Baseball coaching, along with society has changed over the years. Baseball is the oldest professional sport practiced in the United States, and its layered and nuanced history lends us legends like Micky Mantle and Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and Joe DiMaggio. However, baseball coaching like the one that received Babe Ruth, or even Jumpin’ Joe won’t help you train to be an effective player in modern baseball.
While modern baseball still has much the same fundamental rules as it did when professional play started in the 1880s – the diamond has not changed, the height of the pitchers mound has been dropped by less than an inch, and the strike zone has been adjusted, but fundamentally, the game is unchanged. The impact of how the game is played on the professional level has put a significant priority on baseball coaching, the different techniques applied and overall training.
First and foremost, this is the era of the specialist pitcher. Pitches are faster, pitching is more rigorous, and the chance to injure yourself with ligament or rotator cuff damage is higher. The concept that someone will ever pitch as many games as Cy Young did is ludicrous; a 20-game winner in the pros is considered a rock as a pitcher.
Consequently, more of baseball coaching for pitchers focuses on short bursts of activity, with the aim being to reduce the amount of damage each pitch does to you. Managers focus on rotating pitchers in and out at different times of the game, and often have specialists and starting pitching setups tailored to specific opponents.
The other consequence of the specialist pitcher era is that the bench still remains at 25 players; with more of those slots taken up by pitchers, the ability for the other players on defense to rest and recuperate is greatly diminished. Baseball is an endurance sport, particularly for outfielders, but even for first and third basemen. The emphasis on their training is core body strength, and focusing on building the “burst” from their legs (much the same way Olympic sprinters work out), while maintaining enough slow-twitch muscle to keep going for a long game, and a long season.
Core body strength is also critical for hitting; most of the strength that drives a bat comes through the thighs, hips and abdomen, with the shoulders and upper arms used make the bat respond quickly. Because of the era of the live ball, and the faster pitches, responsiveness on the bat puts a premium on upper body strength. But even so – all the upper body strength in the world won’t help if you don’t have a solid abdominal core, and good glutes to deliver power when you make contact.
Three other factors have altered the way professional baseball players train, and alter the baseball coaching you should receive if you want to get into the sport seriously. The first is the length of the season. At 162 games, the season is very long. It takes a great toll over the course of April through late September, plus spring training. For college players used to a 36 game season, it’s a shock how much longer a baseball season is. Even those who’ve played in the minors have found that the full on professional season is a grind unlike anything they’ve seen before. That grind requires mental toughness to get through the game.
The second factor is interleague play during the regular season. Before interleague play came about, half of your games would be in your home stadium and the other half would be in, at most, 10 other stadiums during the season. This meant that adaptive baseball coaching could prepare you to build up a mental knowledge base of each stadium and its quirks, both minor (the way that Coors Field channels the wind and the mild slope towards left field) and major (the Green Monster at Fenway). Now that there’s interleague play, building up the feel for all the stadiums you’ll be playing in means having a visceral knowledge of all 29 away stadiums during the season; this has made things more difficult for outfielders and catchers particularly.
The final factor relevant to effective baseball coaching is unbalanced schedules and what they’ve done to the travel arrangements. Where it used to be that an east coast team would do a series against Seattle, Oakland and San Diego over three weeks, then hit up Kansas City on the way back home, minimizing the travel budget (and the disruption from time zone shifts), the modern era will have a series on the West Coast, followed by a series on the East Coast, followed by another Midwest series, followed by a series in Tampa.
The total amount of time spent traveling has gone up. (This is causing some owners to balk, as with the price of av-gas doubling in the last year, the travel budgets are getting expensive enough to notice, even for baseball franchise owners.) All of these factors make the baseball coaching and mental toughness part of the game (and training to deal with it) more important than ever.
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