By STEVE KRAH
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.