Face it: The pitcher owns you. He knows what he's throwing and where it's going. You are guessing. Unless you magically acquire Nostradamus-like powers, you're going to be overmatched at the plate. Fear not, though, because Rob Walton, head coach of Oral Roberts University and skipper of the gold-winning U.S. National Team, is here to condition and discipline your mind to give you some batter's-box fortitude.
In the Dugout
• Keep your head in the game. Sounds simple, but it's easy to lose track of the game and start daydreaming about homework, your cool new video game, or the girl working the concession stand. If you pay attention, though, you can learn a lot about a pitcher's tendencies by watching your teammates' at-bats and by listening to in-game scouting reports gathered by coaches.
• Prey on the pitcher. According to Walton, pitchers are creatures of habit who will develop a pitch pattern during a game. Depending on the count, a pitcher will rely on a certain pitch an unscientific 90 to 95 percent of the time. For instance, if a pitcher is ahead in the count, there's a strong chance he's going to his best breaking pitch. If you pay attention and try to educate yourself as the game goes on, you will possess info that will become useful at the plate.
• Survey the field. If the outfield and infield are playing you away, then the pitcher may keep his pitches on the outer half of the plate. On the other hand, if the field is playing you for the pull, make note and try to slap the ball to the opposite field. Basically, hit 'em where they ain't.
• Take a cue. Notice if the pitcher spends extra time going into his glove, which might indicate he's getting a better grip for a breaking pitch. Walton's vast experience has taught him that obsessive-compulsive pitchers will leave their index finger in the glove for a fastball, but remove it if throwing a breaking pitch.
• Look fastball, adjust deuce. Walton preaches this philosophy, because a perfectly located fastball is the hardest pitch to hit. If you're guessing curve ball, there's less chance you'll be able to adjust quickly to a fastball. If you've discovered a pitcher's tendencies, can read his tells, or you have the signals down, then it's okay to expect a breaking ball and sit on it if it's in your zone. Also, for light-throwing pitchers, you might be able to look off-speed initially, but once you face a hurler topping 85 mph, you might see lots of K's next to your name in the scorebook.
• Focus. Walton suggests developing a focal point so your eyes aren't concentrated on a huge area. The emblem on the pitcher's cap is a great target to gaze at before the release, because it's a small area. Shifting your eyes from emblem to release will relieve any "magic eye picture" blurriness you might encounter and help you locate the ball more quickly.
• Pull the trigger. Depending on how hard the pitcher is throwing, use his motion to time and trigger your stride length. Walton recommends getting some motion going before the ball comes out of the hurler's hand so you can stride upon seeing the pitch.
• Dig in and be patient. Walton emphasizes keeping your nose in the zone as long as possible without losing your balance. In addition to digging into the pitch, remain patient and try to look for an elevated pitch in the zone that you can rip. Remember, you have three strikes to work with. If a pitcher is painting the corners, don't get stressed about it and chase balls out of your hitting zone. Make a pitcher repeat his pitches and prove that he can consistently jam you inside or freeze you on the outer part of the plate. In most cases, a high school or collegiate pitcher will make a mistake and leave a ball hanging out over the plate—and when he does, capitalize on it.
For more training tips from the pros, check out the Baseball Channel on STACKTV.
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