Method and madness of going to bat
Jared Lang | Highlands TodayI've often heard people say that baseball is the most boring sport.
Published: August 8, 2012
Published: August 8, 2012
"How can you watch this?" they ask. "All they do is hit the ball and run while everyone else just stands around!"
Baseball is, however, a very intellectual game. Anyone that's ever played baseball will agree that it is a more mental game than physical. Even in the Major Leagues, players have pregame rituals that they do unfailingly because it puts their minds at ease. This aspect of the game is enormously important and often overlooked. The constant battles inside the minds of baseball players are the real show during each game.
The batter's approach begins long before he steps to the plate. Years and years of drills have molded a streamlined swing which is the same every time. Thousands of repetitions have honed the batter's eyes so that telling the difference between a ball and a strike is only natural. Batters study their pitchers. They know their tendencies, strengths and weaknesses.
On game day, this analysis of the pitcher takes on a whole new level. From the first pitch of the game, each player is examining their teammates' at-bats looking for patterns. Is he throwing mostly first pitch fastballs? Curveballs? Second pitch? Third? Each at-bat is a chess game and any little advantage could lead to checkmate.
While on deck, the batter must continue this inquiry, while simultaneously getting their timing down. You don't get any practice swings at the plate so this chance to see the pitcher close up is very valuable. The batter before you could battle the pitcher for a few minutes, or he could hit the first pitch, so preparation is imperative.
The long walk to the plate is followed by a brief look to your coach. After deciphering the signs and a quick nod, it's time. Stepping into the box can be an intricate routine filled with rituals or ticks.
For some reason, baseball players are a superstitious group. Former All-Star and future Hall of Famer Nomar Garciaparra used to unstrap and restrap his batting gloves for a painstakingly long time before each at-bat. David Ortiz of the Boston Red Sox always puts his bat under his arm and spits on his gloves, then claps. Every single player has a unique routine they follow whether it's very noticeable like these, or subtle, like tapping the plate with the bat.
With both of the batter's feet firmly in the clay, the catcher gives the sign to the pitcher. It could be a fastball, curveball, slider, change-up, knuckle-ball or many other choices. A pitcher uses all of these pitches to throw off the batter's most important ally: timing. When a batter is used to seeing fastballs, a much slower curveball forces him to adjust his swing while the pitch is in the air. On average, a pitch takes less than half a second to get from the pitcher's hand to the catcher's glove. This leaves even less time to see the ball, adjust the swing and execute.
As the pitcher starts his wind up, the batter tries to do something that seems impossible: clear his mind. All his preparation has led up to this and now he just needs to see the ball, and react. His trained eyes identify the pitch and muscle memory brings his bat to the ball. A mighty swing delivers an audible gasp from the stands. Everyone watching admires the batter's impeccable swing as the wind from the bat gently rolls off of the catcher's face.