BY STEVE KRAH
“Ridiculous attention to detail.”
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:
• 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.
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)
Lance Hershberger is the head baseball coach at Ivy Tech Community College Northeast in Fort Wayne, Ind. (Ivy Tech Photo)
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)