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Hello, Chas Pippitt, aka Captain Obvious, here to tell you about the most valuable skill in baseball: The ability to watch the ball.
Now, I'm sure that some eye doctors will say 'it's physically impossible to see the baseball hit the bat' while others will tell the story that Ted Williams could read the words on a spinning record as it played... I want to be clear, I'm not saying you need to actually SEE THE BALL HIT THE BAT. Instead, I am saying that you must be able to visually judge the PATH of the pitch, and see that path in your mind so that you can get the bat barrel in the way of the baseball.
Now, EVERY SINGLE KID has had EVERY SINGLE COACH tell him to "watch the baseball" in one form or another. From "keep your head still", to "you can’t hit what you can’t see", to "watch the ball hit the bat", the expressions are endless…and so is the mistake of hitters pulling his or her head to see where the ball goes before the ball makes contact with the bat.
So, how is it possible that the ONLY THING ALL COACHES AGREE ON is not only the first thing that kids are taught, but also the first thing that kids forget the second they get to the field?
Is it immaturity? Impatience? Stupidity? No. It’s simply that coaches aren’t doing a good enough job of PROVING to kids that keeping your "eyes on the ball" is the only way to survive in this terribly difficult game.
There are many ways to do this. I ask my kids all the time, "Have you ever heard of the blind major league baseball player?" Of course, the answer is, "no." However, I then tell them that there are off-balance players all the time, fooled hitters, fielders who make errors, one-handed men, and even short and small guys like Dustin Pedrioa...
But never a blind guy… The second you pull your head out towards the pitcher during the swing, you BECOME A BLIND HITTER!
Now, again, whether you think I’m right (I am) or wrong (I’m not) about ‘down and through’ mechanics vs the different mechanics we preach and teach in The Baseball Rebellion Hitting Methodology, you can’t argue that vision, or the act of watching the baseball, is NOT the most important thing whether you are in the field or at the plate.
When talking to Johnny Narron, Josh Hamilton’s personal hitting coach, he told me that he thinks what separates the truly great hitters like Josh, A-Rod, Manny, Bonds, and Mays, from other all-star players, is ‘two feet of vision’ during a pitched ball.
Now think about that. 2 feet of vision in a pitch that travels roughly 54 feet. That is less than a 4% difference!
4 Percent! He went onto say that the difference between an all-star player and a bench player in the majors was another 2 feet…So Barry Bonds was only 8% better than Joe Shmoe Major League Flash in the Pan Guy! That’s a pretty bold statement, in my opinion, considering that Joe Shmoe was about 100000% better than me…or anyone else who plays at a high level and can’t make it!
So I started to really think about this idea, on how to train kids to ‘Value their Vision’ as their main tool to be as good of a player as they can be.
Here’s what I came up with: Joey references a ‘broomstick’ drill on swing smarter.com where you swing the broom and hear where the sound is. I prefer a Lacrosse stick with no head on it. They are roughly 4 feet long and have an open end. I tape up the handle thicker, more like a wooden bat handle, and have the kids swing it. First, they pull their head, the sound the stick makes, when swung hard, is loud and noticeable. That sound also has a ‘direction’ or a ‘location’. It’s in front of the hitter because as the head pulls, the hands and shoulder follow along with the head. In essence, the knob of the bat pulls and the barrel is NOT accelerated sideways into the zone…it’s not accelerated period until too late.
Do the same drill with a ball sitting just off the outside corner of home plate. Now, STARE at that ball while you swing as hard as you can so that your head stays still and your NOSE points down at that baseball and NEVER MOVES forward away. Swing just as hard as you did before…and change nothing…Where was the sound? Over home plate you say? GREAT! Isn’t that where the ball is when you’re hitting? The sound is BESIDE YOUR BODY and over home plate instead of IN FRONT of your body in the batter’s box? A great example of this idea is this picture of Josh Hamilton.
He’s really focused BEHIND the ball with his vision, and his head will STAY there to finish off his extension.
Keep in mind, you’ll watch tv and see guys hitting home runs and ‘watching the ball leave the yard’ and you’ll think, Chas, those guys aren’t keeping their heads still. I’ll say two things do that:
First: Yes they are, INSIDE the swing they are motionless. The swing truly ends at full wrist snap and extension. So those guys are ‘finished’ before their swing finishes…because the early acceleration finishes their swing with no effort.
Robinson Cano keeping his head still DURING extension and AFTER the contact…once he finishes (at maximum wrist snap and extension) he will allow his head to raise. Do Not let your son/daughter raiser his or her head after contact…ever. It only leads to pre-contact problems and balance issues.
Second: Players at that level, the MLB level, who are on SportsCenter for hitting home runs and making millions of dollars, are literally IN CHARGE of what they’re doing on the field. The major league and minor league coaches I talk to about ‘suggestion’ instead of ‘teaching’. When a big leaguer gets a hit, he doesn’t pick up his first base coach…he watches the ball into the outfield and makes a decision on a single or a double. An example of this was Ryan Braun in the low minor leagues and hitting coaches. Those coaches were directly instructed NOT to talk to Ryan about hitting…let that sink in…Because the upper-level guys didn’t trust those low minor league level coaches to make adjustments to Ryan Braun’s swing. The only thing he WAS allowed to say to Ryan was, make sure you’re seeing the ball.
Another example of this was when Josh Hamilton broke his shoulder this year, he threw his coach under the bus for telling him that ‘no one was covering home.’ The Rangers backed the coach, after Josh complained about that being a ‘stupid decision’, and said it was actually Josh’s decision to go…This proves that the PLAYERS are truly the ones making the decisions on the field, as they are the 'valuable commodities' people pay to see. Most of the time, the only coach on the field who impacts a game is the third base coach, and even he, as in the Hamilton story, only 'suggests' what players should do on the field.
Now, after that slight tangent, I’m back to vision. Now, at Baseball Rebellion, we literally are ALWAYS looking for new and fun ways to teach kids to hit.
One way we did this was with our fun idea we affectionately call the HeadRight HeadLight. The HeadRight HeadLight forces kids to 'GET YOUR HEAD RIGHT' when they hit. We turn the lights off, so it’s pitch black dark, and we hit. How does that work? Well, we strap a light to the hitter’s head, above his nose, that we can angle down at a ball sitting on a tee. The light doesn’t ‘bend’ and the light doesn’t lie. If the hitter moves his head, the ball goes from ‘lit up’ to ‘dark’ and the hitter misses or miss-hits the baseball. Also, with this HeadRight HeadLight drill, the light once the ball leaves the tee, should be shining just above where the ball WAS sitting on the tee. This is true even AFTER the ball is gone.
We at Baseball Rebellion have done this crazy drill with kids as young as seven (they LOVED IT) as well as professional-level players. Now, I will say this, the pro guys looked at me like I was crazy, and maybe I am a little bit, but bottom line, once they did it even they were shocked at how much head movement they had before and after contact! One said 'you can’t argue with the light.' It’s either still…or it isn’t…the proof is right there. The more still the light, the more efficient and accurate the swing will be.
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