When the younger guys take to the field in the spring and summer, there is bound to be one game in their season when strange things happen.
I was coaching some 10-12 year-olds. We were in first place by a couple of games in our division. That didn’t give us much room for mistakes.
We had a game on a Tuesday night, and I decided to start my #3 pitcher. He had worked hard, and deserved to be out there on the mound.
For those not familiar with pitching, let me give you a short lesson to show you it is more complicated than it looks. Pitching varies somewhat depending on the age of the player.
In our age group of 10-12, our left handed pitcher could sweep a slider across the plate 12 inches from left to right. On a good night, he could get 14 or 15 inches depending on the rotation of the ball. A tight rotation meant more movement. His curve on a 12 to 6 (hands of the clock) was good enough to have the batters timing off. Because of those two pitches, his fastball did not have to be extreme as long as it was at least 10 mph faster than the other two pitches. A couple of years before this left hander had thrown a no-hitter, and struck out 16 of the 18 batters. That particular night he had a scurve working, which is a combination of a slider and a curve. The ball would break about a foot left to right as it came across the plate, and drop about 6 inches as well.
You’re always concerned about a kid blowing out his arm before he gets into some serious baseball, but a left hander’s natural throw produces some curve, and the danger is less than with a right handed pitcher.
Our other right handed pitcher had a good fast ball, and a devastating changeup that was much slower than his fastball. You could almost eat a bowl of ice cream from the time he released it to the time it crossed home plate. The batter just didn’t know exactly when to swing at it.
Our #3 pitcher, a right hander, had a decent fastball, but his changeup was only about 5 mph slower than his fastball. The minimum for effectiveness is at least 10 MPH. I had to constantly remind him to make enough of a difference between the two pitches. Also he needed to change the level or plane of the ball, so that the batter didn’t know what level his bat should be at when he swung.
I guess he had game jitters, because the other team blasted him from the start. His fastball and changeups were about the same speed, and he was coming in at the level where the batters were holding their bats. I went out to talk to him, and tried to correct his problems. I didn’t want to take him out, because he would lose all confidence in himself, for not only baseball, but for other encounters in his life.
At the end of two innings in a six inning game, we were between 10-0. The rest of our team was not happy that I left him in there.
Somehow in the 3rd inning he started bringing the heat as they call it (throwing a good fastball) and his changeup couldn’t be hit. Exactly where that came from, I’m not sure. I suppose the ultra-hyper in the beginning turned into the correct adrenalin. The other team didn’t score.
The pitcher on the other team had a very good fastball and a very good changeup. We just weren’t hitting the mix of the two. But sometimes ballplayers get ideas in their heads they shouldn’t, and in the bottom of the 3rd inning, he, for some reason, thought he had the greatest fastball in the world. Or as some said in that day, he fell in love with his fastball. He abandoned the changeup, and went with his fastball only. When our guys knew there was a fastball only coming, they could hit it. We scored two runs in the bottom of the 3rd.
Our pitcher shut them down again in the 4th, and as we came to bat, the coach and the catcher on the other team were out on the mound arguing with their pitcher. Their pitcher was bullheaded though, and started to throw harder, which made him erratic, and he started walking some of our batters. Then he had to slow his pitches in order to get the ball across the plate, and our guys teed off on it. I don’t remember the number of hits we got that inning, but we scored 9 runs, which gave us the lead 11-10.
The next two innings, I thought our pitcher was Nolan Ryan, because in some instances their batters were swinging and missing the ball by a foot.
I’d like to say I had everything to do with winning that game, but to be honest with you, I had nothing to do with it. The team, including our #3 pitcher, took it on themselves to win the game, and they did.
I, or the fellow who helped me coach that year, didn’t have to say another encouraging word the rest of the season. We won the championship when we beat the team in the other division.
Coach Bryant always said there are six or seven plays in a football game that decides who wins the game, and you have to be ready because you don’t know when those six or seven plays will happen. What he didn’t have to say is that sometimes if you win that deciding factor and the game, it carries over the rest of the season.
Baseball’s a little different, but the principle is the same. Our pitcher came to life in the third inning, our players saw that, and they came to life. That not only won the game, but won the rest of the season for us.
And most importantly, our team had respect for our #3 pitcher, and in turn for themselves. That is something Coach Bryant would have been most proud of.