Hello Fastpitch fans,
"Bring a swimming suit and a snowmobile suit," is a good advice for anyone planning on visiting Wisconsin.
Saturday will mark the end of the third week of the 2022 WIAA high school softball season. I was a head coach in the state for 42 consecutive years. There were quite a few years like the one everyone is experiencing so far in this campaign. The coaches and players statewide are finding out what the programs north of Highway 29 experience every year and those north of Highway 8 have it even worse, year in and year out. That's why Brian Phelps, and I started what we called the Northwoods Jamboree about 8 years ago or so. I offered our fields in Poynette to teams from the northern third of the state on the first Saturday of April. Those teams arrived and took the field with that being the first time they'd been on a field at all. They came straight out of their gymnasium.
So now most of you have been cooped up in yoru gym or field house for three weeks. What do you do to create some excitement at those practices?
For many years we'd work on situations in the gymnasium using a plastic ball with holes in it similar to a wiffle ball but one with lots of holes like a modern pickle ball.
I built a plastic bat and ball stadium in my back yard back in 2000. After having played some plastic bat and ball games at Rookies Bar and Grill between Black Earth and Mazomanie we learned that the bases there were a bit too close together to stand a real chance of throwing out a runner from third or shortstop. We paced off the distance to be somewhere around 30-33 feet.
When playing in PE classes I taught we set our throw down bases 37 feet apart. We found that the timing mirrored the timing in an actual fastpitch game.
I always felt that putting players in their positions and using ghost runners was a good way to get people thinking about what they'd do if the ball was hit to them. In the long run however, I chose to do away with the ghost runner deal and use real runners in real situations. When an instructor tells the defense where the runners are when there really are not any runners out there it does work. I did it myself but I believe it's an imaginary practice, sort of like shadow boxing. A teacher might say, "OK, bottom of the 7th, tie game, runner at third and less than two outs. They wait a few seconds to let the defenders think about things then hit the ball to somebody and see how they handle the situation. We did that but when we use actual runners and set the play up the defense now must act and react in a heartbeat.
Scrimmaging in the gym with a plastic ball with bases at 37 feet is like playing a game of fastpitch when there are no strikeouts or just a few in a real game. That means the defense has to win the game for you. When defenses have to win games, those games are filled with crucial situations. It works both ways too. The players in the field act and react and so do the players that are batting and running bases. We almost always told the batters that they had two strikes on them when they entered the batter's box. We figured it was a great way to work on hitting with two strikes. Even when outside on a real field with a real ball most of our live situations found our batters entering the box with two strikes on them.
We didn't teach a second method of batting with two strikes. that meant that we didn’t' have any "choke and pokers." Our kids were accustomed to batting with two strikes on them. We just told them to hit it hard somewhere and hit it high if they could.
Year in and year out our statistics showed that an extremely high percentage of our extra base hits occurred with two strike on our hitters.
So tomorrow when you are forced back into the gymnasium because the jet stream is controlling your outdoor practice, think about dropping down some rubber bases and have at a live-ball scrimmage.
Have a great day!
Keep it Rising!