WHAT IS YOUR DEMEANOR LIKE IN THE DUGOUT?
By Coach Alex Shapiro
After coaching at the high school level for four seasons, the ultimate conclusion I have made is that I have learned more as a coach than I ever did as a player. I make it a personal responsibility to teach and coach in a way that allows my players to learn the things I did not, or perhaps just did not grasp, because I played on great teams with great coaches. One thing I have asked myself is, if I was not on the field as a part of the starting nine, what was my demeanor like in the dugout and on the bench? Did I wish for others to fail in hopes for an opportunity to step up and succeed in their place? Was I engaged in what was happening in the game, or on the bench pouting? While I would like to say the completely honest answer to those questions is “no”, the reality is, I am completely sure I was guilty of doing some of these things throughout my playing career.
The most recent #PitchingChat covered a variety of “little things” coaches look for in players on their teams. Hustle, commitment, how players respond to feedback when it is given, just to name a few. Many chimed in about how players are on the bench and what the climate is like in the dugout. It is imperative that players assume responsibility for their demeanor in the dugout and on the bench. All coaches want their players to experience success and players need to comprehend that how they conduct themselves can directly contribute to what opportunities they may or may not receive. We can also come to the consensus that some players will receive more playing time than others, but if you are a player who wants more of it, you must first ask yourself what “little things” you can do to improve those chances.
When a game starts, there are two situations: a player who is starting, and a player who is not. Players who read the starting lineup and learn that they are not in it have two choices they can make. The first one is to find a spot on the bench, slouch down in it, wait for the last out to be made and go home. Before pointing fingers at other players for the mistakes they are making and thinking, “Oh, I would have made that play…”, or criticizing the coach for playing favorites, you might want to ask if you would put yourself out there with your teammates based on your actions, not just playing ability. The answer to that question should be obvious. Your coaches, teammates, and hopefully your parents, will pick up on it. If that is the choice a player makes, it just confirms the coach’s decision not to play him!
The second choice is to be engaged, energetic, enthusiastic and ready to play at any moment. As a coach, when I pull out my lineup card to contemplate making substitutions, I analyze the demeanor of bench players throughout that particular game. If I see a guy who has been active throughout the game, picking his teammates up, warming up an outfielder and chasing down foul balls, then I am more inclined to throw him some innings in the field or some at-bats when the opportunity presents itself as opposed to a player who has not got up off the bench at all. To help get bench players active, I encourage all of them to “go get” teammates — get up off the bench, pick a new teammate every time, and give him a high five, pat on the back, compliment a play he made, etc.—in between innings as they are coming off of the field. As a result, their teammates will want them to succeed when they get their chances to contribute!
Let’s flip the script: say you are a player who does indeed have a spot in the starting nine. You may have received this spot based on your playing ability, but your character, not talent alone, will keep you there. If you are a player who hangs your head after making a mistake, does not hustle on and off of the field, throws equipment, does not run out ground balls or pop ups, then you cannot be surprised when you have found yourself getting comfortable on the bench in favor of perhaps a less talented player who does not put these types of actions on display for everyone In attendance to witness. Maybe you are a player who receives a lot of playing time and is not necessarily having the best game out on the diamond that day. Guess what? You can still help your team compete and win by staying energetic and engaged in the dugout, and encouraging your teammates to do the same, when not on the field or up to bat. Coaches love this type of player because it shows that they put the success of the team over their personal performance.
Once again, another benefit of #PitchingChat has become more than clear to me: coaches sharing ideas with one another in effort to improve their abilities to do their jobs effectively and make their teams and programs better as a result. I am certain that many topics discussed in this article are “little things” that we, as coaches, recognize as integral parts of any team. What we can do from here is make it known, assure and reinforce that every member of the team, whether it is the starting shortstop or the foul ball chaser, has a role that it is important and can take it a step further by doing these “little things”, which as we all know, can add up to VERY BIG THINGS, for both the players and the team!
By: Alex Shapiro
On Sunday nights around 9 PM, I look forward to getting on Twitter. In fact, there are times where I set an alarm on my phone to remind me to do so. I probably sound like most teenagers in America as they are on social media quite frequently, as am I, but something in particular about getting on Twitter at this time allows me to become involved in an event that enhances my ability to do something I am very passionate about and love to do: coach baseball. What might I ever be talking about that involves coaching baseball, 9 o’clock on Sunday nights, and Twitter? The answer to that question is described by a hashtag: #PitchingChat.
The Shenandoah Valley is a great place to live with a great history. You are never too far from a Civil War landmark, an exciting festival or thriving small businesses. Things in the Valley tend to move a little slower and seem a bit more relaxed. The times may change and the people may come and go, but the history remains. One tradition in the Valley is the greatest game ever played: baseball. From amateur to professional, baseball fans in the Shenandoah Valley have always had their choice of baseball games to watch and teams of which to root. The Shenandoah Valley and baseball have become intertwined throughout history. There have been at least twenty semi-professional baseball leagues in the Shenandoah Valley since the game of baseball was invented. This is proof that the people of the Shenandoah Valley love this game. I chose to expand on the two most well-known and local leagues: The Valley Baseball League and the Rockingham County Baseball League. These two leagues represent the Shenandoah Valley and all of its history and perseverance through tough times.
Every year it seems valuable arms, both young and old, are lost for an extended amount of time and sometimes, entire seasons. This year is no different with Jarrod Parker, Kris Medlen, Brandon Beachy, and Patrick Corbin out for the season after undergoing Tommy John surgery. Josh Johnson is out four to six weeks with a forearm strain, Anibal Sanchez has missed time this spring and Yu Darvish will now start the year on the DL with stiffness in his neck. All of these injuries certainly affect the short term and long term futures of their respective organizations. These injuries make you wonder why they occur and whether more could be done to prevent injuries?
The pitching motion is the fastest and most violent of all movements in sports. Preventing injuries to pitchers is impossible, but this amount of injuries at this point in the season is downright strange. Is it possible these pitchers were just doomed to be hurt? This isn’t the first TJ surgery for Medlen, Beachy, or Parker, and it seems Josh Johnson misses substantial time every season. Something is definitely not right and I have a few ideas as to what may be underlying causes of these injuries.
I’ll start with the evolution of long toss programs. I, personally, am not a fan. A recent study by Dr. Glenn Fleisig and Dr. James Andrews of the ASMI confirmed that the “greatest amount of shoulder external rotation, elbow flexion, shoulder internal rotation torque, and elbow varus torque were measured during the maximum-distance throws. Elbow extension velocity was also greatest for the maximum-distance throws. Forward trunk tilt at the instant of ball release decreased as throwing distance increased.” [Here is the link to the article: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21212502]
In plain English, maximum distance throws put a higher strain on the elbow and shoulder joints and can alter a pitcher’s mechanics. This alteration usually leaves the shoulder and elbow to pick up the slack because the body isn’t aligned the way it should be. Since the shoulder and/or elbow have to take on even more stress during this already stressful activity, disaster can strike easily. The San Diego Padres, for example, are a long toss organization. It has been a part of their pitchers’ training for a few years now. They have also had a rash of pitchers needing major shoulder or Tommy John surgery including: Tim Stauffer (shoulder), Dustin Moseley (shoulder), Clayton Richard (shoulder), Cory Luebke (TJ, twice), Casey Kelly (TJ), and Jason Marquis (TJ). The Texas Rangers (another long toss organization) under Nolan Ryan, have had several of their pitchers go down with major injuries including: Colby Lewis, Neftali Feliz, Alexi Ogando, Derek Holland and Matt Harrison. Are the two related? There is no way to be sure but the timing is rather coincidental.
Another possible hypothesis is just how much these pitchers throw. For the most part, these guys are throwing every single day from January through September and possibly late into October. That is hundreds of thousands of throws. The arm can only take so much and everyone has a breaking point. The shoulder and elbow joints can only handle so much stress before something gives out or tears. Some pitchers may not be throwing full intensity until they arrive at spring training in early March but the sudden workload can prove to be a bit excessive. Perhaps if teams proceed with a bit more caution and allow pitchers to increase their workload at their own pace, the sudden workload wouldn’t be so dramatic. Also, instituting a longer rest/recovery period after the season may help save some of young arms like Medlen or Parker. With so many young pitchers already on innings limits, it is surprising that teams haven’t taken it a step further and forced the young pitchers or even all pitchers to stop throwing until later dates.
One final idea floating around about why guys like Parker and Medlen are once again going under the knife is a lack of focus on actually pitching. Pitchers nowadays seem to be built in a gym, or baseball warehouse, lifting massive weights and throwing around medicine balls. While these can be great tools to condition the body, it’s not the same thing as actually pitching. The Principle of Specificity states simply that what you do is what you get. If you are doing something you wouldn’t do in a game, the carryover will be minimal, if at all. (Here’s a link discussing the Principle of Specificity if you want more information: How the Specificity Principle Applies to Sports Training) This generation’s pitchers are much bigger and stronger than previous generations. Adding more muscle puts a higher strain on the ligaments and tendons in the body and can restrict range of motion. With more muscle pulling on the tendons and ligaments, the stress increases. It is possible pitchers like Patrick Corbin, Brandon Beachy, and others went all out in the weight room this winter and their new bodies couldn’t handle the demands that pitching sequence has on the body. Their hips and shoulders become tighter and less limber, which hinders performance and puts a strain on the muscles to perform. This is also a likely cause for the numerous minor muscle tweaks, pulls, and inflammations that pitchers tend to experience in the spring. Pitchers show up in March in great physical shape but not in shape to pitch, and their bodies have to adjust accordingly.
Obviously, injuries are a part of the game and always will be. There are a multitude of factors in play every time a pitcher picks up a ball. Perhaps it was dumb luck that several of baseball’s best young arms will miss the season, or perhaps there’s a reason for it. Teams invest millions of dollars into pitchers and it becomes a lottery of whether they will stay healthy. It doesn’t have to be this way. There are solutions to these problems and with a little more research and open-mindedness from players, coaches, and front-office personnel, it could happen. Injuries are going to happen, but the health and safety of these young arms should be more protected than they are now.