Tag Archives: Catching

Baker receiving, offering knowledge as Manchester U. assistant

BY STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Kyle Baker has been on the job as a baseball assistant coach at Manchester University in North Manchester, Ind., for less than two months.
He took the full-time job after 1 1/2 years as a volunteer at University of Saint Francis in Fort Wayne, Ind., where he was also a player.
Baker has been involved in recruiting and is getting ready for practice to resume at NCAA Division III Manchester on Jan. 30. The Spartans open the 2023 season Feb. 25-28 with games in Myrtle Beach, S.C.
Manchester is to play DePauw in a March 4 doubleheader at Bishop Chatard High School in Indianapolis.
The home opener at Gratz Field is slated for March 8 against Olivet College.
Baker will be working with catchers and hitters and has talked with veteran Manchester head coach Rick Espeset (2023 will be his 27th season in charge of the Spartans) about how they will take on first base coaching duties.
While Baker sets up routines for infielders and outfielders, Espeset is crafting regimens for pitchers.
“I want to gain his insight on what practice plans should look like for Manchester,” says Baker. “(Coach Espeset) been doing it for a long time. He’s really good at what he does. I’m fortunate to learn from him.”
The rest of Espy’s staff includes Josh Brock and volunteers Keith Shepherd and Peter Shepherd.
Baker, who grew up in Monroe, Ind., traces his drive to coach to his senior year (2014) at Adams Central High School in Monroe, where he played baseball for Jets head coach Dave Neuenschwander.
“I learned a lot from Newy,” says Baker. “I enjoyed playing for him. I liked it so much I went back and coached with him.”
AC’s Lance Busse, Josh Foster (who is now head coach), Jalen Hammond, Joel Reinhard and Thad Harter also have a place in Baker’s heart.
Most of Baker’s time as a player was spent at catcher and he sees the connection between catching and coaching.
“You see a lot of big league catchers go into managing and they are typically successful because they know every facet of the game,” says Baker. “There’s always so much going on.”
Baker is demanding with his receivers.
“I expect a lot out of my catchers,” says Baker. “I tell them mid-play if a pitcher is not backing up (a base) where he’s supposed to be. You’ve got to remind them while watching the runners and trying to decide where the ball needs to be redirected. I expect them to compete at a high level all the time and be able to block the ball whenever they need to.
“The key to a successful baseball team is having a really talented and baseball-savvy catcher.”
Baker places receiving, blocking and calling pitches as high priorities for catchers and plans practices accordingly.
He throws in game situations like fielding pop-ups and backing up bases.
“Knowing where everyone is supposed to be on any given play is pretty high up on my list,” says Baker. “You really set your team up for success when you’re able to know what’s going to happen before it happens.”
Knowledge of each pitchers’ repertoire is key.
“What’s their best pitch and what are they’re not so comfortable with?,” says Baker. “How can you talk to them? Is this a pitcher that you can scold a little bit or is this a pitcher that you need to talk to more calmly?
“Just what type of pitcher are they and how are you going handle specific situations? There are 100 different situations.”
Baker also wants his catchers to develop relationships with umpires.
Before every game, they introduce themselves to the official and get their first name. They find out what they can do to make the umpire’s job easier that day.
“Ultimately, we want to have umpires that want to come back to our field and the person that they talked to the most has to probably be the nicest, too,” says Baker.
A topic in the catching world in receiving the ball with one on the ground. Baker is both new school and old school on this.
“When (runners) are on-base or there’s two strikes on the batter we need to be on two feet (because it allows more lateral movement than one knee down, which is a knee saver),” says Baker. “Why not use the best of both worlds?”
Baker says coaching college hitters often comes down to making one minor adjustment as opposed to a total overhaul of their swing.
“They’ve probably been successful at some point in their career,” says Baker. “What I teach may work for you, but it may not work for your teammate. It’s not a cookie-cutter approach.
“Coaching hitting is a really tough thing to do because it is so individualized. You get into it and see how they hit and react to certain things.
“If you’ve got a team of 50 players there’s probably going to be 50 different swings that you have to learn and adapt to as a coach.”
As a coach at NAIA’s Saint Francis, Baker gained an appreciation for giving college players a good experience from Cougars head coach Dustin Butcher and assistants Connor Lawhead and Kristian Gayday and for Butcher’s running game.
“That’s something I’ll probably keep forever because (Saint Francis) is very successful at it,” says Baker. “It’s aggressive and knowing when to run.
“We talked a lot about the ‘free base war.’ When the defense is not paying attention but the ball is still in-play why not try for that extra base?”
Baker attended the 2023 American Baseball Coaches Association Convention in Nashville.
This gave him a chance to network and bounce ideas off of other coaches.
“Nobody ever knows all the answers in baseball,” says Baker. “It’s just an endless pool of possibilities and outcomes. Someone in California many have seen something that I have not seen here in Indiana yet.
“There’s always stuff to learn at these clinics. Some of it you may use, some of it you may not use. It all just depends on how it fits your program.”
Baker is coaching athletes, but it goes further than that.
“I want to develop them as baseball players but also as student-athletes and people who are going to grow and maybe one day have their own families if they so choose,” says Baker. “Whatever they want to do in life. I want to put them on a path for their own success as much as I can.
“You’ve got to be a really good time manager when it comes to college. You typically find out right away if you’re going to be good at it or it’s something you need to improve upon.”
Baker has been dating Goshen (Ind.) High School and Goshen (Ind.) College graduate Lourdes Resendiz for more than two years.
Kyle’s parents are Richard and Yolanda Baker and he is the middle of three brother, between Randall Baker and Matthew Baker.

Kyle Baker. (Steve Krah Photo)

IUSB’s Buysse notes change in catching philosophy

By STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Doug Buysse is passionate about catching.
He was a catcher at John Glenn High School (Walkerton, Ind.) and Saint Joseph’s College (Rensselaer, Ind.).
For years, he has offered catching instruction at levels from youth to collegiate.
Buysse, who is entering his sixth year as head baseball coach at Indiana University South Bend in 2023, gave catching pointers at the December 2022 meeting of the South Bend Cubs Foundation Coaches Club at Four Winds Field.
Addressing an audience with both travel and college coaches, Buysse noted that catcher and pitcher are the two positions that can’t be pushed on young kids.
“Kids have to really want to catch,” said Buysse. “You have to have that mentality that I’m going to strap that gear on and get behind the plate.”
Catchers have to be decisive, vocal leaders.
“I want my catchers to be the loudest guys on the field,” says Buysse. “Even if they’re wrong, they have to run things. I’d rather see them make a call forcefully and it be the wrong call (than say nothing or make a hesitant call).”
Buysse, who brought juniors Kaleb Farnham (Hamilton High School Class of 2020) and Anthony Pohl (Pewamo-Westphalia, Mich., Class of 2019) for drill demonstrations, spent much of his time on receiving.
“Catchers who receive well help a (pitching) staff and a team,” said Buysse. “They make the game flow.
“Chasing the ball to the backstop really kills the pace of the game.”
Buysse said the way he teaches receiving now is much different than seven years ago when he began offering instruction at 1st Source Bank Performance Center, where Mark Haley is general manager and executive director of the South Bend Cubs Foundation.
“The the way I was taught was what I call ‘drive the wheel system,’” said Buysse. “You caught the inside pitch here, top pitch here, outside pitch here and I worked around the wheel.
“The philosophy of catching has really changed. We work down to up and back to the middle.”
At IUSB — a member of the NAIA and Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference — the hardest throwers might touch 89 mph making the pitch at the bottom of the strike zone very important.
“A low pitch is a big deal for us,” said Buysse. “We want that more than we want any other pitch.
“With nobody on and no count we want them to be as low as they can get so the umpire can see over them. We want to stay below the baseball as much as possible.”
Buysse wants his catcher to be stable and comfortable.
“Playing with stances and getting comfortable is where we start with all of our (catchers),” said Buysse.
Catchers might prefer a two-feet stance, right leg down or left leg down. They might put the opposite leg way out to the side aka “kickstand” in order to get low.
Buysse said using the left leg down stance often helps younger players who can concentrate on what their arm and glove is doing and not on being able to hold their position.
“They don’t have the physical strength to stick (the inside pitch to a right-handed hitter) well,” said Buysse. “On two feet their (left) knee gets in the way the most.
“Don’t be afraid to put (young catchers) on a knee. It takes away from that fear that (they’re) going to fall over.”
While receiving, the idea is working everyone back to the middle of the plate and not chasing or dragging pitches out of the strike zone.
“As they get older the pitch they chase out of the zone the most is a breaking ball,” said Buysse.
The coach emphasized a habit catchers should develop.
“Too many kids keep their head (stationary) and use their eyes to follow the baseball,” said Buysse. “Let their head move. I’ve heard coaches talk about I don’t like my catcher’s head to move because he distracts the umpire.
“He’s not looking at your head. He’s looking where the ball’s at.”
Tracking the ball with the eyes really comes into play with the high pitch.
“My natural instinct when the ball goes above my head is to duck my head and stick my hand up,” said Buysse. “I lose that ball at about 50 feet. In the last 10 feet I’m hoping my glove’s in the way.
“The head has to go up with (the ball). That’s something you’ve to work on. At our level, any ball in the air has to be caught. That’s our rule.”
Buysse talked about blocking pitches.
“The glove has got to go first,” said Buysse. “Where the glove goes the butt follows.
“Once glove is down we’re working forward. We want to block off our belly button as much as we can.”
He encourages young catches to block straight down on pitches inside their two feet and get a body in front of anything outside.
One blocking drill that is used at IUSB is the “sit and get hit.”
The concept calls for having the chest up and absorbing the pitch with the body.
This gets catchers to stop flinching, which makes them stuff and allows balls to ricochet to different places.
“They track that ball until it hits him,” said Buysse. “I don’t want them to just sit there waiting to get hit.”
IUSB monitors development for all players with the use of video that is shared on a Google Drive. Catchers are captured on a tablet (a phone can also be used) during drills and bullpen sessions and can see what they’re doing right and wrong.
What about about stealing pitches (turning balls into strikes)?
“Don’t try to steal every pitch as a strike,” said Buysse. “Keep balls (as) balls.
“Umpires catch on. If you try to steal every ball that’s thrown by the third inning they’re not going to give you anything close because they think you’re trying to steal it.”
IUSB is scheduled to open the 2023 season Feb. 3 against Rio Grande and Lindsey Wilson in Johnson City, Tenn. The Titans’ first home game at Rex Weade Stadium in Granger is slated for March 14 vs. Judson.

Doug Buysse. (Indiana University South Bend Photo)

Jones returns to college coaching at Purdue Fort Wayne

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Ken Jones was very involved with baseball the past dozen years as an instructor.

He returned to the college coaching ranks in October 2019 and it “got juices flowing again.”

Jones, an assistant at NCAA Division I Purdue Fort Wayne, is senior lead instructor at the World Baseball Academy — also in Fort Wayne, Ind.

“It was a pretty good timing situation,” says Jones, who was asked to join the staff of new Mastodons head coach Doug Schreiber in the same town where he teaches lessons. “He was looking for some guys and I wanted to get back into it.”

Jones, 48, was an assistant coach/recruiting coordinator for American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Fred Decker at Western Michigan University (1999-2004) and assistant to Rich Maloney (1997 and 1998) at Ball State University in Muncie, Ind., before going to work at WBA.

“Coach Decker treated you with a lot of respect and communicated very well,” says Jones. “He told you what he expected and you needed to do it. I still have a lot of his attitudes that I use today.”

“(Maloney) helped me get my start. He was really good on the infield. On the recruiting side, he was good as projecting what kids were going to be. He looked at their body type and athleticism. Mid-majors have to project some kids and then they develop over two or three years and become that top-level kid.”

Twice an academic All-American at WMU, where he earned a degree in aviation operations, he gained a master’s in sports administration at BSU in 1998.

The relationship at Purdue Fort Wayne brings together sons of baseball pioneers. Bill Jones and Ken Schreiber helped form the Indiana High School Baseball Association in 1971. The elder Jones was the organization’s executive director for many years. Schreiber won 1,010 games, seven state titles and was elected to 13 halls of fame. Jones passed away in 2015 and Schreiber in 2017.

“I think I’ve got my old dad in there,” says Jones of his coaching approach. “Every once in awhile you have to light a fire under a guy. You can’t be one-dimensional. You have to know your kid and know what works for them. You coach accordingly.

“When my dad coached you could be a little more tough, demanding and vocal. It was a different generation. You have to roll with the times a little bit and see how kids respond. It’s a different society. You have to understand how the kids tick.”

At PFW, Ken Jones has been working with hitters, catchers and outfielders.

“My strongest abilities lie with hitters,” says Jones, who came to find out that he shares a similar philosophy on that subject with Doug Schreiber. “We want low line drives. We want hitters to keep the barrel on the ball through the zone as long as possible.

“We want guys to focus gap to gap.”

Jones says his hitters sometimes ask questions about things like exit velocity and launch angle, but he has the Mastodons focusing on what happens once they strike the ball.

“We can still see what needs to be done without having all the bells and whistles,” says Jones, noting that PFW pitchers do some work with Rapsodo motion detection data. “In our first 15 games (before the 2020 season was halted because of the COVID-19 pandemic), it was refreshing to see we had some decent results without all the technology focus.”

As a player for his father at DeKalb High School in Waterloo, Ind., and for Decker at Western Michigan, Jones was a two-time all-Mid-American Conference catcher and was selected in the 33rd round of the 1995 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft and played briefly in the San Diego Padres system.

His emphasis with Purdue Fort Wayne catchers has been on receiving, blocking and throwing.

“I’m learning through my son and other catching guys,” says Jones, whose son Hayden Jones, a lefty-swinging backstop who played at Carroll High School of Fort Wayne and sat out 2020 after transferring from Mississippi State University to Illinois State University. “I’m trying to gain some new knowledge.

“You never want to be satisfied with where you’re at and educate yourself on better ways to get things done. You soak in some information and put those things in your tool box. We do that as coaches and players. You figure out what works and what doesn’t work.”

The Mastodons coaching staff also features Brent McNeil and volunteer Gordon Cardenas.

McNeil is the pitching coach and organizes much of the recruiting. The coronavirus shutdown has made that process a little different.

“It’s phone calls,” says Jones. “We wan’t have kids on-campus. We are able to walk through campus with FaceTime.”

In some cases, a player might commit before ever coming to Fort Wayne.

Some summer collegiate baseball leagues have canceled their seasons and others are playing the waiting game.

“Guys will be scrambling (for places to play),” says Jones. “It will be a very fluid situation the whole summer for the college guys.”

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Ken Jones is an assistant baseball coach at Purdue Fort Wayne. He is also senior lead instructor at the World Baseball Academy in the same Indiana city. He was an assistant at Western Michigan (1999-2004) and Ball State University (1997 and 1998). (Purdue Fort Wayne 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)

 

IUSB’s Buysse stresses importance of receiving to baseball catching

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Catchers catch the baseball. It is in the title of the position.

And yet Doug Buysse often sees an emphasis placed elsewhere when it comes to the player who wears the mask, chester protector and shinguards.

“A lot of people want to talk about the sexy stuff — blocking and throwing,” said Buysse, the Indiana University South Bend head baseball coach and a former Saint Joseph’s College catcher. “That part’s awesome. But far more important — the day-to-day stuff — is receiving and the true catching part.”

Buysse and IUSB junior catcher Jordan Moore gave a demonstration on catching Tuesday, March 5 for the South Bend Cubs Foundation’s Cubbies Coaches Club at Four Winds Field.

“In a game, we may have 130 pitches and Jordan may block it 10 times,” said Buysse. “He maybe throws a guy out at second three or four times. He catches the ball 130 times.

“That’s what we’re going to spend the majority of our time on. Receiving is the most-important part.”

Buysse has a simple goal for his catchers: Keep strikes strikes, turns three balls a game into strikes and balls out of the strike zone are kept there.

“If you can’t receive and keep strikes strikes, you need to go play first base,” said Buysse. “We spend more time doing this than anything else.”

The coach noted that there are umpires who call he pitch where it is caught and not where it crosses the plate.

“Nothing’s worse than watching a kid throw a really good pitch and our catchers catches it and because of the way he caught it, it’s (called) a ball,” said Buysse.

IUSB pitchers generally do not have swing-and-miss stuff.

“Our staff has got to pound the zone, work down and work ahead (in the count),” said Buysse.

That makes it important to have a catcher that can accommodate their needs and strengths.

When he is recruiting receivers, the first Buysse looks at is the player’s hips.

“Some kids are genuinely blessed with good hips,” said Buysse. “But it’s one of the things we can work on.”

Buysse has his catchers go through a position-specific daily stretching routine that takes 10 minutes or less.

“You can’t expect your catchers to use the exact same stretches that outfielders do because they’re using different muscles,” said Buysse.

The routine helps with the flexibility in the ball and socket joint and get hips used to moving in the desired direction.

The coach said catchers who are doing squats and cleans in the weight room need this daily stretching or else they will be too tight in the hips to be an effective receiver.

“Jordan’s probably going to catch 40 to 45 games for us so he’s got to keep himself really loose,” said Buysse. “The looser he is, the quicker he’s going to recover.”

Buysse noted that since the chair came along people don’t squat like they once did. He has noticed many young catchers who are not comfortable in their stance.

“One way we eliminate that is to put the left knee down (with no runners on base),” said Buysse.

Moore does this more than half the time when catching for IUSB.

Buysse said the benefits are twofold — it saves his legs and he can work a little bit lower.

“It took a long time for me to be OK with this,” said Buysse. “I’ve accepted it. It helps and he can give a lower target.”

On pitches with a lot of run, it helps having the knee out of the way with the zone opened up.

“We’re looking to give our catchers freedom to move and give our guys the best possible scenario to keep a strike a strike,” said Buysse.

Buysse went through receiving drills using tennis and plyo balls. He fed the ball to Moore, who received it with the idea of being quiet and efficient.

After listening to Tim Cossins (former minor league catching coordinator with the Florida/Miami Marlins, field coordinator with the Chicago Cubs and now major league field coordinator/catching instructor with the Baltimore Orioles) speak a few years ago at the American Baseball Coaches Association Convention, Buysse has been having his catchers start with their glove hand on the ground.

“We want our catchers to work up to catch the ball and stick the pitch instead of chasing it out of the zone,” said Buysse. “There’s less movement.

“For for a long time, I was a ‘drive the wheel’ guy. Now we start down and we work up.”

Buysse insists that his catcher’s head and eyes follow the ball as if a string was tied from their mask to the their middle finger.

On high pitches, the instinct for many younger guesses is for their head to go down and hand to go up.

“Now I’m guessing,” said Buysse. “It’s sounds simple and it sounds easy. But you’d be surprised how many kids don’t watch a ball all the way into their gloves.”

Buysse said the wrist — not the arm — is to be kept soft when receiving a pitch. The throwing hand should be kept out of harm’s way.

Buysse called Twitter a great resource for baseball drills. He found a reaction drill where one person stands behind the catcher and throws tennis balls off the wall which a catcher must receive with the proper technique.

Buysse said one way to build confidence for catchers is to receive balls from a pitching machine (or a coach) from shorter and short distances. One example might be 75 mph at 45 feet.

“Don’t be afraid to experiment with things and try to make them better,” said Buysse.

When it comes to throwing, Buysse said catchers should use the time when they’re playing catch to work on things like transfers and footwork for throwing to bases.

“It’s right to left, left to target and throw,” said Buysse. “When you make a bad throw, it starts with your feet.

“Catchers can do this every single day.”

At the college level, Buysse has his catchers do a lot of throwing during fall practice. During the season, he does not want too much extra throwing, considering all the times the catcher must throw the ball back to the pitcher, down to second after warm-up pitches and around the horn after strikeouts etc.

When it comes to throwing, Buysse said catchers should use the time when they’re playing catch to work on things like transfers and footwork for throwing to bases.

“It’s right to left, left to target and throw,” said Buysse. “When you make a bad throw, it starts with your feet.

“Catchers can do this every single day.”

Buysse wants his catchers to block balls to the field and not to the plate. The former keeps the ball in front of them with their momentum going into the direction they’re throwing.

He also insists that “the chin has to dig into my chest protector.”

“Protect your neck,” said Buysse.

The Cubbies Coaches Club is done meeting for the off-season but 1st Source Bank Performance Center director and South Bend Cubs travel team coach Mark Haley encourages area coaches to continue to call on the baseball community centered in South Bend if they have questions.

The Performance Center is at 525 S. Lafayette Blvd., South Bend. The phone number is 574-404-3636.

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DOUGBUYSSEIUSB

Doug Buysse is the head baseball coach at Indiana University South Bend. He was a catcher at Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind.