drill, all (the player) sees are the colors. He doesn’t see anything else. He goes up and he goes back down.

“We go for a minute and you should do it five or six times.”

Another vision drill is Thumbs Up.

Players stand apart at distances up to 60 feet with one thumb in the air and they alternate focus on the thumbs.

“We go for a minute. They don’t listen to anything. They don’t see anything (else). That’s all they see. His thumb. Their thumb.

“You do it five or six times a week and you do it all year long, you’ll get better. Your sight may not get better, but your focus will get better on what you’re doing.

“If they’re doing it right, they should have a headache when they’re done.”

In his decades around sports, Hershberger has found that athletes have not really changed.

“I hear it all the time: ‘I can’t coach kids the same way I did 30 years ago,’” says Hershberger. “I don’t believe that. I think the people that have changed are the guys in my shoes, the coaches.

“Kids will work up or down to your expectations.”

The difference now is that the coaches are better with communication.

“I explain why we do it,” says Hershberger. “I put it in a package (of drills) that makes sense to them. Here’s what we’re doing and here’s why we’re doing it.”

Hershberger talked about the importance of seeing the ball early and late.

“There’s 60 feet, 6 inches between the pitcher and the catcher,” says Hershberger. “Everybody sees the ball somewhere along that path. Usually somewhere in the middle.

“They don’t focus on the pitcher real well so they don’t see it out of his hand and know what’s coming. Then they try to guesstimate where it’s going and swing to that spot.

“Good hitters see the ball early and they see it late.”

Hoping it will help his team with vision, Hershberger has had underside of the bill on all Ivy Tech batting helmets painted white to reflect all waves of light.

“Theoretically, we may be able to see a little bit better,” says Hershberger. “I’m trying to do anything I can to get any advantage I can.

“It surely won’t hurt.”

The Titans use drills to track the baseball with their eyes.

Players are told to Google hit king Pete Rose.

“He’s the best I’ve ever seen at taking a pitch,” says Hershberger. “He would track everything into the (catcher’s) glove.

“We want our guys to track the ball.”

The player feeding the ball presents it in the “window” aka arm slot than rolls it and the batters follows it until it stops.

“You’ve got to walk before you run,” says Hershberger. “What we’re teaching there is that ridiculous attention to detail.

“You’re setting the tone for focusing on the ball.”

Ivy Tech has a bag of gimmicks — balls with colors, numbers etc., that are used in these vision drills that are packaged together with other movements in a logical way.

When balls are tossed, the batter can call out whether it is big or small, yellow or white, fastball, curveball or change-up, in, middle or out.

“He is hunting the ball in his hand,” says Hershberger. “None of this is earth-shattering but, hopefully, in the context of how you use it, it’s good.”

With the tee, Hershberger has hitters — swinging a conventional bat, paddle or piece of PVC pipe — load, stride and take it to contact then stop.

“We want them to see the bat hit the ball,” says Hershberger. “Out front on the top half. I’m not a launch angle guy.”

Then the hitter takes a half swing and contacts the ball.

“We’re working on focus,” says Hershberger. “We’re not working on mechanics of  the swing.”

Hershberger offered some other tips about tee work not related to focus.

“Always have a home plate when you’re working on the tee,” says Hershberger. “If you don’t have one, use your hat or your glove. You have to have a reference point.”

The tee is moved around depending what pitch is being worked on.

“Your swing doesn’t change,” says Hershberger. “Your point of contact and turn does.”

Tee placement will almost always vary by player.

“When they’re partners in these drills and the tee never moves from guy to guy, I’m suspect,” says Hershberger. “Oh, you’ve both got the same swing!?

“It’s more likely you’re both being lazy.

“If you don’t move it and set it up for your swing, you’re practicing somebody else’s swing and you’re getting nothing out of it. You have to set it up and be meticulous.

“Ridiculous attention to detail.”

Rapid Fire involves hitting ball after ball post-stride.

“Bam! Bam! Bam! Bam!,” says Hershberger. “That’s the logical progression of what we’ve been doing.

“He’s seeing that bat hit that ball.”

Hershberger notes that the hitters’ head does not track the ball off his bat.

“You stay down in there,” says Hershberger, who has been known to take away a practice at-bat of a hitter who tracks the flight of the ball.

Vision and focus is used at Ivy Tech to work on pitch recognition.

The batter quickly calls out the type of pitch — fastball, curveball, change-up — out of the “window.”

In another drill, players who recognize fastball will go quick to the ball and pull it. If it’s a breaking, they will stay back.

There’s also a variation where they learn to sit on a fastball and adjust to a breaking pitch. This combines soft toss and the tee. The soft toss ball or the one on the tee can be hit depending on location — all the while maintaining focus.

HUNTINGTON NORTH HOT STOVE

At Huntington North H.S.

Sundays, 2:30-5 p.m.

(Free)

Remaining Speakers

Dec. 8 — Kip McWilliams (Outfield play); Dennis Kas (Infield Play/Fundamentals); Thad Frame & Donovan Clark (Baserunning)

Dec. 15 — Rich Dunno (King The Hill Trainer/Pitching Drills); Kip McWilliams (Team Drills/Championship Practice); Gary Rogers (TBD)

Dec. 22 — Dan Holcomb (TBD); Dennis Kas (Offensive Approach/Situational Hitting); Mark Flueckiger (Batting Practice with a Purpose)

Jan. 12 — Gary Gatchell (Hitting); Bret Shambaugh (Being Competitive on Game Day)

Jan. 19 — Tom Roy (Pitching/Mental … Calling a Game); Dr. Travis Frantz (Staying Healthy — Tips on Avoiding Injuries in Your Career)

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Lance Hershberger is the head baseball coach at Ivy Tech Community College Northeast in Fort Wayne, Ind. (Ivy Tech Photo)

LANCEGRANTHERSHBERGER

Lance Hershberger (left) is the head baseball coach at Ivy Tech Community College Northeast in Fort Wayne, Ind. One of his players is son Grant (right). (Ivy Tech Photo)

 

Reds’ VanMeter talks about hitting approach, intangibles

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Josh VanMeter has morphed as a hitter.

From his days growing up in Ossian, Ind., playing travel baseball for the Summit City Sluggers and then his progression from Norwell High School to minor leaguer to big leaguer with the Cincinnati Reds, VanMeter has experienced change.

The 24-year-old shared his knowledge Sunday, Dec. 1 as the lead-off speaker for the Huntington North Hot Stove clinics hosted by new Vikings head coach Mark Flueckiger, who coached VanMeter as a youngster.

“My view on hitting has changed so much throughout my career, my life, whatever,” says VanMeter, who made his Major League Baseball debut May 5, 2019 and hit .237 with eight home runs and 23 runs batted in over 95 games with the Reds. “I don’t hit the same now as I did when I was 12. I don’t hit the same now as I did when I was in high school or even two years ago when I was in the minor leagues.”

VanMeter gave advice to hitters around 12.

“Just want to build a solid foundation, work from the ground up and really focus on contact,” says VanMeter. “You want to get a good base, be short to the ball and get the barrel to the ball. Keep it really simple the younger you are.”

VanMeter says things begin to change in the early teens. That’s when hitters can begin to driving the ball and not just making contact.

“A lot of it is dependent on what your physicality is,” says VanMeter. “I was small (5-foot-7 and around 120 pounds at 15), but I had a really good foundation to build on.”

VanMeter, who turns 25 March 10, 2020, says that at the highest levels of the game, it is important to get the ball in the air to produce runs.

“For a lot of youth players and youth coaches that can get misinterpreted,” says VanMeter. “When I talk about getting the ball in the air it’s not about hitting a pop-up. You want to drive the ball in the air.

“You get to a certain age and balls on the ground are outs for the most part.”

At younger ages, players with speed are often encouraged to hit the ball on the ground to beat the throw to first or hope for an error by the defense.

“That’s a really bad skill set because it’s really hard to break habits the older you get,” says VanMeter. “If by the time you get to high school all you do is hit ground balls, you’re not going to have a lot of success.

“It’s really hard to break that pattern of what you’ve been doing the last three to four years.”

When giving lessons, VanMeter has even been known to make his hitters do push-ups when they hit grounders in the batting cage.

VanMeter says he does not pretend that he has hitting around figured out, but he does have core principles.

At an early age, he worked at his craft.

“I spent a lot of time trying to get better at hitting,” says VanMeter. “I spent a lot of time in the cage.”

VanMeter notes that when it comes to cage work, tees are for mechanics and flips or batting practice is for things like game situations, timing, and pitch recognition.

“If you struggle hitting off the tee, you need to make some mechanical changes,” says VanMeter. “The ball ain’t moving.

“You should be really good at hitting the ball off the tee.”

VanMeter, who was selected by the San Diego Padres in the fifth round of the 2013 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft out of Norwell, changed his swing two off-seasons ago after having essentially the same approach for more than a decade.

“Coming up through high school and my first few years in the minor leagues, I was a big bat-to-ball guy,” says VanMeter. “I was steep in the (strike) zone. I was really only concentrating on getting the barrel to the ball because that’s what I was taught growing up.

“Obviously, it worked for me.”

VanMeter has learned to hit the ball out front and put it in the air pull-side.

“The best hitters pull the ball 70 percent of the time,” says VanMeter, who rejects the idea that hitters must go to the opposite field. “Youth hitters are behind the 8-ball when they get to college or into professional baseball. They don’t know how to pull the ball. It’s been drilled into the their head. They’ve got to hit the ball the other way.

“There are not many guys unless they are (New York Yankees slugger) Aaron Judge who can consistently hit home runs to the opposite field gap. You’ve got to learn to pull the ball first before you learn to hit the ball the other way.

“Pulling the ball is not hitting duck hooks down the third base line. It’s hitting a back spin ball into the left-center gap if I’m a right-handed hitter. For a left-handed hitter, it’s the right-center gap. That’s where the damage is going to be done.”

The pitch that’s down and away in the zone is hard to pull. That’s a pitcher’s pitch. Moving closer to the plate will bring that pitch closer to the hitter’s attack zone and the change to do damage.

“Damage is what makes you a good player,” says VanMeter. “It’s being able to produce runs.

“Baseball is all about producing runs and limiting runs. If you can do those two things, you’ll play for a long time.”

VanMeter advises youth players to get better at strike zone recognition and that starts in BP.

“You should only swing at strikes in the cage,” says VanMeter. “It’s not just swing the bat at every pitch.

“You need to take a breather. It’s not rapid fire.”

VanMeter recalls that he was 8 when a lesson taught to him by Sluggers founder Mark Delagarza.

“He said baseball is not a cardio sport,” says VanMeter. “You should not be getting your heart rate up when you’re swinging a bat.

“In my opinion, between every swing you should step out, take a deep breath and step back in just like a real game.”

Growing up, Josh spent countless hours taking cuts off his father, Greg VanMeter. And they weren’t all fastballs. There were also breaking balls and change-ups.

“We want to feel good, but at the end of the day, we have to challenge ourselves, too, to become better hitters,” says Van Meter. “You should treat BP more like a game.”

VanMeter says he can see MLB teams hiring independent pitchers to throw batting practice in simulated game situations.

To see pitches, recognize placement, spin and more, big league hitters often stand in during bullpen sessions.

“If we’re facing a guy with a really good breaking ball, I would go stand in on Trevor Bauer’s bullpen because all Trevor wants to throw is breaking balls,” says VanMeter. “You don’t even have to swing. You don’t even need a bat. All you’re doing is training your eyes.”

In recognizing the strike zone, the left-handed-hitting Van Meter splits home plate into thirds — outer, middle and inner.

“It’s about hunting an area in the zone that we want to attack,” says VanMeter. “It’s really hard to hit three pitches (fastball, breaking ball and change-up) in every zone.

“You can hit a fastball pretty much in any zone if you’re on fastball timing. But if (the pitcher) throws a breaking ball and I’m on a fastball , it’s going to be really hard to hit no matter what anybody says. Everybody says, ‘sit hard, you can adjust to soft.’ That’s not as easy as it sounds.

“Knowing the zones and knowing what you’re good at can be a really positive strength.”

VanMeter says that most high school pitchers command the zone away from the hitter.

“Knowing that, I’m going to sit out over the plate because it gives me the best chance to succeed,” says VanMeter. “The key to being a really good hitter is being able to sit out over the plate and take (the inside pitch) for a strike.”

Why?

Most will foul that pitch into their foot.

Having a plan when you go to the plate is another one of the biggest keys you can have,” says VanMeter. “You’ve got to be smart to be a hitter.

“It’s not dumb luck.”

The idea is to get into hitter’s counts (0-0, 1-0, 2-0, 3-0, 3-1) and avoid pitcher’s counts (0-1, 0-2, 1-2).

VanMeter did that often last spring with Triple-A Louisville. At the time he was called up in May, he was hitting .336 with 13 home runs, 31 RBI, 17 walks and 23 strikeouts. On April 29 in Toledo, he slugged three homers and drove in eight runs.

Up with the Reds, VanMeter began to learn the importance of being ready to hit the first pitch.

“I’ve always been a patient hitter,” says VanMeter. “I’m not a guy who’s afraid to take a strike or get to two strikes

“(Big league pitchers) are way to good for you to take a first-pitch cookie right down the middle. be ready to hit that first pitch. It’s all a mindset.”

VanMeter, who had smacked his first major league homer off St. Louis right-hander Miles Mikolas July 20 in Cincinnati, remembers a pre-game conversation with Cincinnati hitting coach Turner Ward on Aug. 31 with the Reds facing the Cardinals right-hander Michael Wacha in the second game of a doubleheader in St. Louis.

“Why do I feel scared to make an out on the first pitch of an at-bat?,” says VanMeter, recalling his question to Ward.

He was told that the question was not stupid since VanMeter is an elite bat-to-ball hitter who regularly puts the ball in play, is good with two strikes and walks a fair amount.

“Sometimes you just have to choose your spot,” says VanMeter. “(I decided) I’m going to look for a fastball up in the zone (against Wacha) and I’m just going to swing. Sure enough, I get a fastball up and I hit it out of the park on the first pitch of the game.

“What hitting comes down to is giving yourself the best chance to succeed.”

VanMeter has come to make an “A” swing and avoid a “panic” swing.

“We want to get our best swing off every time we swing the bat — every time,” says VanMeter. “We don’t want to compromise our swing just to make contact.”

Taking a panic swing just to make contact can often be worse than missing the ball altogether. A hitter can be in a 1-0 count, get out over his front foot on a breaking ball and hit a weak dribbler to the right side.

“Now you’re taking a right turn back to the dugout,” says VanMeter. “You’ve got to train yourself to take your best swing every time no matter what.”

Hitters must commit to a plan and trust their swing.

“With those silly mistakes we make, we don’t really trust ourselves to get our best swing off and have a productive at-bat,” says VanMeter.

It also takes confidence, but this can’t be given.

VanMeter had a parent ask if he could give his kid confidence.

“No, I can’t funnel your kid confidence,” says VanMeter of his response. “Confidence comes from preparation.

“If you prepare, you’re going to be confident.”

What about a timing mechanism?

“Timing is not about getting your (front) foot down,” says VanMeter. “Your foot’s going to get down before you ever swing the bat. I’m never going to swing with my lead foot off the ground.

“When do I pick my foot off the ground? That’s the biggest thing. When you pick your foot off the ground, you’re going to go regardless.

“I pick my foot off the ground when the pitcher separates his hands. That all comes into sync. I want to make my forward move when his arm is starting to come forward.”

VanMeter now stands straight up and just goes forward, but knows that younger hitters need a lode as a way to generate power.

“Your legs will always be the strongest part of your body, but especially at that age,” says VanMeter. “High school kids are not in the weight room enough.”

As a professional, VanMeter goes against conventional wisdom and uses the straight bar bench press in his training.

“The less reps, the more weight the better,” says VanMeter. “I do two max effort days a week (build up to a one-rep max) and two dynamic effort days a week (more of a speed program).

“The only way you’re going to get stronger is by doing max effort work. You’re not going to get crazy strong by doing three sets of 12. That’s just not how it works. You’ve got to lift heavy to get strong.

“When it comes to baseball, you’ve got to train speed and power because that’s the kind of sport it is.

“My cardio is playing basketball. You’ll never see me on a treadmill or running sprints. Baseball is not a cardio sport. It’s a power sport. It’s a short-interval sport.

“The biggest measurement when it comes to running in baseball is can you get from first from the home on a double in the gap?”

Baseball players are graded by five tools — speed, power, hitting for average, fielding and arm strength.

But there is also a sixth tool — intangibles. The Reds saw that in VanMeter, who was drafted as a shortstop but has played second base, third base, left field, right field and first base in their system.

“It’s being a winning player, knowing the game, being a good teammate, being a good leader,” says VanMeter. “When you get to the big leagues, those things matter. In the minor leagues, it’s all about (the five) tools.”

This past year, VanMeter got to meet one of his idols — 10-year big leaguer and 2006 World Series MVP with the Cardinals David Eckstein — and asked him how he did what he did at 5-8, 165.

“I just grinded day in an day out,” says VanMeter of Eckstein’s response. “I was a good teammate. I was a winner.

“That’s what people want — winning players.”

HUNTINGTON NORTH HOT STOVE

At Huntington North H.S.

Sundays, 2:30-5 p.m.

(Free)

Remaining Speakers

Dec. 8 — Kip McWilliams (Outfield play); Dennis Kas (Infield Play/Fundamentals); Thad Frame & Donovan Clark (Baserunning)

Dec. 15 — Rich Dunno (King The Hill Trainer/Pitching Drills); Kip McWilliams (Team Drills/Championship Practice); Gary Rogers (TBD)

Dec. 22 — Dan Holcomb (TBD); Dennis Kas (Offensive Approach/Situational Hitting); Mark Flueckiger (Batting Practice with a Purpose)

Jan. 12 — Gary Gatchell (Hitting); Bret Shambaugh (Being Competitive on Game Day)

Jan. 19 — Tom Roy (Pitching/Mental … Calling a Game); Dr. Travis Frantz (Staying Healthy — Tips on Avoiding Injuries in Your Career)

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Josh VanMeter, a Norwell High School graduate, made his big league baseball debut with the Cincinnati Reds in 2019. (Cincinnati Reds photo)

 

Southern Indiana’s Archuleta shares ideas about infield play

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Tracy Archuleta is renown in coaching circles for his ability to convey knowledge on infield play.

The head coach at the University of Southern Indiana in Evansville has led the Screaming Eagles to NCAA Division II national championships in 2010 and 2014 and has conducted multiple clinics, including on the big stage at the annual American Baseball Coaches Association Convention.

The coach — with the help of his son and USI infielder Alex Archuleta — presented on the subject at the first PRP Baseball Bridge The Gap Clinic in Noblesville as a guest of Greg Vogt.

At the start of Archuleta’s talk, he explained that infielders playing for him must be able to use their glove well.

He make it a point to have infielders go to the baseball with the finger tips of their glove down.

Why?

“It’s the biggest pocket,” says Archuleta. “It’s the first thing I’m looking at (a prospective infielder). When I’m watching them field a ground ball, I can teach them how to move their feet. I can’t teach them how to use their glove.”

Archuleta says he has his infielders lead with their left hand and does not even use the top (or bare) hand (to stop the ball).

“The top hand is insurance. If I’m really good with my glove, I don’t need insurance.

“I want them to be athletic and really use their glove.”

As a training tool, USI infielders use a small glove that Archuleta learned about from former Screaming Eagles assistant Vicente Cafaro, who was a San Diego Padres minor league infield instructor during the 2019 season.

What does Alex Archuleta like it?

“It makes me feel the ball in my palm,” says the younger Archuleta. “You’re not catching it the web.

“On top of that, it makes me stay down.”

Tracy Archuleta chimed in.

“I like it because it makes you get your butt down,” says the coach. “I don’t care if you’re 10 years old or 18 years old, the lower you get the more chance you’re going to have to field that ball.

“It’s amazing how they’re able to use their glove and get so much more confident.”

A drill that was introduced to Archuleta by Cafaro involves bouncing lacrosse or dimple balls. The infielder constantly moves his feet and then goes after the ball with his glove after the first or second bound to work on fielding short hops and big hops.

“It makes them be patient,” says Archuleta. “What are we doing with the big hop? We want to wait and get it.”

An emphasis for Archuleta during USI’s fall practice was getting infielders comfortable with quickly getting rid of the baseball. They constantly worked on shuffling and throwing after fielding it.

“I’m a big proponent of using my glove out in front and nothing funneling in,” says Archuleta. “Anytime we funnel in, what going to happen? The ball’s moving. I want to go get a short hop, catch the big hop and go from there.”

In making tags at second base, the Archuletas highlighted a few things.

Rather than straddle the base, the fielder stands right in front of it.

“If the (throw) is the up the line, I can move up the line and be able to make the tag,” says Coach Archuleta.

“(With the tag), it’s going to be straight down,” says Alex Archuleta. “You don’t want to catch and drag. (Going straight to the ground is) quicker and it’s easier to tag.”

Says Coach Archuleta, “There’s no way he’s going to be able to get around you. You’re always going to have a good tag.

“You go straight down the with tag. You’re not searching for something.”

If the throw bounces, the fielder catching it goes straight down with the ball to make the tag.

“This is really big for your infielders because everything we’re telling them is low to high, low to high, low to high,” says Coach Archuleta. “When we go to tag we’re high/low.”

To build power and explosiveness, USI infielders do a drill that replicates the slalom on a skier.

“Your knee can not go forward,” says Coach Archuleta. “You have to be in a strong position at all times and I need to learn to bend properly. If not, I’m not going be explosive left and right.”

In making the double play, Archuleta has his shortstop image a pole going straight up from second base and they have to get around that pole.

“Their glove hands get them into the turn,” says Coach Archuleta. “And we have to touch the bag (because the ‘neighborhood play’ no longer applies in this video replay era.”

On the DP pivot by the second baseman, he times it and moves toward the bag when he sees the ball come out of the shortstop’s hand.

The second baseman steps on the back side of the bag for quickness and protection from the incoming runner.

Archuleta, whose first season as USI head coach was 2007, sees the importance of enjoying the journey.

“I didn’t enjoy a single moment of (the national championship) in 2010 until it was over,” says Archuleta. “(In 2014,) we sat back, watched our players, watched their reaction, watched their preparation. I was able to enjoy it not only for myself, but enjoy it for them.”

Archuleta encourages other coaches and parents to do the same with their special times.

“Those moments may not happen again,” says Archuleta. “Watch those young men get after it and enjoy that moment.”

The coach also gave some insight in recruiting at the NCAA D-II level.

“We have had to move forward where we’re evaluating young men in their freshmen and sophomore years,” says Archuleta. “We’re not making that full plunge at them until they’ve fully-committed to where they’re at.”

That means being realistic.

A player should pick the school he wants to attend and then ask a question.

“Do they have a chance to play there?,” says Archuleta. “If they have a chance, go to (the chosen school’s) camps.

“Once you get in front of their coaches — if you’re good enough — they’re going to get after it. They’ll make sure they contact you and go from there.

“What if it doesn’t work out? There are all kinds of schools that will fill your needs baseball-wise and academically.”

It also helps to know the identity of the program and how the player might fit in.

“What does that coach do well?,” says Archuleta. “At USI, we’re going to try to run a lot. We’re going to play small ball.

“We’re going to try to move runners and out-pitch you.”

In working with USA Baseball last summer, Archuleta worked with Vanderbilt University pitching coach Scott Brown and learned something about the way the Commodores (which won the 2019 College World Series). At the upper echelon of D-I baseball, players are recruited at younger and younger ages — some before arriving on a high school campus.

That being said, Brown let Archuleta know that more time over the years, the top player in Vandy’s recruiting class has been the last one to commit. Right-handed pitcher Kumar Rocker, who threw a 19-strikeout no-hitter in the 2019 College World Series, did not commit until October 2018.

“It makes sense,” says Archuleta. “Why? The player was confident in his ability. He knew where he was going to be at.

“Don’t get in a rush.”

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Tracy Archuleta is the head baseball coach at the University of Southern Indiana in Evansville. The frequent clinic speaker led the Screaming Eagles to NCAA Division II national titles in 2010 and 2014. (University of Southern Indiana Photo)

 

Antone goes for more baseball education at Driveline HQ

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Pat Antone speaks the modern language of baseball.

As a high school coach — he led Boone Grove to an IHSAA Class 2A state championship as head coach in 2018 and served as an assistant at Westfield in 2019 — Antone is familiar with the tools now available to help players and teams get better.

He knows about things like Rapsodo, Blast Motion, J-Bands and ground force trainers like King of The Hill and more.

To familiarize himself even more, Antone went to Driveline Baseball headquarters in Kent, Wash. (part of the Seattle-Tacoma metro area) the weekend of Sept. 21 to take a certification course on Foundations of Pitching (Coming soon: Foundations of Hitting, Foundations of Pitch Design and Technology in Baseball).

Attendees at the session were immersed in Driveline’s core philosophies and beliefs, including concepts found in the book, “Hacking The Kinetic Chain” and the use of training aids and technology.

“They gave coaches who were hungry to learn a chance to learn by giving them as many tools as necessary to get the most out of their content,” says Antone, who played at Andrean High School, Glen Oaks Community College and Valparaiso University and has also coached high schoolers at Valparaiso, Chesterton and Andrean and collegians with the Northwest Indiana Oilmen.

“What I liked most was the programming for athletes to maximize their potential and also stay healthy and prevent injury,” says Antone, noting each area from youth to professional was covered. “It’s all based on needs.”

Antone, who turned 29 on Nov. 7, says a youth player in elementary or middle school can be checked for a base level of strength and coordination and can be introduced to weighted Driveline PlyoCare balls and weighted baseball to help clean up movement quality and base of strength.

“As they get older, add things or make it more intense,” says Antone.

Antone uses Nick Schnell, who was Indiana Mr. Baseball at Roncalli High School in 2018 and is now in the Tampa Bay Rays organization, as an example.

“He was a big, physical kid and could move pretty well,” says Antone. “He could do weighted ball pulldowns, which gives velocity to his throws.

“Then there’s a freshmen who has little time in the weight room. He needs to build a base level in the weight room and get used to (conventional) long toss (before going to things like weighted ball pulldowns and weighted ball long toss).

“You need to understand what each athlete’s lowest hanging fruit is and set up their programming for that.”

Antone says coaches have common objectives, but don’t use the same words.

“In my opinion, everybody is trying to talk about the same thing, but they’re talking in a different language or a different way,” says Antone. “Baseball’s got to get better to have a common language among coaches and players.

“Golf has a common language. Five different (baseball) coaches can look at video of the same hitter and could each say five different things they did well and five things they did not do well and have to work out.

“Technology takes the bias out. It shows what they need to address. We can make changes. We can test to track progress and improvement. It’s just a tool to help us learn and get better and to do it in the fastest, most effective way possible.”

Antone, who attended the John Mallee Major League Hitting Clinic Nov. 23-24 at the University of Illinois-Chicago, says a Rapsodo system costs around $4,000 and a Blast Motion sensor is about $100.

“This stuff is expensive, but do-able,” says Antone. “You prioritize what’s important to you and your program. Eventually you’ll have all the technology you need or want.

“You don’t need all of it. You don’t need to get everything just to have it.”

The way Antone operates, once he gets one piece of technology that is helpful, he wants to add more.

But having tools mean nothing if they can’t be effectively conveyed to players where they will make real changes and adjustments.

“(Coaches) need to study the technology and how you’re going to implement it into your program,” says Antone. “How are you going to communicate to the player in a way they will understand?”

PATANTONEBG

Pat Antone, who was head coach at Boone Grove High School in 2018 when the Wolves won an IHSAA Class 2A state baseball championship, traveled to Driveline Baseball headquarters recently to increase his knowledge of the game.

 

PRP Baseball’s Vogt talks strength training for overhead athletes

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Greg Vogt is all for baseball players using traditional lifts like bench presses and squats to get strong.

But the founder of PRP (Passion Resilience Process) Baseball stresses that ballplayers must remember to train for the movements that they make as throwing/overhead athletes.

“We don’t play baseball in the frontal plane,” says Vogt, who recently hosted the first PRP Bridge The Gap Clinic in Noblesville. “We rotate. We turn. We store energy and release it through rotation.

“(We must) train those movements and learn to resist rotation. Anything you press straight up or straight forward can develop strength but may not directly affect our performance. It doesn’t mean that it’s not important.

“We do a lot of core and stability work to make sure we’re stable in our trunk.”

Vogt, who trains players from youth to professional, says baseball players must learn how to properly hinge with their hips and glute muscles, control breathing, stabilize and extend during building strength.

“Our advanced athletes are typically much more controlled and stable in their movement sequences from their weight room and throwing development,” says Vogt. “Hinging and squatting are a lot different even though the squat should start with a hinge.”

In explaining the hinge, Vogt says to consider standing straight up right in front of a wall and pushing one’s back side into the wall.

“I want to get my chin in front of my belly button and my butt behind my heels,” says Vogt. “Everything we do in baseball is out of the hinge. Being strong in a hinge allows you to rotate your hips more explosively.

“When I’m standing straight up, I can’t turn my hips away from my shoulders very quickly. When I’m in a hinge, I can.”

This movement happens when a pitcher is loading with his leg lift or a hitter when he takes the bat back and begins his load.

“We’re not falling or drifting forward,” says Vogt. “We’re not falling back. If you start to leak your shoulders forward toward your target, your arm’s going to be late. We try to get guys to lead their movement with their back hip and rotate hips before trunk to create that whip of the arm or barrel.”

Athletes need to learn how to control their breath — during training just as they do in a game.

While lifting, they breath in on the way down and breath out on the way up.

“Most guys are holding breath and hoping they don’t fall or don’t drop the weight,” says Vogt, who was a pitcher at Carmel (Ind.) High School and Anderson (Ind.) University and has coached at the high school and travel baseball levels. “If we’re doing a dumbbell goblet squat, take a big inhale on the way down and exhale that breath on the way up.”

“Tempo is also important. A lot to guys move way too quickly in the eccentric phase. I doubt

they’re getting full range of motion, controlling the movement, and they’re sacrificing

technique.”

PRP Baseball clients do many variations of the Palloff Press, which requires the athlete to hold resistance from rotating. This helps to build stabilization.

“We want to build our anti-rotation stability so we can learn to rotate at the last absolute second,” says Vogt. “(The best players) can resist rotation better than others to create more whip.”

Vogt says that more ground force leads to more stability.

The trap bar deadlift is one exercise that helps transfer the ground force up the kinetic chain by strengthening the lower half and the core.

“We’ll do a lot of single-leg strengthening for ground force because as a pitcher we’re in a split stance,” says Vogt. “We reverse lunge and lateral lunge frequently. Back-squatting and front-squatting are very popular for ground force as well.”

Vogt has found that more ground force can lead to more velocity for throwers.

“The trap bar deadlift is a little more quad-dominant,” says Vogt. “The straight bar deadlift, because the bar is in front of you, requires a little more lower back, hips and glutes. They’re both great in what they train. You’re going to get something from both of them.

“It’s harder for athletes that we don’t get to see very consistently or very often (at PRP) to teach them really good technique and also get heavier in weight with a trap bar. The trap bar is a little easier to teach. We start there and will progress to the straight bar with some of our advanced guys who can handle it.”

Vogt is a believer in progression while training were each level gets harder and more advanced.

“We have 13-year-olds that will go from push-up to banded push-up to bench press,” says Vogt. “We don’t want to put them under the barbell and say ‘let’s figure it out.’ We start with more

foundational movements that they’re used to doing and progress in difficulty as they get better.”

Another concept that Vogt addresses is volume vs. strength.

“This time of year (October and November) we should be working toward the volume (more reps, more sets),” says Vogt. “We’re working on hypertrophy (size and muscle mass).”

Adding more volume can add more size if you’re training it right, including the proper diet.

In December, the phase changes from volume to attacking strength levels (lower the reps and increasing the weight).

About late January or early February comes the power phase (moving the weight fast) to develop explosiveness for arm speed, bat speed, and more.

“Usually the off-season should have a volume phase, a strength phase, and a power phase,” says Vogt, who does his training out of Finch Creek Fieldhouse in Noblesville.

Vogt says rotational sport athletes must learn how to do specific things to perform in their sport.

“We will see well over 100 athletes this off-season and we often see that most do not stabilize the trunk or overhead extension well,” says Vogt. “This can lead to more arm injuries, leaks in the kinetic chain, and poor mechanics.

“Mechanics are often a bi-product of your capabilities in the weight room with ground force, stabilization, and core control.”

The Absolutes:

Kettlebell Swing.

Deadlift.

Reverse Lunge.

Landmine Press.

Palloff Press Variations.

Row Variations.

Cable Pulldowns.

ITYs.

Loop Band Hip Circuits

Romanian Deadlift (RDL).

Lateral Lunge.

Alternating DB Press.

Cuban Press.

Hip Thrusts.

Bulgarian Squat.

Side Plank Variations.

How you program these workouts within the weekly schedule is key.

Vogt advises that your exercise bank preach more baseball-specific movements around general strength training to ensure that movement in the proper positions transfers to on-field performance.  He listed some exercises to add in below.

More Key Exercises:

TRX Overhead Raise to Reverse Fly.

TRX SA Rollouts.

Cable Pulldowns.

Suitcase Carries.

1/2 Kneeling Windmills.

Turkish Get Up.

Plank Row.

2DB Incline Row/Trap Bar Row.

Box Jumps.

Split Stance Uphill Single Arm Rows.

Landmine Row to Press.

TRX Oblique Crunches.

Stability Ball Planks.

Prone Handcuffs.

Loop Band I’s.

Loop Band Fire Hydrants.

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Greg Vogt is the founder of PRP (Passion Resilience Process) Baseball and trains athletes from youth to professional at Finch Creek Fieldhouse in Noblesville, Ind. (PRP Baseball Photo)

Taylor’s Gould shares hitting approach

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Kyle Gould has enjoyed plenty of diamond success at Taylor University in Upland, Ind.

In 15 seasons as NAIA-affiliated Trojans head baseball coach, Gould has seen his teams go 515-291. The makes him the all-time wins leader in program history. His 2018 team won a school-record 44 games. There have been seven Crossroads League championships on Gould’s watch and several of his players have earned all-conference honors.

Gould spoke about his approach with hitters during the first PRP Baseball Bridge The Gap Clinic at Noblesville as a guest of Greg Vogt.

A three-sport athlete in high school, Gould never had a private hitting or pitching lesson in his life. When he structures practices many of his influences come from the coaches he had in sports other than baseball.

“I’ve never approached the game from an overly-mechanical way,” says Gould. “It’s always been through how we develop these skills externally — things I learned playing football and basketball.

“I have this desire to learn, challenge what I’ve learned and challenge what I’ve been taught and maybe look for a better way to do things.”

Gould, a 2002 Taylor graduate, says what his players do in practice has to be shaped by what they want to do in games.

Outlining game-time expectations, Gould wants Taylor hitter to:

• Get a good pitch to hit.

• Get on time with the fastball.

• Handle the breaking ball.

• Hit the ball hard.

• Be tough with two strikes.

• Be situational.

What does Taylor train this in practice?:

• They are challenged to control the strike zone.

“We’re always praised for taking balls and we always want to have that conversation,” says Gould. “We want that communication (between coaches and players and players and players).

“We want to give them feedback.”

• The speed and angle of the pitches they see is varied.

“Rarely do I throw the ball from 25 feet at 35 mph belt-high, they hit it and we tell them how great they are,” says Gould. In our program — with everything we do — everything and everyone is good and bad not good or bad.

“Because if this, we’ll use a ton of BP variations. I could probably give you 50.”

• Hitters track and/or hit spin everyday.

Taylor pitching coach Justin Barber had his arms tossing breaking pitches while hitters are taking a look.

“We spin a lot of breaking balls off the mound,” says Gould. “I want our hitters in the box, tracking spin and identifying very early ball or strikeout, getting feedback from the catcher. We hit off machines, but we’re identifying breaking balls everyday.

“When I played, we never talked about hitting the breaking ball. If hitting the baseball is the hardest thing to do in sports then hitting the breaking ball is the hardest thing of the hardest thing. We need to be able practice.

“The more you do it, the more it takes the fear out of it. The ball eventually has to pass through the strike zone and it’s learning how to track that.”

• Hitters develop and track exit velocity.

“We get great feedback from HitTrax,” says Gould. “The players love it. It makes them competitive with others. Hopefully, it makes them more competitive with themselves.

• Hitters develop A and B swings and use them daily.

“A B swing is what I used to call two-strike approach,” says Gould. “When I say two-strike approach to our hitters, they took that very passively. They took that to mean don’t strike out. So we changed it to B swing. It gets the point across.

“With B swing there are three things: Choke up on the bat, do not get a hand load and the front toe stays on the ground.”

In 2019, 46 percent of Taylor’s at-bats had two strikes in them.

“If that’s going to happen 46 percent of the time and we’re not practicing that, right?,” says Gould. “Forty to 60 percent of our swings in practice will be B swing approach.

“The most important swings we take are either plus in the count or way behind in the count. I want to make sure that guy’s faced a slider with a B swing.”

• Hitters work on relevant situational hitting.

Gould says the 230-pound 4-hole hitter pounding ground balls to shortstop to him. Neither is the 135-pound 15-year-old trying to drive a runner in with a fly ball.

One drill that the Trojans do in the cage with HitTrax going is for the hitter to face a tough pitch and Gould will ask them to do something with it that they’re good at. Some might be asked to hit-and-run, others to elevate the pitch.

“We just hammer the two or three things we need them to do to be successful and to help us score runs,” says Gould.

What about the training environment?

“It’s what matters the most,” says Gould. “The best thing you can do is surround players with other players who want to develop and compete.

“It’s a common phrase: We’re the average of the five people we spend the most time with. For players, most pitchers are the average of the people they play catch with everyday. Most hitters are the average of the guys they go hit with.”

Gould says he believes strongly in progressions not rotations.

“We want to think about going smaller to bigger, slower to faster,” says Gould. “We want to really have a plan on how we progress.”

Ninety percent or more swings are done with an external focus.

“If we’re going to do mechanical work, it’s going to be outside of our drill work. It’s going to be one-on-one. Very rarely, do I pull a guy out.

“I may say go hit five line drives to right-center field and let’s see what happens.”

One thing that Gould is careful about is the less mechanical cues he gives to the players, the more they give to each other.

“They don’t know what they’re doing much less what someone else is doing,” says Gould. “That’s a big thing for us.”

Players at Taylor hit in intentionally selected groups of three.

“I don’t like groups of two. I think it’s too quick,” says Gould. “I don’t like groups of four. You can lose them pretty quick.”

Groups may consist of power hitters, speed guys, older players with younger players or the batting order in thirds.

“It is incredibly intentional,” says Gould. “We’ll tell them if they can not hit with them and not give great effort and attention, I’m going to move you (into another group).”

Gould prefers 1-5 swings per round.

“It is a personal pet peeve of mine,” says Gould. “Guys come in and take 10-12 swings and rotate.

“That is not how the swing is. You don’t have that much time to adjust.”

Something is recorded everyday.

“Development is measured against self,” says Gould. “We only want you comparing your numbers to your numbers.

“Guys are very different. If they start comparing themselves to each other, we’re going to have problems.”

Practices include something competitive everyday.

“If we’re doing those groups right, they’re competing against guys it makes sense to compete with,” says Gould.

In their daily schedule, hitters do up to six things in this order:

MediBalls.

“We’re trying to active the muscles we use to hit,” says Gould. “We’re trying to train good movements.”

• Tee work.

“The only thing that we use it for is contact points,” says Gould. “HitTrax gives us some very good data on where we should be contacting the ball.

“We want them to understand where they hit the ball the hardest. We can sit a tee there and get them comfortable hitting it there.”

• Front toss.

The feeder tosses it flat from 17 feet and is done for things like internal rotation. Plyo balls are often used. This drill is done on most days.

Overhand Batting Practice

Forty to 50 percent of swings come during this part of practice.

• Machine work.

It’s done everyday, including breaking balls.

• Competition.

What Taylor manipulates in practice:

• Bats

Overload, regular and underload are used in different position.

• Balls.

Baseball, plyo balls, tennis balls, wiffle balls, basketballs and more are used.

• Distrance.

A three-plate drill that Gould favors has his hitters changing between various distances from the machine, which can be set to delivery various pitches and velocities.

• Pitches.

Breaking balls and fastballs can be delivered from live arms or machines.

• Person.

Technology used by Taylor:

Hack Attack machines.

• HitTrax.

• Radar gun with display board.

• Overload/Underload bats.

Driveline PlyoCare balls.

• Blast Motion.

KYLEGOULD

Kyle Gould, a 2002 Taylor University graduate, is entering his 16th season as head baseball coach at his alma mater in 2020. He is also the school’s athletic director. (Steve Krah Photo)

 

UIndy’s Ready talks about principles of catching

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Al Ready was a catcher at the University of Indianapolis and now he instruct receivers as the NCAA Division II Greyhounds head coach.

Ready shared elements of playing the position at the first PRP Baseball Bridge The Gap Clinic in Noblesville hosted by Greg Vogt.

Ready says catcher is the most under-coached position in baseball.

“It’s probably the most important position on the field next to the pitcher,” says Ready. “However, in a practice setting, a lot of times there’s not enough time to work with those guys.

“Their responsibilities in practice tend to be in the bullpen or whatever.”

One area of catching that Ready sees as something of a lost art is “umpire management” aka building a positive relationship with the officials.

“It’s a job you should be teaching your catchers to do,” says Ready. “The umpires are human beings. There’s a lot of screaming and hollering at the umpire and I’m as guilty as anybody.

“As the catcher, you have the ability to control some of that. You want to put yourself in a position where calls that could go one way or another are going to go your way.”

Ready encourages his catchers to talk with the umpires, making joke around with them a little bit.

“You’ll get some guys who are a little hesitant to talk and some that will want to talk your ear off,” says Ready. “The ones that don’t like to talk, it was a goal of mine to get the guy to laugh or talk to me a little more consistently throughout the game.

“When you do those types of things, the game becomes more fun.”

Ready addressed the sequence of events that happen before the pitcher releases the baseball.

With no runners on and no outs, the catcher assumes a relaxed position.

Before giving the signal to the pitcher, Ready says the catcher should look at the base coaches who may try to creep in toward the lines to pick up the sign.

“You also want to take a look at the hitter to make sure he’s not peaking back,” says Ready. “Now you’re ready to give your signal.”

Ready says only three people should be able to see the signal which is given high with the glove in front to shield it: pitcher, shortstop and second baseman.

“After the first inning, I check with my first baseman,” says Ready. “If he can see them, the runner can see them.”

Ready says the timing of the catcher’s shift is important.

If the pitcher is in the wind-up, about the time he breaks his hands is when the catcher shifts. Depending on which direction he intends to go, he turns in his right or left knee and slides over.

“You don’t want to bounce,” says Ready. “With bouncing, the hitter can sense which side of the plate you’re moving on.

“You want to be quiet. You want to be smooth. You don’t want to give up that location.”

Ready has his catchers use two stances — primary and secondary.

Primary is with no runners on base. The catcher gets low and presents a nice target to the pitcher.

“If there’s a ball in the dirt, I’m still going to try my best to block it because I want to keep it off the umpire,” says Ready. “I want to work hard for him because he’s going to work hard for me.

“But if it gets past me, it’s not the end of the world with nobody on-base.”

Secondary is with runners. The catcher’s posterior is a little higher and his thumb is cupped behind the glove. He is ready to block the ball and to throw it.

“Anytime you do a drill progression, you should work your catchers in the primary stance and the second stance,” says Ready. “That’s very important.”

Ready likes his receivers to present a low target.

“I also want to be consistent with not dropping my glove on the pitch,” says Ready. “Even with the guys in the big leagues, it’s gotten bad. A lot of those catchers are very talented. They can do a lot of things physically.

“But a lot of them are way too far back. They reach out. They set up differently on different pitches.”

Ready says the disadvantage of dropping the glove comes when the pitch is up and the catcher has to cover a lot of distance to catch the ball.

The idea is to make a target and leave it there.

“What if it’s a border line pitch and I’m going try to frame it?,” says Ready. “That’s going to look maybe not as good as if (I was moving the glove a short distance).

“The less distance you have to cover, the best it’s going to look on border line pitches.”

An absolute for Ready when it comes to catching is throwing.

“If you can’t throw, you can’t catch,” says Ready. “You can be the best receiver, block and be able to call a great game. You can do all of those things.

“But if somebody gets on-base, they’re going to run. They’re going to steal second. They’re going to steal third.”

Being careful not to interfere with the hitter or be struck by the follow-through of the swing, Ready wants his catchers to get underneath the hitter to decrease the distance the ball has to travel from the pitcher.

“The pitcher is going to like that look,” says Ready. “Sometimes (the catcher) might be back two feet.

“There’s a lot of benefits with being closer to the hitter. You’re going to get more pitches down called strikes because you can stick them.

“If you are far back and you reach out to catch a low pitch and as soon as you catch it — no matter how strong you are — it’s almost impossible to keep it right there. It will go down.”

When sticking pitches, Ready looks for catchers to have a little flexion in their left arm.

“You’re going to get that call more times than not,” says Ready.

Recalling a fall game against a junior college where there were six 1-1 counts on both sides during the game where the next pitch was low, Ready says UIndy catchers got all called for strikes while the opponent’s receiver, who was too far away from the plate, got all called for balls.

“Going from 1-1 to 1-2 can be the difference in the ball game right there,” says Ready. “Let’s say there are two outs (with a runner on second) and it’s 1-1 and you didn’t get that pitch (making it 2-1). Let’s say the next swing — boom! — it’s a double. The next guy hits a little bleeder. The run scores. The next guy jacks one. That’s three runs.

“You probably could’ve been out of the inning if you could’ve gotten that (1-1) pitch (called a strike).”

When he was a player, Ready learned how to be close to the plate and not get hit by a back-swing and he shares it with his catchers.

“Only three things can happen. Either the hitter swings, checks or he takes,” says Ready. “Two of them you have to frame. You have to stick. You have to make it look good. That’s the take and check swing. There is no risk of getting hit by a back-swing on a take or a check swing.

“You don’t frame pitches that guys swing at.”

When there’s a swing, catchers catch the ball and get out of the way.

When it comes to framing, Ready wants his catchers to frame only border line pitches.

“Anything else, we catch it and throw it back,” says Ready.

Ready says many catchers these days get as wide as possible and uses slight of hand to receive the ball.

“It use to be ‘skinny sway,’” says Ready. “The skinnier you make yourself, the further off the plate you can go.

“We use both and test out the umpire. The strike zone is what the umpire says it is. It’s going to change from day to day. It’s your job (as a catcher) to figure out what it is. If it’s expanded, you should exploit it. There’s no question about it.”

When it comes to stopping pitches in the dirt, Ready teaches his catchers to block and recover.

“Get the ball back in your hand as quick as you can,” says Ready. “All you want is a chance to make a play.”

Catchers must anticipate where the ball is going to go if it hits the ground and be ready to move in that direction without giving away location.

When blocking, Ready asks his catchers to drop to their knees to plug up the 5-hole.

The catcher rotates around a small imaginary arc.

“If I’m straight, it’s like Pong,” says Ready. “The ball is going to come in this way and ricochet that way.

“I want to be turned just slightly.”

Another key: Be a pillow and blow your air out. In other words, the catcher should not be rigid when the ball strikes his body.

“The ball can hit you and its going to deaden,” says Ready. “Then you can reach out and grab it.”

When it comes to throwing, footwork is important.

“Know the limitations of your catchers before teaching them footwork,” says Ready. “It all depends on how good the guy’s arm is.

“If his arm is not good, he’s going to have to gain some momentum (with a jab step) to get the ball down to second base.”

Ready teaches his catchers to have the thumb tucked behind and transfer the ball from the glove to the throwing hand out in front of their bodies.

“If I don’t get a perfect grip on it, I can adjust it in my hand as I get it back here to throw,” says Ready. “Getting a perfect four-seam grip on the ball is a bad expectation.

“It’s a quickness. You get it and get rid of it. You have to have arm strength and put it on the base.”

Ready says bullpens are not just for pitchers. They present a good opportunity for catchers to work on blocking, framing, shifting, footwork, signal-calling etc.

“In (the Great Lakes Valley Conference), I can tell you this, if you roll with the same set of signals with a runner on second year in and year out, you get what you deserve,” says Ready. “You should have multiple sets of signals.

“You should have a verbal where you can switch them on the fly where you don’t have to waste a trip (to the mound).”

Ready went over blocking, receiving and throwing drills he uses as part of a 45-minute progression in developing catchers at UIndy:

• Face Off. Catchers are paired up. They catch the ball and throw it back.

• Rapid Fire. A coach feeds balls to a catcher who receives them bare-handed one after the other. This helps with hand-eye coordination and reaction time.

“Training at a high rate of speed is how you slow the game down,” says Ready.

• Weighted Ball. They are delivered underhand with catchers receiving them with or without their glove.

“It will help your catchers stick the ball and not take it out of the position where they caught it,” says Ready.

• Receiving. Catchers field throws from various positions.

• 3-Ball Blocking. Catchers will get into a secondary stance and then go down to where the coach points. There is a slow and deliberate round followed by a fast one.

• Hands Down/Chin Down. It helps with catchers who like to flinch on blocking balls. A pitching machine will deliver the ball in the same spot each time.

• Block and Recover.

• Cheat. A version of block and recover where the catcher gets the ball in their hand as quickly as possible.

• Machine Receiving. The catcher starts from 60 feet, 6 inches away and sees how close they can get to the machine with each pitch. It becomes a competitive thing among teammates.

• Long Toss. Ready likes his catchers to do this in some form everyday.

• One-Knee Throwing.

• Hands Transfer.

“The transfer is key,” says Ready. “If you want to get people out, you’ve got to be able to transfer the ball.”

• Coach In The Middle. Done at the distance home to second base (127 1/2 feet) and at 150 feet with a coach in the middle, catchers deliver throws to a moving target. It also helps build up arm strength.

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Al Ready, a former University of Indianapolis catcher, is now the head baseball coach at UIndy. (University of Indianapolis Photo)