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CATCHING-101The Complete Guide for Baseball Catchers
By XAN BARKSDALE
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2011 Xan Barksdale
All right reserved.
Catching, in my opinion, is the most fun position on the baseball field. You're in the action on every play of the game and have a lot to do with your team's success. A good catcher can help a team win games, while a poor catcher can assist in giving away valuable runs. As fun as playing catcher is, it is also probably the most difficult position on the field. Catchers have more skills to master than any other position player; they must be able to receive, block, throw, field bunts and pop flies, handle pass balls and wild pitches, and make plays at the plate, just to name a few!
As exciting as catching can be, it is often overlooked because there is not a lot of quality information about the position. My goal in this book is to provide you with excellent information that will help you better understand catching and will teach you drills and mechanics to help take your game to the next level. This book should be used in conjunction with my website www.Catching101.com. There are several free videos and articles posted on the website that go hand in hand with the topics covered in this book and they should be viewed to help you understand the drills and mechanics that we will cover. Referencing these videos and articles will help you fully understand every topic covered in this book. I am constantly adding new videos that are related to all aspects of catching, so be sure to check the website often for updates.
If you search your local libraries and the Internet, you will find more books on hitting and pitching that anyone could ever read, but you won't find many sources of quality information about catching. I hope to change that situation with this book!
Having played baseball at almost every level, from Little League to professional baseball, I've learned many tips and tricks along the way that I want to share with you. I have been blessed to have had a lot of success playing baseball. Now I find my joy in sharing what I have learned with players who have a thirst for knowledge. I love coaching, but I especially love coaching catchers!
I began my coaching career at the University of Louisville in the fall of 2006 after retiring from a career in professional baseball with the Atlanta Braves. In my first season with the Louisville Cardinals, we finished sixth in the country with the school's first ever trip to the College World Series at Rosenblatt Stadium in Omaha, Nebraska.
I grew up in Madison, Mississippi where I started to develop a love for the game of baseball at the age of four. I played my first season as a catcher when I was seven years old, and that's when my love for catching began. I then continued to play Little League baseball and travel baseball until I began high school.
My high school career was played at Madison-Ridgeland Academy (MRA) from 1997 to 2000. While at MRA, I earned All-Conference honors and was selected as a Mississippi state All-Star. I was also a member of the National Honor Society and graduated with honors in May of 2000.
I then continued my education at Holmes Community College in Goodman, MS while playing baseball for the Bulldogs under coach Kenny Dupont. At HCC I continued to learn the game of baseball while earning an Associate's degree in Engineering in
May of 2002. I was also a member of Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society.
After playing at HCC, I pursued my bachelor's degree at the University of Mississippi (Ole Miss) and played for coach Mike Bianco. The Rebels were ranked as high as fourth in the country during my time there, and we hosted the school's first NCAA Regional in 2004. After my senior season, I signed a free agent contract with the Atlanta Braves.
After my first professional season with the Atlanta Braves, I returned to school to complete my bachelor's degree. In May 2005 I was awarded a Business Administration degree from the University of Mississippi, with an emphasis in Marketing and a minor in Math. I was also a member of Phi Sigma Pi National Honor Fraternity.
From 2004 to 2006, I wore a Braves uniform and spent time playing in the Gulf Coast League, Appalachian League, South Atlantic League, and the Carolina League.
In 2006 I decided to retire from playing professional baseball in order to pursue a coaching career. I was offered my first coaching position by coach Dan McDonnell, who had been an assistant coach on staff during my time at the University of Mississippi.
I have spoken at camps, clinics, and conventions all over the country. I was also honored as a guest speaker at the 2011 American Baseball Coaches Association (ABCA) national convention in Nashville, TN, where I spoke on the topic "Preparing Catchers for Success." I have also developed the Catcher's Thumb product and the Catcher's Performance Summary application for the iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch.
With the right information and a strong work ethic, you can become a better catcher and help your team win games. The knowledge without the work ethic will not make you a better baseball player. I encourage you to diligently practice and apply the ideas and skills covered in this book. Combining this new knowledge with hard work, you will reach your full potential as a catcher. By reading this book you will give yourself an edge on the competition and the knowledge that you need to succeed. It is your job to apply the principles covered in this book into a disciplined practice routine.
When it comes to equipment, players have a lot of choices, and it can sometimes be overwhelming trying to choose the best equipment. It's important to remember that there is no one particular right brand or style of equipment. You should choose your equipment based on what you like and what is comfortable to you, not what you see guys wearing on TV.
Catchers' equipment should fit correctly and be comfortable to wear. There are a lot of youth catchers wearing the wrong size equipment, and it puts them at a higher risk of injury than those who have equipment that fits properly. Parents wouldn't let their sons run onto a football field with shoulder pads and helmets that don't fit, yet many youth catchers wear equipment that is way too big or too small. All catchers' equipment should fit snugly on the body, but shouldn't be so tight as to restrict movement. When equipment fits too loosely, it tends to shift around and leave areas exposed that should be covered. Imagine how much more violent a car accident would be if a seat belt was loose instead of tight fitting! The same principle holds true for catchers' gear, so be careful when selecting your equipment. Whether we're talking about a helmet, a chest protector, shin guards, or any other piece of equipment, we want it to fit snugly on the body and be comfortable.
Arguably our most important piece of equipment, our mitt should be considered one of our tools, just like a painter's brushes. When it comes to choosing a mitt, there are many options, so choose one based on your own personal preference. Some catchers like large mitts, while others prefer smaller ones. There is no right or wrong answer here as long as you like the mitt you use. A common misconception is that a mitt with a smaller pocket will help catchers get rid of the ball more quickly when throwing to a base, and that just plain isn't true. Throwing base stealers out has a lot to do with the pitcher, the runner, our quickness, and our mechanics; it does not have to do with the mitt. It's funny, but a lot of players will blame their glove when they miss a ball, but I've never seen a player praise his glove when he makes a great play!
The best advice I would give players looking for a new mitt is to go to a sporting goods store, try on a few mitts, and maybe even play a game of catch in the store, if possible. This is the only way to determine if you like the mitt or not. Do not choose your mitt based on what your favorite player is wearing or on color, but on what feels good on your hand.
Some catchers choose to keep their index finger outside of their mitt. This will, essentially, add an extra layer of padding to your mitt, which might be beneficial when there is a hard-throwing pitcher on the mound. This doesn't come without risks, though. Leaving our index finger outside of our mitt could make us more vulnerable to an injury, particularly when blocking. If we are late turning our mitt over to cover the five hole (we will discuss this more in the Blocking chapter), our index finger could be hit by the ball. The odds of this happening aren't very great, but if it does happen, it could be a season-ending injury.
If you comb through the Internet, you will read about people putting different substances on their mitts to help break them in or to condition the leather. I'm not going to say that these don't work, but I believe the best way to break in a mitt is the good old-fashioned way: by playing catch with it a lot! Some of the oils and lotions can cause a mitt to get heavy over time. The tried and true method of playing catch may take a little longer to break in a mitt, but it will never cause your mitt to get heavy.
One suggestion for adding to the life of your mitt is to take excellent care of it. Whenever you're done with a practice or game, don't throw your mitt in the bottom of your bag and let it lose the shape you've worked so hard to form. Always try to keep a ball or two in the pocket and place the mitt on top of your other equipment so it won't get smashed in the bottom of your bag. Also, when you're playing catch before a practice or game and you have to set your mitt on the ground, place it with the pocket facing down so that it will stand up. Paying attention to minor details like this may help extend the life of your mitt over the course of a few seasons.
Another good idea is to have a rain mitt for days when the weather doesn't want to cooperate. I recommend that everyone who has the resources always have a backup mitt that can be used when it is rainy or muddy, or when their primary mitt has a broken lace. There is no reason to use your brand-new mitt when it is muddy outside if you don't have to.
There are two different styles of headgear to choose from: the traditional two-piece mask, consisting of a skull cap and face mask, and the one-piece mask, or hockey-style mask. You will have to check your league's rules to determine if the traditional two-piece mask is allowed in your league because many leagues require a one-piece mask at the time of this writing.
Like all your equipment, your helmet should be chosen because it does a good job of protecting you and is comfortable, not because of cosmetics. The helmet should fit the player snugly and not move around when the player moves his head.
There are a few main things to look for when choosing a helmet:
Visibility: You will want to choose a helmet that allows you to clearly see the pitcher, the ball, and the playing field. Some masks have more bars, which may provide durability but offer less vision. Make sure you can see clearly out of the mask you choose.
Durability: You will want your helmet to withstand foul tips as well as more dangerous plays like getting hit by a batter's backswing or a collision at home plate. Think about these potential plays when choosing your helmet.
Weight: Wearing a heavier mask will be less comfortable than a wearing a lighter one, but it may be more durable. I have the same recommendation for helmets as I do for mitts: go into a sporting goods store and try a few on before buying one.
A common complaint about the traditional two-piece mask is that the face mask keeps slipping off the skull cap. A tip to help you prevent this situation is to put pine tar on the back of your helmet to make it sticky. It will help keep the face mask from slipping off and will also make it easier to put it on with one hand.
Of all our equipment, chest protectors are probably the one piece most often worn incorrectly, especially by younger players! Chest protectors should fit snugly so they keep you protected, but if they're worn too tightly, it might cause a blocked ball to ricochet farther away. We have to find a happy medium so that the chest protector stays where we want it without being too tight.
A lot of younger players wear their chest protector so loose that it sags too low and doesn't cover their collarbone. It is important that we keep our collarbones covered so that a foul tip or a blocked ball won't hit them. It is more important to cover them than our belly. If a ball were to hit us in the belly, it probably wouldn't feel great, but we also probably wouldn't suffer an injury other than a bruise. If a ball were to hit us in the collarbone, however, we could have a broken bone, which would require us to seek medical attention and most likely miss a significant number of games. If you're having a hard time getting your chest protector to stay where you want it, try using athletic tape to keep the straps from accidentally moving.
We want to have our chest protector fit tightly enough so that it doesn't move around, but we would like to have a slight air pocket between our chest protector and our body. This air pocket will absorb some of the shock from a blocked ball and will keep the ball closer to us, which in turn will help prevent runners from attempting to advance on a blocked ball.
Some chest protectors offer firm padding, while others are much softer. This is a personal preference, just like all of our equipment choices are. Players who wear the softer chest protectors argue that the softer padding absorbs the shock of a blocked ball and prevents it from bouncing farther away, while advocates of firmer padding believe that it offers more protection. It's hard to argue with either of these opinions. You will have to decide for yourself what is more important to you: firmer padding for more protection or softer padding to keep blocked balls closer to your body.
A supportive cup is not an optional piece of equipment for catchers. One should be worn at every practice and game. Catchers are at a higher risk of injury than any other player, and this is not a piece of equipment you want to forget. Plain and simple-do not EVER catch without one!
Shin guards offer leg protection from foul tips, runners sliding into home, and even the repeated motion of blocking balls in the dirt or the delivery of throwing the ball back to the pitcher from our knees. An uncomfortable set of shin guards that fit incorrectly can cause unnecessary bruises on our knees.
When choosing which shin guards to wear, make sure they are the correct length. They are not one size fits all but come in many different styles and sizes. Make sure that your knee fits snugly into the knee cup at the top of the shin guards and the bottom side flaps cover your ankles. Most adult shin guards offer two or three additional sections that cover the thigh just above the knee. They will provide additional protection from balls when we are on our knees in the blocking position.
Some youth shin guards have Velcro straps on them, but most are secured by a hook and loop. When putting on the shin guards, be sure to have the hooks on the outside of your legs. You should have a designated left and right shin guard, and they should always be worn on the same legs. This is to prevent the hooks from coming undone and hooking on each other, causing us to trip. If we fall down when we are running to back up first base, we will probably get a good laugh out of the dugout, but we will also be incapable of retrieving an overthrown ball.
Many catchers will cross the straps on the back of their shin guards. This doesn't provide any real advantage to strapping them straight across. It is simply personal preference. If, however, you think it looks cool to have the straps crossed, go for it!
I always suggest wearing baseball pants when you are catching because the straps on the shin guards can irritate or scratch the back of your knees if you're wearing shorts. If you are catching with shorts, though, you can help prevent some irritation by hooking a few of the straps (if there are multiple straps behind the knee) in front of the shin guards instead of behind them. This will be much more comfortable, but I only recommend doing it if you're catching in shorts in a practice setting. In a game, you should always wear them the way the manufacturer designed them to be worn.
If you or your catcher have ever complained about a sore thumb, the Catcher's Thumb is for you. Catchers will often hyperextend their thumb in their glove for a number of reasons. One could be that the catcher was expecting the pitcher to throw a four-seam fastball, but he threw a two-seam fastball that ran or sank right into the catcher's thumb. Another might be a foul tip. Sometimes foul tips might be deflected into a catcher's thumb rather than into the pocket of the mitt. Catching the ball incorrectly is another common cause of a hyperextended or broken thumb. If you have ever suffered this, you know that it is a painful, long-lasting injury that can stay with you for an entire season.
The Catcher's Thumb is a piece of casting material that is custom molded to fit a catcher's thumb and goes inside the mitt. The idea is the same as a football mouthpiece. It comes in a standard size, but once it is dipped in warm water, it becomes flexible and can be custom molded to fit the player. It is great for rehabbing injuries, but it is also great for preventing injuries. A lot of Major League catchers wear protective thumb guards all the time so they don't have to miss games because of a possible broken thumb. Next time you're watching a Major League game, try to sneak a peek inside the catcher's mitt.
For more information about the Catcher's Thumb, please visit www.CatchersThumb.com.
People often criticize knee savers because some people think they make catchers lazy. Simply put, no piece of equipment has ever made a player lazy. If the player is lazy, he was lazy before he put the Knee Savers on the back of his shin guards! I believe that Knee Savers can take stress off the knees if worn correctly. If they're worn incorrectly, they can limit mobility and prevent catchers from getting low enough in their stances.
I wore Knee Savers for a few seasons after I tore my Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) in high school. I think they were excellent for taking unwanted strain off of my knees, and I recommend them to any player who has had issues with his knees.
Excerpted from CATCHING-101 by XAN BARKSDALE Copyright © 2011 by Xan Barksdale. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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