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Pitchers Guide

Introduction

This guide was written to help both beginning and veteran pitchers. Although written mainly from the pitcher's approach to the game, some hitting tips are included. Hopefully an offensive guide will follow that will include every aspect of the offense -- hitting, running, catching and pitching.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

CONSISTENCY -- The key factor in beepball pitching
ZEROING IN -- Adjust the pitch - not the swing
KNOW THY HITTERS -- Different people - different swings
GAME TIME -- Time to concentrate
IMPROVEMENT -- Looking for ways to improve
DANGER!! -- Pitching can be hazardous to your health

CONSISTENCY

Consistency is the key factor in beepball pitching. In order for the bat and ball to arrive at a point in space at the same time, all variants must be eliminated. Every suggestion that follows is directed at insuring a collision at that point in space.

The basic tenet to remember in pitching is that every part of the delivery must be natural and comfortable. If any part of your delivery is not comfortable and natural, extra energy and thought must be used to maintain your normal rhythm. Incorporated into this rhythm are the words "READY - BALL or PITCH". Both of these must be audible to the defense. During times of stress, it is easier to keep a natural rhythm. Also the hitter should never have to adjust to a changing rhythm.

Each pitch should be the same speed. When establishing confidence between the pitcher and hitter, it is vital to keep the speed as consistent as possible. The hitter should only be corrected for an early or late swing. If the swing remains at the same level, the words "LOW" or "HIGH" should not be mentioned. Any signals between the catcher and pitcher as to the height of the pitch should be hand signals. This prevents any unconscious attempt by the hitter to correct height. If both parties are attempting to correct for each other, it causes negative results. The effect would be to reverse the location of bat and ball. e.g. If the ball is high, the pitcher corrects by lowering the ball and the hitter raises swing. Now bat is high and ball is low. Once the hitter becomes confident that each pitch will always be thrown at the same speed, there will be no hesitation as to when to swing. Doubt blocks reaction and positive results become increasingly a hit or miss proposition.

After complete confidence and expertise are gained by both parties, control of where the ball is hit can be achieved. The pitcher can accomplish this by varying the speed slightly. The second is to change the alignment of the hitter. These two methods are the best, as they do not tamper with the hitter's swing. Always remember that the most vulnerable part in the equation of solid contact is the mechanics of the hitter's swing.

Attention should be paid as to how the ball is gripped. The ball should be held naturally, but in such a manner as to deliver the blank side of the ball (part of the ball without holes) to the bat. This serves to get the most distance and saves the ball from unnecessary shock to electronic components.

One method of gripping the ball is to have four fingers beneath the ball on the seam and the thumb on the smooth part of the ball. The height of the ball with this delivery relies on the release of the thumb. If the contact point of the thumb is sticky, the ball will be higher than desired. The ball will release lower if the contact point is too slick. Any number of substances may be used to achieve the desired result: baby powder, rosin, chalk, dirt, etc. If the grass is wet and the ball is still new, it can be dried to maintain control. However, beat-up balls absorb water and become sticky. One way to combat this is to use the water as the lubricant. The right amount of wetness on the thumb achieves the same result as baby powder.

The other method is to cup the ball in the pitching hand with it resting in the hollow if the hand. This method eliminates the release point of the thumb. The weak point of this grip is the loss of control that the thumb can give. Both methods are used with success by successful pitchers. Use the method that is best for you.

The rule states that one foot must be in contact with the pitching rubber at time of release. There are several ways this may be handled. The pitcher may take one step with the lead foot as the release is made. To be successful, this step must be absolutely consistent. As the old Asian pitching coach says, "as step varies, pitch varies". The step can be continuous with the delivery (no break in motion) or the step may be taken, position held and then the arm motion started at will. The most important thing in developing a consistent motion is to remember that the more complex and longer the motion, the more variables are involve. The pitcher must deal with enough variables without having to worry about the delivery. The best delivery should end up with the pitcher in a balanced position. This not only puts less strain on the body, but permits quicker reaction to a ball hit back up the middle.

Every pitcher is different. What is written here is just a guide. Use what feels best for you. Always be open to suggestions and willing to learn. Pitchers constantly exchange tips at tournaments. Some ideas you might try immediately and some ideas are better left for attempting in less competitive situations. They key to success is consistency.

ZEROING IN

Each hitter will have a different swing. It is the pitcher's job to throw to the hitter's spot. In most cases, the pitch can be adjusted easier than changing the swing. Most hitters will have a different practice swing than what occurs when actually swinging at a ball. So it is best to ignore practice swings in determining height of the pitch. Keeping this in mind will save time when working with a new hitter. Once the spot is determined, there are several methods of "zeroing in".

The catcher may place his glove or hands at the same height as the swing. The pitcher then concentrates on the target and throws to the glove. A part of the hitter's body may also be used to guide the pitcher.

Because of constantly changing catchers and sometimes a complete lack of an actual catcher, one pitcher developed his pitching style using a form of self-hypnosis called positive imaging. Although it sounds complicated and fancy, it is very simple. Once the pitcher has the hitter set to match the image he has of him in his head, the pitcher then actually pictures in his mind the pitch he is going to throw. When everything feels right, a slight flip of the pitcher's glove tells the catcher that the pitcher us ready to start his delivery. The catcher says, "SET". This "SET" is used by many pitchers with different styles. It allows the hitters to be in their stance, but relaxed. Upon hearing "SET", they will be alerted to the pitch. The pitcher then just lets his body flow into the delivery with "READY" and releases with "BALL" or "PITCH". The mind and body can do amazing things if you prepare them ahead of time and then do not get in their way.

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Remember that parts of each of these methods may be blended into what is best for you. The important thing is concentration on the part of the whole offensive unit -- hitter, catcher and pitcher.

KNOW THY HITTERS

Each of your hitters not only have different swings, but they have different personalities and moods. Keeping them in a relaxed and ready state is one of the responsibilities of the pitcher. Hitter and pitcher should strive to become one being separated by 20 feet.

All hitters will have variances in their swings according to their mood, health, injuries, energy, bad habits, etc. It is the pitcher's job to recognize these as quickly as possible and either correct the hitter or make allowances.

While the hitters should have a routine to prepare themselves to hit, quick reminders to reinforce positive parts of their swing, or to prevent negative habits should become part of the routine between the hitters and pitcher. Do not assume that the hitter is not going to drop his elbow, breathe at the wrong time, or overswing. Eliminate the doubt. Good communication before starting the pitch is better than hindsight later.

As soon as one hitter hits or strikes out, think quickly of what was done right or wrong, store for later reference and immediately start thinking of the next hitter. Go over a check list of where the swing will be, what speed, what are this hitter's bad habits, where do you want the ball to be hit, etc.

Most of all, remember that this is a team sport. The hitter can't hit the ball without you and you can't hit the bat without someone to swing it.

Since hitting is a matter of timing and not sound location, dead balls are used in batting practice. Some hitters, especially before their timing becomes second nature, will need a beeping ball to help establish speed. If you have not begun to practice and only have live balls, do not worry. You will soon have plenty of dead balls. Using a number of balls allows batting practice to be held with a minimum number of people. A pitcher and hitter are all that are absolutely necessary. This permits the defense to work elsewhere, and there is no loss of time between pitches for either. Be aware, however, that every ball differs in weight, texture, and feel. Adjustments on the ball's release must be made.

Unless working on a specific problem with a hitter, it is best to have two or three hitters switch every 5 to 10 pitches for several go-rounds. To get familiar with the rhythm of an actual game, set a line-up and run hitters through under game conditions. Each hitter swings until they hit or strike out. Have each hitter prepare in the "on deck" circle while waiting just as he would during competitive play. Either using many balls or having balls retrieved quickly allows the pitcher to practice game rhythm also.

One way to keep things interesting is to have contests. Keep track of how many hits out of ten pitches, consecutive hits, or whatever. This helps both the hitter's and pitcher's concentration.

As a tournament or game date approaches, less experimenting should be done. Work on positive aspects of the hitter and only attempt minor changes. Any major changes made just before a tournament can do more harm than good. A tournament or game is not the proper time to practice.

GAME TIME

Game time pitching takes a great deal of concentration. If at all possible, someone else should take on as much responsibility for the team as possible: getting to the game, getting ready, and handling details during the game. Not only do lapses of concentration during the game detract from a pitcher's effectiveness, it can be dangerous. A wandering mind does not react to the task at hand as quickly as a tuned-in body. When pitching from 20 feet, fast reactions save both good hits and your body. Most good pitchers hate losing good hits more than they hate getting hit. Before a game or anytime you step up to pitch, put your mind on the job or a hard hit up the middle will.

Each pitcher should have a warm-up routine, although it looks as if all the pitcher does is just stand there and throw the ball. Fast and sudden movements are necessary at unexpected times. Muscles that have not been stretched and kept warm are likely to be strained. Nothing elaborate is necessary. It only takes a few minutes before starting, and then several seconds every so often to ensure that leg and back muscles stay stretched.

The underhanded motion used to throw the beep baseball 20 feet puts little or no strain on the arm. Therefore, it is not necessary to warm up for the same reason a baseball pitcher warms up. Just take enough tosses to get the feel of the ball and to get in the right mind and body set. One pitcher has found that the more pitches he throws, the more comfortable he feels. Another had found that like most good- control baseball pitchers, his arm needs to be a little tired before the pinpoint accuracy kicks in. So, he throws a softball hard for five to ten minutes. This also burns off his nerves and gets his mind set for playing ball. Then a few tosses with the beep baseball to get the feel of the heavier ball, and he is ready to go.

Once the game starts, the pitcher's job is to maximize the opportunity of the hitter to score. In order to score, the hitter must first hit the ball. Once the pitcher has the confidence that the ball will be hit, fine tuning is the next step. Distance and airtime give the hitter more time to reach the base. One important maxim to always keep in mind is if you are going to miss with the pitch, miss high. The middle and top half of the bat give distance and air. If the hitter is neither a fast runner nor a power hitter, try to place the ball down the baselines. Several factors come into play to give the hitter the advantage. There is a fifty- fifty chance that the base closest to the ball will be activated, which makes the fielder have to field the ball with the base buzzing and the noise of the runner close by.

Of course, when the offensive team is really clicking, slight adjustments of pitch-speed and hitter's stance place the ball in the weakest part of the defense.

If the pitcher or hitter start experiencing trouble, and everything starts getting a little ragged, regroup and get back to basics. Remember, all good pitchers have outstanding games where everything seems to come easy and natural. The measurement of good pitchers is how well they pitch in those "off" games.

The beauty of baseball is that each team gets the same number of outs. As long as the offense has one strike left, the other team is in jeopardy. That supposedly last strike is the pitcher's opportunity to start one of those beautiful streaks when everything flows and goes.

IMPROVEMENT

Even experienced pitchers with their own set routines are always looking for ways to improve. All pitchers are more than willing to discuss pitching. Watch them in action. If you do not understand why they do something, ask them after the game. They may also be able to pick up flaws in your delivery that could be causing you problems.

Any pictures, stills or moving, of your pitching motion are good sources of checking out your delivery at different points. A slight difference in stance, step, or hand turn can make a difference.

Accurate and complete statistics can sometimes uncover tendencies that may be a slight correction of speed or height you may be able to correct. If possible, log swing misses, fouls (late or early), ground balls, and air balls. If a hitter consistently hits only the fourth or fifth pitch, maybe there is something you both could do to prevent wasting those first few pitches: practice swinging with the pitch while on deck, concentrating harder on the first pitch, taking the first pitch, or maybe there is too much talk or distraction when the hitter first steps into the batter's box.

Everyone has slumps. The important thing is to keep plugging away and try to salvage something positive out of the negative.

DANGER!!

Pitching from 20 feet can be hazardous to your health. Some pitchers do not think they have pitched a good game unless they are hit at least once. There is not a single pitcher that has not been hit, but no serious or permanent injuries have occurred. There are precautions that will minimize some vital areas.

An athletic cup is essential. Any sporting goods store has both cup and supporter. Unbreakable glasses or goggles are suggested. Several pitchers also use a catcher's mask.

An important reminder is that a pitcher's job is not completed when the ball hits the bat. He must be in a good position to dodge the ball if it is hit up the middle. After the ball is hit and successfully avoided, the next task is to make sure the runner does not run over you. You are not safe until the runner is well on the way to the proper base. It only takes two or three errant strides near the middle of the field by the runner to put the pitcher and the runner in jeopardy. Since the pitcher is sighted, and his job is done, the only thing he has to think about is avoiding the runner, whose concentration is 100 feet away.

The size of the beepball helps to spread the impact over a larger area which is a definite help. A good thing to remember is that the direction the body is moving at the time of impact is important. If the body is moving away from the ball, the motion takes away the force of the ball. Dignity when dodging a ball can be a luxury. If the body is falling to avoid a ball and trying to maintain balance at the same time, it means two sets of muscles are working against each other. It is better to use all the muscles to flop, fall, dodge, or whatever, than to get hit. Remember, a body falling away from an oncoming object receives less of a blow.

Some pitchers believe that they pitch better after getting stung. It tends to remind them to concentrate a little harder and brings them back into the game.

The satisfaction of being able to consistently pitch to an elusive point in space, where the ball and bat meet, is definitely well worth the time and effort.

Watch the NBBA Guide to Pitching, Frank Mathenia.