Tag Archives: Huntington North

Orthopedic surgeon Frantz covers baseball topics

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Dr. Travis Frantz played baseball at Fremont (Ind.) High School and Huntington (Ind.) University.

Now an Ohio State University orthopedic surgeon based in Columbus, Ohio, who has worked with New York Yankees and Cleveland Indians doctors, Frantz was back near his college town Jan. 19 for the Huntington North Hot Stove clinics as a guest of new Vikings head coach Mark Flueckiger.

Frantz spoke on several topics, including strength and conditioning, mechanics, simple physics, risky behaviors, baseball specialization and the injury epidemic.

“This is pretty new stuff,” says Frantz, who shared his knowledge and findings from studies conducted by Major League Baseball and others. “This is the best of what we know at the moment for how to keep guys healthy.

“In order to stay healthy you need that whole 180-degree arc of shoulder motion (internal or external rotation). Guys who are short on that we know, particularly in the shoulder, have 2.5 to 3 times more likely risk of suffering an injury when they start to lose that flexibility and that range of motion.

“When there’s rotator cuff weakness, that’s another risk factor for shoulder injury. A shoulder surgery for a pitcher is the kiss of death.

“Elbows we’re really good at. We now have a 97 percent return to the same level with Tommy John surgery. Rotator cuff surgery is 40 or 50 percent. It’s not great.”

When it comes to strengthening the rotator cuff, Frantz points to the Baseball Pitchers and Thowers Ten Exercise Program. It’s what former big league pitcher Jarrod Parker used for injury rehabilitation and prevention (rehab and pre-hab).

Frantz, Parker and athletic trainer Dru Scott have combined forces for Arm Care Camp.

“The whole shoulder adapts when your throw and you’re overhead that much,” says Frantz. “Even the actual bone itself remodels. It does what we call retrovert, meaning it tilts back a little bit.

“The late cocking is a good thing. You get a lot generated from that. It’s not a bad thing. It’s a normal adaptation for high-level throwers over time.”

Frantz notes that elbow injuries commonly occur alongside hip and core injuries. There is an exponential increase in MLB oblique injuries in the past seven years.

Those with hip injuries also have more elbow injuries.

Throwing engages the kinetic chain — movement at one joint affects movement in another.

Frantz says body regions must be conditioned properly. He adds that there is no perfect training system.

“Every therapist, strength and conditioning coach and ‘expert’ will have their opinion,” says Frantz.

Keys to strength and conditioning include doing movements that appropriate for age/level

Well-balanced i.e.. kinetic chain and with an appropriate dosage.

Doctors have found that complete rest may be bad, too. It used to be that heart attack patients were put on weeks of strict bed rest.

“We now know that is one of the worst things we could have done,” says Frantz. “We encourage them to get up and move and lightly stress the heart a little bit.

“A lot of the strength and conditioning coaches now are buying into that philosophy. Taking three days off, just sitting there and not doing anything at all is probably worse than doing something lightly for a couple of days.”

It’s active recovery to keep things moving and loose.

Frantz says there are now many strength and conditioning programs founded in “real” science.

“It has good philosophies,” says Frantz. “It makes sense in what you’re doing and is well-rounded.

“Be careful of the programs that have marketed upon just one success story. Or it’s one pro athlete who is a freak and would have had success with anything he did. They just happen to have his or her name on this program or institution.”

In addressing mechanics, Frantz says the biggest strides made in biomechanics and pitching mechanics in general occur in youth baseball between ages 9-13.

“Interestingly, as your mechanics improve the force that’s put on your elbow joint increases,” says Frantz. “Everywhere else in the body your risk goes down.”

Frantz says that once proper mechanics are developed, there is no difference in mechanics of those with elbow ligament tears and those without.

Kinetic factors associated with pitching injury include early trunk rotation (loss of hip and shoulder separation vs. maintained hip and shoulder separation), altered knee flexion and increased elbow flexion at ball release leads to increased elbow torque.

Looking at simple physics, Frantz says there are 64 Newton meters of force generated at the elbow with each pitch (bone and muscular structures see 32 Nm and the ulnar collateral ligament sees the other 32 Nm).

“Unfortunately what we’ve shown in lab studies looking at elbows is that (the UCL) fails at 33 to 36 units of that force,” says Frantz. “Essentially every time you throw, you’re within a few percentage points of maximum strength before that’s going to break.

“That’s why you’re seeing the amount of injuries you’re seeing.”

The greatest cause/risk factor for injury is increased velocity. Other things that make for a bigger force are increased body weight and height.

MLB revealed that the percentage of pitches 95 mph or above was 4.82 in 2008 and 9.14 in 2015. Where will it be in 2020?

In this era of high strikeout totals, research shows that 18.8 percent of pitches at or above 95 mph resulted in a swinging strike with 8.2 percent for deliveries less than 95 mph.

“Velocity works,” says Frantz. “It’s not going anywhere.”

Off-speed pitch velocity has also increased.

Frantz issues a warning for high injury risk.

“Be aware of the 14- to 18-year-old who hits a growth spurt, gains 25 pounds and suddenly throws 10 mph harder,” says Frantz.

Risky behaviors include pitching with tiredness (7.8 times more likely for injury), pitching with pain (7.5 times more likely for injury), catching when not pitching (2.8 times more likely for injury), pitching on consecutive days (2.5 times more likely for injury) and playing on multiple teams at the same time (1.9 times more likely for injury).

“There’s a difference between having a little bit of fatigue and having true pain when you’re throwing,” says Frantz. “It’s difficult to isolate, particularly in younger kids.

“As guys play a lot they can get a feel for it.”

Frantz says every player’s description of pain and what they can handle is different and coaches need to know their athletes well enough to understand that.

Studies show that breaking balls have not been found to be a direct contributor to arm injury while velocity does contribute.

In players undergoing Tommy John surgery, there is no difference in the amount of curveballs/sliders thrown compared to those who stayed healthy.

Breaking balls have been showed to increase arm pain by as much as 86 percent and arm pain increases injury rates.

Pitch counts have been widely instituted at various levels since 2004.

Frantz says there is no magic number.

Pitch counts do force players, parents and coaches to stop pitching when the arm pain and tiredness are likely to be ignored.

One website resource for guidelines sponsored by MLB and USA Baseball is PitchSmart.org.

Frantz says it is well-documented that throwers in warm weather regions, where there is more actively, the incidence of injury is higher than those in cold weather places.

In looking at specialization, Frantz quoted a study by the New York Yankees doctor of youth baseball in New York state.

The average age to begin dropping sports to focus on another is 8.1 years old.

In interviewing the youth players, he learned that 84 percent wished they played more sports, 47 percent thought about quitting last season and 33 percent were told by baseball coach to stop playing other sports.

In addition, 74 percent reported an injury, 55 percent stated it wasn’t fun to play while they were hurting, 47 percent were told by a parent or coach to keep playing despite pain, 25 percent had hired personal trainers and 5 percent of parents said they would suspend grade/redshirt to gain a competitive advantage.

What’s more, players with elite coaching had an injury rate of 38 percent. The rate dropped to 7.1 percent to those without elite coaching.

Frantz says an argument for not specializing comes from current MLB players.

They have generally been found to have played more sports than current high school players and “specialized” two years later (age 14 vs. 12 now) than current high school players.

Forty percent of big leaguers say specializing at any time did not help them reach professional baseball.

What does science say on the subject?

Frantz notes there is clear evidence of improved physical, emotional and learning development when playing multiple sports.

There is no advantage in specialization before 12 years of age and a clear increase in injuries.

While there have been very little studies done on the youth injuries, studies have revealed that baseball is a relatively safe sport at the highest level. MLB has 3.6 injuries per athlete-exposures compared to 21.4 for the NBA.

Position players have greater incidence of injury and most injuries involve ligaments and tendons.

During a three-month high school season, most injuries occur during the first month.

Frantz says that many claims about weighted balls are not based upon sound science.

Weighted balls have been shown to increase velocity. But that’s with 4- to 6-ounce balls used over the 10-week period by high school and college athletes.

Frantz says there are not current protocols on how weighted balls help as warm-up or recovery tools. It’s a coaching/pitching preference.

There is no evidence weighted balls hurt or harm mechanics.

Nor has there been any study done to prove they reduce injury.

Frantz says there are plenty of myths surrounding long toss.

He has found that is does not increase arm strength.

Throwers lose about 5 percent of arm strength over the course of the season and 11-18 percent from the start to the end of the game.

Long toss may help endurance and arm speed, but does not promote proper pitching mechanics.

Motion analysis has shown significant differences and that increases when long toss goes beyond 180 feet.

There’s an even higher stress on the arm with max effort crow hop long toss.

Yes, long toss is important, but not a requirement. Many pro players never throw more than 120 feet.

It’s a balancing act between increasing endurance and arm speed vs. cumulative fatigue.

Frantz adds that long toss is helpful, but must be used in combination with downtime, good arm care and quality strength and conditioning.

“There is not one perfect long toss program,” says Frantz.

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Dr. Travis Frantz, an orthopedic surgeon in Columbus, Ohio, covered many baseball topics at the Jan. 19 Huntington North Hot Stove clinics. Frantz played at Fremont (Ind.) High School and Huntington (Ind.) University. (Steve Krah Photo)

 

Roy talks about pitching with a purpose

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Tom Roy has been a coach at the college and high school level and has learned from big leaguers.

He was the first baseball coach at Tippecanoe Valley High School in Akron, Ind., then established Unlimited Potential Inc., and took Major League Baseball players on missions trips around the world, teaching baseball and sharing stories of faith.

He’s also been a pitcher in the San Francisco Giants system and scouted for the Philadelphia Phillies, Atlanta Braves and San Diego Padres.

In 2019, he was co-head coach at Grace College in Winona Lake, Ind. In 2020, he is the special assistant to head coach Ryan Roth.

Roy is the author of “Shepherd Coach: Unlocking The Destiny Of You And Your Players” and now runs the Shepherd Coach Network.

Pro baseball scouts look at identification, projection and probability.

“If that’s the highest level, what do I do to get them there?,” says Roy, who talked primarily about pitching at the Jan. 19 Huntington North Hot Stove clinics as a guest of new Vikings head coach Mark Flueckiger.

“Pitching is defense,” says Roy. “Nothing happens until you throw the ball.”

Pitching consists of the physical (weights, swimming, banding, flexiblity, hand and forearm development) and the mental side.

“To be a complete pitcher, you need both,” says Roy. “You should be a student of the game so nothing catches you off-guard.”

Roy wants his pitchers to be competitive and not timid.

“Don’t be milquetoast,” says Roy. “Be a bulldog.”

Former big league pitcher Scott Sanderson comes to Roy’s mind when he thinks of a pitcher who demands the ball.

“You can teach them that,” says Roy. “You can give them a sense of purpose.”

That kind of competitor will be stone-faced and never change expressions on the mound.

They will be able to handle mistakes by their teammates and big offensive innings by the opponent.

The will overcome the elements (rain, heat etc.) and make no excuses.

“(Baseball) I.Q. is huge,” says Roy. “What’s his make-up?

“You as a pitcher better be able to take it when you’re blamed. We’re talking about mental attitude and this while idea of how you get mentally prepared and how do you set up hitters.”

Roy endorses what he calls the “AXIS” method.

In throwing an A to a right-handed batter, the first pitch is a low outside strike.

“We always want to get the first pitch a strike,” says Roy. “We always wanted the guys to have the ball in play within four pitches. In other words, let the defense play a little bit.

“But there are situations where you need to strike guys out.”

The second pitch is up at the top of the A.

“How do you get guys out who are really, really strong in the launch angle?,” says Roy. “Elevate. That ball is really tempting.”

The third pitch is low and inside.

The fourth pitch is under the hands.

The fifth pitch is to the other side and completes the A.

“It gives your pitcher intentionality and competition to make them the bulldog you want them to be,” says Roy.

As a pitching coach, Roy stood between the bullpen mounds and looked for location, flexibility and mechanics while pitches are charted.

“I’m feeling and listening for leadership and attitude,” says Roy. “They miss the first one. You’re there to say, ‘OK. Get your head back in the game.’

“You set a high standard of mental preparation. This counts.”

Another way to attack the hitter would be low and outside, high and inside, high and outside and low and inside, creating an X.

“Setting up hitters is changing speed, location and climbing the ladder — inside or outside,” says Roy of forming the I. “All of this building confidence and the mental side of this game.”

Having a purpose with every strike, the S is formed by a low outside pitch followed by deliveries that are low and inside, under the hands, away, high and outside and high and inside.

Roy says as pitchers begin to learn how to locate their pitches, they should use fastballs and then blend in other pitches as they begin to understand things like release point.

“It’s more than throwing the ball hard,” says Roy. “It’s more than changing speeds. It’s having a purpose and a plan and confidence that you can hit those spots.

“Most of the time as coaches we don’t give that kind of accountability.”

In setting up hitters, Roy looks for his pitchers to have the proper arm extension and to pay attention to the hitters’ feet and hands.

“If the back foot is pointing toward the catcher, there’s no way he’s going to be able to get around on a good fastball,” says Roy. “Hitters give away their weaknesses.

“It’s a difference maker. Start taking this stuff seriously. Talk about having purpose.”

Roy encourages coaches and players to embrace the process.

“You’ve got to break that fear,” says Roy. “Most people are afraid to fail. You have to teach them there’s no such thing really as failure. You’re learning from everything.

“You demand a lot, but you don’t demean them.”

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Tom Roy spoke to the Jan. 19 Huntington North Hot Stove clinics attendees on pitching with a purpose.

Fort Wayne Northrop hitting coach Gatchell shares philosophy

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Gary Gatchell is entering his 15th season as a high school baseball coach.

He was an assistant for eight seasons at his alma mater — Fort Wayne (Ind.) Concordia Lutheran — before going to Fort Wayne Northrop where he assists head coach Matt Brumbaugh.

Gatchell shared his approach and philosophy of teaching hitters at the Huntington North Hot Stove clinics session Jan. 12 as a guest of Vikings head coach Mark Flueckiger.

“We make it as simple as we can for kids,” says Gatchell. “There are all kinds of talent ranges in high school.”

Some are bound for college. Others are beginners.

Gatchell, who also a private instructor, wants his hitters to alleviate tension.

“We get them to relax and eliminate the fear of failure as much as we can,” says Gatchell.

As his coach career has progressed, Gatchell has gone away from results. A batter can hit the ball squarely four hits in a game but it might find a glove every time.

“It’s about the process of putting together solid at-bats,” says Gatchell. “It’s about the process and not the result.”

Gatchell, Brumbaugh and the other Northrop coaches preach team and note that each hitter in the lineup — 1 through 9 — has a job to do whether it be setting the table, moving runners over or driving in runs.

The recent trend — as in Major League Baseball — is to get the best hitters to the top of the lineup to get them more at-bats.

Gatchell does not look much at statistics other than on-base percentage and walk/strikeout ratio.

He wants his hitters to stay at an even keel.

“We can’t ride a huge roller coaster of emotion at-bat to at-bat,” says Gatchell.

With BBCOR bats, especially, the home run is a rarity in high school.

“We want to maximize double potential,” says Gatchell. “It’s about baserunners and doubles.”

Gatchell also wants his hitters to keep strikeout totals as low as possible.

“You’ve got to put the ball in play,” says Gatchell. “We do not face gold glove infielders and outfielders in highs school or college. In pro ball, I get it.

“There are not a lot of errorless games in high school. We want to put pressure on the defense and give ourselves a chance at baserunners and scoring runs.”

Gatchell says he’d like to have a strikeout ratio close to 15 percent or about six per game.

Hitters are expected to be fastball hunters and aggressive.

“Time the fastball,” says Gatchell. “If you don’t want to see the breaking ball, take it. Fastballs are what you’re going to see for the most part (in high school).

“We want to be in swing mode until the pitch tells us not to (swing). The better the pitcher, the earlier we want to go. We don’t want to get behind in counts.”

Gatchell discourages check swings.

“We can’t do damage if we’re not decisive,” says Gatchell.

He also notes that the biggest swing count is 1-1.

“There are 200 (batting average) points difference between 2-1 and 1-2,” says Gatchell.

When it comes to two-strike hitting, Gatchell says batters must make a physical adjustment.

Since most pitchers will throw away, the hitter must then move up on the plate and spread out their stance a little bit. They may even choke up on the bat.

Legs are less important and the hands really do the work with two strikes.

“It’s a mindset of battling and grinding instead of giving in,” says Gatchell.

Before two strikes, the bunt can be another effective offensive weapon.

Hitters are seeking Quality At-Bats and Gatchell keeps track of these with a chart that reflects a plus, zero or minus score.

“Plus-10 (as a team) is pretty good,” says Gatchell. “We’ve had games in the 20’s. We’ve had negative games.”

While he has made some tweaks over the years, Gatchell is a believer in concepts taught by former big league hitting coach Charley Lau (The Art of Hitting .300).

Lau’s 10 absolutes of hitting:

1. Achieve a balanced stance.

2. Launch the bat from a 45-degree position off the back shoulder.

3. Develop a rhythm to alleviate tension.

4. Stride with front foot slightly closed.

5. Take a direct path to the ball; pull the knob to the ball.

6. Develop good weight transfer – from a firm rigid back-side to a firm rigid front-side.

7. Keep head still and down at contact.

8. Hit through the ball with lead arm extension and flat hands.

9. Finish the swing high.

10. Hit to all fields.

“My work with hitters almost always starts from the ground up,” says Gatchell. “Kids do not get near as much out of their legs as they should.”

The coach asks his hitters to get in an athletic position with feet shoulder width apart so they are able to load and drive to a rigid front-side.

Gatchell notes that hitting is getting in rhythm and in sync with the man delivering the baseball.

“If I’m stationary, I’m going to have a tough time getting on time with the pitcher,” says Gatchell.

To have hitters avoid “stepping in the bucket” Gatchell will have them be no-striders. They pick their lead foot up and put it back down in the same spot.

Most hitters will stride.

“We want to stride with our front hip closed,” says Gatchell. “I want to generate all the force I can back at the pitcher.

“You have to have that approach.”

Imagine Charlie Brown being blown up on the mound after his delivery.

“We land slightly open,” says Gatchell. “The longer our (bat) barrel is in the (strike) zone, the more chance we have of being successful.”

To emphasize keeping the head down at contact, Gatchell will sometimes have them bury the head during drills.

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Fort Wayne (Ind.) Northrop High School baseball hitting coach Gary Gatchell wants his hitters taking the ball back up the middle. Imagine Charlie Brown being blown up on the mound after his delivery. (Peanuts Pow! Photo)

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Gary Gatchell, the baseball hitting coach at Fort Wayne (Northrop) High School, demonstrates during a Huntington North Hot Stove clinics session Jan. 12. (Steve Krah Photo)

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Gary Gatchell, baseball hitting coach at Fort Wayne (Ind.) Northrop High School, passes along his philosophy to attendees at the Huntington North Hot Stove clinics session Jan. 12. Gatchell played and coached at Fort Wayne Concordia Lutheran. (Steve Krah Photo)

 

Dunno sees transfer of energy key to pitching velocity

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Being a maker of tools, Rich Dunno looks at pitching a baseball with an engineering mind.
“I’m always looking for the bigger, better, faster things,” says Dunno, a Fort Wayne-based toolmaker and baseball coach who spoke about pitching mechanics Dec. 15 at the Huntington North Hot Stove as a guest of new Vikings head coach Mark Flueckiger. “Pitching mechanics is so broad and so variable. But there are absolutes — things that I see that every pitcher does in their own certain way.”
One of these absolutes is the ability to transfer energy during the kinetic sequence that is pitching a baseball.
“What we want to do is have the hips open before the upper body,” says Dunno. “That’s what they call separation and is a big part of keeping the arm healthy and maximizing velocity. That’s one of the transfers of energy.”
Dunno says the biggest transfer of energy comes at heel plant.
When done correctly, the energy results in more velocity coming out of the arm.
“If we fly open, we never get the effect of that extra torque that’s going to cause us to go harder because the lack of separation,” says Dunno. “Any time we open early, the early hip rotation will cause that arm to drag.
“It puts excessive stress on the inner part of your shoulder and the medial part of your elbow — your UCL area.”
Dunno recommends the book, “The Arm” by Jeff Passan for those who want to know about the history of arm injuries in baseball.
If pitchers transfer energy in an efficient way to create velocity and have pin-point control have a better chance of sustained success.
As a pitcher himself at Fort Wayne North Side High School and then in college, Dunno would let it fly.
“I never knew where it was going,” says Dunno. “There has to be a mixture of velocity and control.”
Dunno has traveled all over the country to talk with pitching experts such as Tom House and Ron Wolforth and has studied thousands of deliveries. He shares his knowledge with his pitching pupils.
Left-hander Andrew Saalfrank, who was Big Ten Conference Pitcher of the Year at Indiana University and was drafted by the Arizona Diamondbacks and D.J. Moore of Huntington U., who was being scouted by a several teams, are both Dunno students.
“My goal is to keep these guys as efficient as possible with the least amount of arm stress along with maximizing velocity,” says Dunno. “That’s what it’s all about.”
When working with young hurlers, the first thing Dunno does is videotapes them throwing out of the windup and the stretch.
“Whatever sticks out in my mind as a visual, that’s what we initially work on,” says Dunno. “Before anything else, I look at what the glove arm is doing.  “(The front arm) allows us to stayed closed on the front side and be a lot more consistent.”
Dunno refers to what the forearm and elbow is doing during the delivery as blocking and the forearm should be showing for as long as possible.
“To this day, I hear coaches say point your glove and throw,” says Dunno. “I don’t like the mitt being the boss. I want the elbow to be the boss.”
Dunno talks about having a strong elevated front side during the delivery.
What about the glove?
“My pitchers direct it right into the arm pit when they’re done that keeps the front side consistent,” says Dunno. “It’s right in the nest.”
Since the lead arm and the throwing arm are connected in the motion, if the path of the glove is inconsistent then so, too, will the release point be inconsistent.
“You hear it all the time: Consistency. Consistency. Consistency,” says Dunno. “Scouts are looking for repeatable mechanics. If you can’t repeat them, you’re never going to be consistent with any pitch.”
During Dunno’s research, he came to learn the importance of the drop-and-drive and how the lower half of the body can add speed to a pitch.
Dunno is the inventor of King Of The Hill, Queen Of The Hill and King Of The Swing ground force trainers and the devices are used by several professional and college teams. He’s invited to MLB camps to educate their coaches on how and the benefits of training with the King of the Hill.
The president of Ground Force Sports, Dunno gets to the go to Major League Baseball spring training each year to confer with some of baseball’s top minds.
“You want to ride the back side as long as you can,” says Dunno. “It all plays into late explosion.”
The device helps the user to keep from rotating their hips too early.
“You keep the back side flexed so you can drive through the front  leg,” says Dunno. “Force plate data is showing the high-velocity pitchers are getting more force off the back side than other pitchers and they land a lot harder.”
Now is the time of year that Dunno travels to various clinics. He was recently at the National Fastpitch Coaches Association Convention in Atlantic City and NFCA clinic in Chicago and will be at the American Baseball Coaches Association Convention Jan. 2-5, 2020 in Nashville.

For more info go to www.GroundForceSport.com.

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Rich Dunno’s King Of The Hill ground force trainers are used throughout professional and college baseball.

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Rich Dunno has even introduced his King Of The Hill trainer in Canada.

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The Washington Nationals use the King Of The Hill ground force trainer, invented by Fort Wayne’s Rich Dunno.

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The San Francisco Giants also use the King Of The Hill ground force trainer, developed by Rich Dunno of Fort Wayne, Ind.

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Rich Dunno talks about baseball pitching mechanics at the Huntington North Hot Stove clinic session on Dec. 2015, 2019. He is a toolmaker and coach who has intensely studied how to pitch for efficient and optimum velocity and control. (Steve Krah Photo)

Indiana Tech’s McWilliams shares championship practice drills

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Kip McWilliams and his Indiana Tech baseball team attack practice.

“We always have our practices at fast pace,” says McWilliams, who spoke Dec. 15 at the free Huntington North Hot Stove clinics as a guest of new Vikings head coach Mark Flueckiger. “It’s uptempo.

“It’s controlled chaos. It’s a mess. But we love it and our guys get so much out of it.”

The goal for Tech is to play a nine-inning game in two hours.

“We don’t throw the ball around the horn,” says McWilliams. “We strike a guy out and the ball is right back to the pitcher.

“We want to really play that fast pace. Why? Because the game of baseball is not supposed to be played that fast.

“If that is an advantage to us over our opponents, so be it. That’s great.”

Tech, which is located in Fort Wayne and went to the NAIA World Series in 2019, has a varsity and developmental teams. That’s 65 players.

McWilliams has them all working out as a group.

“I’m a firm believer in having everybody practice together,” says McWilliams. “I know that sounds like a nightmare for some high school coaches. You can get so much out of your practices.

“Younger players learn your systems for their four years.”

While he sees the benefit of individual work, McWilliams loves to do team drills and he shared some of those with the Hot Stove.

The tone is set at the beginning. While the old Green Bay Packers ran on “Lombardi Time” and being on time was late, the Warriors run on “Indiana Tech Time.”

“If practice is at 3, we’re stretching at 2:45,” says McWilliams. During that time, a “quote of the day” is shared. There is discussion of the program’s core values or standards.

Seniors will present a word of the day, telling their teammates what it means to them and maybe the Webster’s Dictionary definition and how the team and coaches can use that word to jell together.

“It’s so important that the guys get a great stretch,” says McWilliams. “It’s also important for the coaching staff to be out there when the team is stretching.”

Tech gets all 65 players in a big circle and center field and McWilliams addresses each one of them daily.

“I don’t want a day to go by that I don’t say anything to or greet one of my guys,” says McWilliams. “I think that’s so important.”

There’s a no-walking rule for the Warriors.

“That includes me,” says McWilliams. “If we expect our guys to hustle all the time on the field, then I need to hustle all the time on the field.

“If I see them walking, I hold them accountable. If they see my coaching staff or me walking, they hold me accountable. We’re all at the same level there.”

After stretching comes the throwing routine. The Warriors go through championship level catch with each position having a specific focus like infielders working on quick hands etc.

Then comes the four corners drill.

“I know it’s something they’ve been doing from Little League on up,” says McWilliams. “That is a great drill. Keep doing it.”

McWilliams once attended at practice at Spring Arbor University when American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Sam Riggleman was the head coach.

“He flat out told me, ‘Kip, this is the reason why we’re always top five in the country defensively,’” says McWilliams of Riggleman’s devotion to four corners. “It’s not just the throwing and catching of the four corners, it’s the communication. That’s key.

“In baseball, there are so many plays that are made when we’re actually fielding a ground ball or catching a fly ball when we take our eyes off the target.”

McWilliams uses an example from his family life. Kip and Melissa welcomed a baby into their lives five years ago.

When Ava was a baby, Melissa would talk softly to her through the baby monitor to calm her at night.

“Ava’s in the dark but she hears a very comfortable voice,” says McWilliams. “What happens if you’ve got a shortstop who fields that ball in the hole and he doesn’t know exactly where the first base bag is? He knows it’s over it that direction.

“But he’s hearing a comforting voice. ‘Hit me in the chest! Hit me in the chest!’ Or even a third baseman saying, ‘Hit Rich in the chest! Hit Rich in the chest!’”

McWilliams says communication can help when a ball is bobbled.

“Everyone on the field is yelling you’ve got time ‘You’ve got time!,” says McWilliams. “Because everybody panics. They grab it and just throw it and now it becomes another error.”

Then Tech practices its pre-game routine aka I/O (“In and Out”).

“Our ‘In and Out’ is pretty unique,” says McWilliams, noting that teams are allowed 10 minutes for I/O during the NAIA postseason. “We like to get it in about nine minutes. We’ve got two guys deep at every position. We’ll hammer it out to the point that just about every play in baseball is done during our pre-game. It’s a workout for the coaches.”

Every fungo is struck from home plate. Coaches don’t go out in the grass. They try to hit line drives and fly balls to the outfielders, but if it’s a ground ball infielders are supposed to lay out for it.

“That sets a tone and it sends a statement to your opponents before the game,” says McWilliams.

A few times a season, McWilliams finds himself asking the same question of new players: Could you have gotten that ball if you dove for it?

“Before they can give me an answer, I say we’ll never know because you didn’t dive,” says McWilliams.

Tech allows finishes a team drill with a game-winner.

“That helps guys get fired up a little bit,” says McWilliams. “If they don’t execute it — guess what? — we’ve got to keep doing it.”

I/O typically ends with a pop-up to the catcher and all players come in an make that catch together.

At the end of practice, the very last play will be a championship game-winner and that is followed with a hand shake line for players and coaches.

Drills are called by specific names so it’s easier to set up.

“The Difference” is a bunting drill. About seven years ago, it was added to the practice rotation because the Warriors lacked in its ability to bunt or field a bunt.

It covers bunting, base running and defense.

Bunters are asked to execute a bunt for a hit, a drag bunt or a push bunt on the first live pitch. If the first pitch is not a strike, the second pitch becomes a suicide squeeze.

Foul balls are played like a passed ball or wild pitch. Runners are super-aggressive on the base paths.

“We really put that pressure on that defense,” says McWilliams.

Tech doesn’t have regular batting practice on the field. They call it “Thundering Buffalo.”

Because 65 players on the field running through BP resembles as heard of thundering buffalo.

Hitters are split into small groups to work on specific things while getting a max of 60 balls in a crate per round and a max of five swings per at-bat.

“We want to focus on hitting the ball hard,” says McWilliams. “If they don’t hit the ball hard they’re out of the cage. It could be your first swing.

“As a coach, you’ve got to enjoy kicking them out of the cage. What do most young people struggle with today in baseball? It’s game day. When adversity hits, they struggle with it.  As a coaching staff, it’s our responsibility to give them as many adverse situations as possible in practice to prepare them for that game.”

At Tech, practices are supposed to be lot tougher than games.

Base running during “Thundering Buffalo” involves working on various things like the hit-and-run, steal jump etc. That includes “don’t be silly” or get caught breaking from second at the wrong time on a ground ball and being thrown out.

“We’re very big with our communication with our base runners at third and second,” says McWilliams. “Too may times I see base runners at second run the runner off at third. The runner at second has no idea when the runner at third is going.”

The runners will work on leads and when they’re going like on-contact with the infield in.

If runners reach first, the defense turns two.

With coaches throwing live BP, pitchers take a knee behind the “L” screen with a ball in their glove. When a ball hits the screen, the pitchers turn two.

Infielders will work on looking the runner back and throwing the ball to first.

Outfielders will not play at a regular depth — either very shallow working on pop-up communication with the infielders and balls hit over their head or very deep to get more reps on balls off the wall or diving for balls in front of them.

“There’s nothing that’s ever really routine in the game of baseball,” says McWilliams. “Outfielders are gassed during Thundering Buffalo.”

Another reason for the fast pace is that when players are exhausted, the first thing that goes away is the mental side.

Practicing consistently at a fast pace allows for coachable moments when there is a mental or physical breakdown.

One important drill is relays and tandems where outfielders go to a specific location (foul line or gap) and throw the ball off the fence to start a relay sequence. All Tech outfielders do this and there are several reps.

“We’re one of the better teams in the country when it comes to tandems and relays,” says McWilliams. “We get so many assists every year from our outfield because we practice those tandems and relays non-stop.”

One way to get the infielders more involved in communication is for the catchers to put up a number — 2, 3, or 4 — and have the infielders yell out the call.

In the first and third defense and offense drill, players gain more confidence by going over the plays on a regular bases.

There are three offensive players — a batter and runners at first and third. The defense is set with every position covered. There is live pitching off the mound. Pitchers hold runners on first and are encouraged to try to pick them off.

At the end of practice, players “sweep the sheds.”

“One of the greatest things I got out of baseball as a player was my responsibility to the team for the field,” says McWilliams. “We’re teaching our guys a lot if we can teach them that responsibly at a younger age.”

The Huntington North Hot Stove series is scheduled to continue at 2-5:30 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 22 and resume with sessions Jan. 12 and Jan. 19.

KIPMCWILLIAMS

Kip McWilliams is the head baseball coach at Indiana Tech in Fort Wayne, Ind. (Indiana Tech Photo)

 

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)

LANCEHERSHBERGERMUG

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

RBILOGOSMALL copy

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)

JOSHVANMETERREDS19

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