By: Paul Bennett-August 3, 2008
I’m sure everyone reading this article has had numerous people throughout their life emphasize to them the importance of hard work. Whether it’s a coach, teacher, parent, or mentor- hard work a is pillar of principle for all areas of life. It was ingrained in me from the time I was 5 or 6 years old and it has benefited me in many ways through the course of life.
Baseball is a “nose to the grindstone” kind of sport where grit and determination can often make up for talent and ability in more ways than one. However, one of the things that (I feel) is often lost on students, players, and young people is the importance working with a plan or, as I’ve heard it called- practicing with a purpose.
Formulating a plan is always a good idea, and the same principle applies to practicing baseball. Your goal every time you step on the field- whether for game or practice- should be to have fun getting better. That’s the beauty of baseball, there’s so much to the game that you can constantly learn and improve upon.
That said, going into the cage and hitting 100 balls off the tee isn’t a guarantee that you’re going to get better. It certainly won’t hurt, but there are ways to make those swings far more efficient. Instead of just swinging until your hands hurt, packing up your things and thinking that your work is done; why not divide those swings up and work on different areas of your swing?
Hit 25 balls to the opposite field, 25 up the middle, 25 to your pull side; and with the last 25, focus on the area of your hitting that is the weakest. This way you’ve formulated a plan, identified a weakness and covered all of the different areas of your swing path. This is just a small example, but maybe you’re starting to see exactly what I’m talking about.
Too often, as humans, we go about our daily routines just marching through the motions. If you have dreams of playing baseball at the next level (whatever level that might be for you) then you don’t want to just “go through the motions.”
Whether it’s summer baseball camp, AAU, USSSA, high school practice, or college fall workouts, pinpoint something in your mind each day that you want to get better at. Listen to your coaches when they talk to you about your game. Take those pieces of advice, think of ways you can improve, and then integrate them into your daily routine. If you struggle with the inside pitch, move the tee closer to you and practice hitting the ball out in front. If you want to improve your range in the field, batting practice is a great time to get jumps on fly balls and good reads on ground balls. If you want to improve your pop times, have someone fire balls into your catcher’s mitt and work on your transfers. These are just some small examples that might get you thinking in the right direction.
Finally, never underestimate the value of scaling down your practice. In other words, sometimes it might be tough for you to focus on your own areas of improvement in large, team practices. Don’t be afraid to go out to the field by yourself and set up a net or bucket to work on throwing accuracy or double play feeds. Get a buddy out to the field with you and take turns flipping some balls to each other in the cage. Long toss with your Dad or brother (it doesn’t matter if they have to bounce it back to you).
Two stories I’ll leave you with, both might be the baseball version of urban legends but they still hold great lessons. I’ve heard that Billy Wagner used to take a couple of baseballs out into the field by his house, get loose, and then throw them as far as he could. When he had thrown all his baseballs, he jogged after them and threw them right back- he did it for hours, now he throws 96 MPH. I also have heard that Khalil Greene used to dump a bucket of baseballs on the grass part of the infield at Clemson and practiced making running bare-hand plays. Both of them knew what they needed to get better at, so they went out and practiced with a purpose!
Enjoy the game and everything that comes with it!
About the author: Paul Bennett is in his third season as a member of the Atlanta Braves minor league system. He is presently playing for AAA Richmond after stops in AA Mississippi and hi-A Myrtle Beach. Bennett was a 2006 graduate and a four-year letter winner at Elon University. He prepped at Charlotte Christian High School and played two years with the South Carolina Diamond Devils.