Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Line Out

Over the past four season, I have learnt a lot about the game of baseball from coaches I have worked with. New drills, mechanics, warm-ups; all were a mystery to me when I first started coaching baseball. 

Coaching two national teams has exposed me to several of the better coaches in Israel, and one of the best I have worked with is Amit. Amit and I spent almost every Wednesday night together on the baseball diamond, running practices for our Young Cadet (13-15) national team. At 20, he knows more about the game then I have ever known, and is a considerably better player than I will ever be. 

Still, we got along well, and many of the things I learned from working with him I use in my team's practices. 

And now that I am playing baseball, I have integrated many of his lessons into my game. Like leadoffs, and head-first dives back to the bag. Most especially, I bring his hitting approach to each at bat. With no strikes, I am looking for one pitch, or I'm not swinging. As I get deeper into the count, my strike zone expands, from one pitch one spot to protecting the plate and shortening my swing to get the ball in play. 

Amit pitches for his team, and as luck would have it, our first two regular seaosn games were against his Tel Aviv team. He started the game behind the plate, and stayed there until the eighth, when he came in to try and hold a 3-2 lead with runners on second and third. The runners had already come in by the time I stepped to the plate, with a runner on first, two outs, and a 4-3 lead. 

Amit throws hard, harder then anyone I have seen so far, and it was no surprise when he struck me out for the second out of the inning. His pitches move around the plate, and for a rookie like me, getting the bat on the ball is no easy task. 

Which brought us to game two, played last night. This time, Amit was the starter, and by the time I got up to the plate, with one on and two outs in the bottom of the second, we were already losing 9-0. 

I stepped to the plate with a positive approach. He may throw hard, but I wasn't conceding the at bat. He might get me out, but he was going to have to earn it. The first pitch was a ball, low and outside. It's a tempting pitch to swing at; you think you can crush it, but it stays out of reach. The next pitch looked low, and I let it go, but the ump called strike one. He brought some high heat for the third pitch of the At Bat, and I swung badly, my worst swing of the night. 

With a 1-2 pitch coming up, I dug into the box, mentally prepared myself to protect the plate, and looked at the mound. He threw another fastball, toward the outside of the plate, and I swung. 

When you swing a bat at a thrown ball, you want to do more than make contact. You want to connect the fat part of the bat with the front of the ball. And when you make that kind of contact, it feels perfect. The bat, the ball, in perfect sync; the ball torpedoing off for hopefully a line drive hit.

And if you didn't guess yet, it was perfect. The ball shot off the bat down the first base line. The First baseman, who was standing on the line to hold the runner, didn't have to move to catch it. Three outs. End of the inning. End of a solid At Bat. 

Thursday, September 03, 2009


Over the past three years, I have attended well over 100 baseball practices. Morning practice, afternoon practice, night practice. I have woken up for 6 AM practices, and come home eafter 10 PM from the field from other practices. I have taken part in two a days, four hour sessions, and pitched thousands of baseballs in batting practice.

Tonight I went to another baseball practice, but for the first time ever, it was as a player, and not a coach. At 35, I have finally joined a team.

When I was a kid I wanted to play in the Oak Park little league. My parents did not want me to play then. Sometimes I was told that the sport was dangerous, other times the reason was Friday night games. Whatever the reason, instead of playing hard ball with the city little league I played soft ball in the shul league.

I have played, though. A few times. Pick up games. But I never imagined I get to play in a league, with umpires and team shirts and baseball pants and dugouts and all the other things that come with an official league. And then, a few weeks ago, while playing catch between two games of a double header in Arrezzo, I decided it was my turn to play. I was going to give up coaching the national team, and take one year to play baseball.

When I left to practice, my biggest fear was that I would embarrass myself. The fear was heightened when I saw some of the players at practice, including the 20-year old head coach who I went to Italy with last month.

I was worried that ground balls would go through my legs, that my throws would run wild, and all I would manage at the plate was a feeble ground ball, if I even made that much contact. Fortunately, none of that happened. There was some balls I should caught during infield drills, and some throws I need to put more mustard on to get them to third base, but overall, not very embarrassing. Even a few line drives to the outfield when I stepped up to the plate.

The guys on the team were great to hang out with, and I am looking forward to our first exhibition game on Tuesday, followed by our first regular season game on Thursday.

But before I do that, I have to get ready for Little League practice tomorrow.