Monday, June 20, 2011

My Baseball Dad

Baseball is a big deal at our house.

It has been since I was a little boy.

No matter where we were going, the ball equipment always sat in the trunk of our car – at the ready – should we pass an empty ball diamond along the way. And if we did, the car pulled over to the side, the equipment bag came out of the trunk, and we would hold a quick infield practice.

That’s just how my Dad was.

He was an excellent coach – and his forte was teaching technique. Acquire the basic skill, and then master the technique.

The one break-through day I clearly remember was when Dad taught me how to charge a hard hit ground ball so that you catch it just as it hit the ground – taking the ball just as it came up – eliminating for the most part the possibility of the ball taking a bad bounce and going by you.

That advice really worked.

That was when I was eleven years old.

Up until then, I would simply sit back on the ground ball and snag it as it came by – most often with success – but that waiting time both allowed the runner to move further up first baseline meaning he would beat my throw more often.

After I learned that technique of Dad’s and mastered it as an eleven year old, I made the all star team at short stop or second base every year after. It made such a huge difference.

I see a lot of coaches teaching the principle of charging the ball these days, but they seem to forget the point of taking the ball on the short hop.

He also spent a lot of time teaching us the individual techniques of hitting, all those little things like the proper stance – spending hours positioning us at the plate – and how the timing of shifting your weight from your back foot to your front foot so that your bat strikes the ball at the exact moment your weight shifts – allowing you to hit the ball hard with your weight rather than with your arms – and how to snap your wrists right at the point of contact to optimize your leverage and transferring twice the power of your weight into the ball. All these individual points of technique that when put together with keeping your eye on the ball and being able to tell a strike from a ball as it leaves the pitchers hand – add up into one beautiful swing that hits line drives over the infield and perhaps over the outfield every time.

That was my Dad. He knew baseball. He coached baseball. And he coached coaches how to teach these advanced fundamentals.

But nothing really clicked for me until I turned eleven – when my muscle and hand-eye coordination started to really allow me to apply these techniques. Until then, I never really felt like I had control – control of the ball as I threw it like my Dad taught me – control of the heavy bat as I tried to move it through the plane of the swing – control of my feet and my body as I went back for a long fly ball looking over my shoulder and watching it all the way into the webbing of my glove.

At age eleven – I gained the coordination of the muscles in my body to do what I was thinking – and what I was thinking came all that training.

Now I am a Dad. Not nearly as good a Dad as my Dad when it comes to baseball – or softball – as Alannah and Ashley-Rae are nine and ten years old. But I am trying.

But next year, Alannah turns eleven. And I am hoping her muscle coordination “kicks in”.

Friday Night – the Turtle Club team they play for was facing Windsor West – at Mic Mac Park – under the lights for the first time ever. And the girls were excited – and the Windsor West team was a good team with decent pitching.

Alannah hit a line drive right to the girl playing short stop – who caught it. Later – with girls on second and third hit another line drive up the middle and scored two runs. As well, Ashley-Rae ran out a close play at first to be called safe.

Later, Alannah in right field (all players rotate positions each inning to be fair to all) – a hard line drive was hit up the first base line – just inside the bag – a fair ball – and Alannah took off to chase it down. As she reached the ball the runner was turning first and heading full speed for second – and Alannah picked that ball up with her bare hand and threw it on a rope to the second baseman Danielle – hitting her glove perfect as the base runner ran into her glove for an out.

It was great.

Our Turtle Club team lost that match 9-10. But it didn’t matter.

There are signs that both are on the verge of their coordination “kicking in”.

Dad would be so excited.

And now, just starting right now, we can start to carry that equipment bag in the car, and stop and hit ground balls and take batting practice and work on all of these techniques my Dad taught me.

At least that’s what I hope will happen. Like I said earlier, I’m not as good a Dad as my Dad was. And it’s harder with our schedules now to find the time to just have fun anymore.

I can’t find any time to play golf – but maybe baseball will be different.

That all being said – my Dad could be a tough coach – insisting that you try – and repeating the same things over and over again each time he slammed a ground ball …

Get up on balls of your feet and off your heels

Keep your head down on the ball … it won’t hurt you

Charge that ball harder and keep that glove down

And sometimes my brother Paul and I would get plain frustrated – and we would say mean things to him. And sometimes we quit.

But Dad always inspired us to get back out there and try even harder.

I don’t know how all that repetition and frustration will play out with Alannah and Ashley-Rae – but we will see. They’re good girls and they really do love softball and want to learn more … but they both get frustrated very easily. And they cry … girls cry. I don’t remember me and Paul crying playing ball. Maybe we did.

But Dad was patient. More patient than I think I am.

I’m not as good a Dad as my Dad was, you see.

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