Female Pitcher Eri Yoshida Records 1st Victory in Japan (Video)

She is in the minor leagues and throws knuckleballs, click the link below:

Video

Female Pitcher Eri Yoshida Records 1st Victory in Japan (Video)

6-Year-old Little Leaguer Turns Unassisted Triple Play (Video)

Click the video link below  to “Baseball in Tokyo” to watch a 6 year old 3rd baseman turn a triple play:

Video

Ted “Tiger” Williams’ (the last .400 hitter) On Hitting

With Nippon Professional Baseball hitters in Japan having problems hitting in the 2011 season, with many pointing to the obvious new ball’s introduction set to match international ball standards, this may be the time to do some soul searching with the batting methods used here in Japan.

For details on the new balls effect read Jim Allen column: http://www.japanesebaseball.com/writers/display.gsp?id=38134

Anyone worth their salt who wants to learn the best methods usually goes to the best person in any given field that has given information on the subject out to the public.  One can look even today at the success of the St. Louis Cardinals and their hitting coach Mark McGuire and see past his steroid use to see how much he has improved the hitting of the World Series Champs.

In my case the obsession with homeruns holds less attention, as I am a novice historian and look to old school hitting of the past over the fame of the ever fashionable and “it girl” of our time “the homerun.”

The last hitter to hit .400 was Ted “Tiger” Williams of the Boston Red Sox and if you know anything about this stout man you will know he coached for the Old Washington Senators.  When he coached the Senators in his first year he brought their average from the low average of .224 to a .251 along with the team’s win-loss record improving from a .404 to a .531.  This points to the ability to not only hit well, but teach hitting well, which is the only kink in the armor of looking to the best for advise.  Some “can’t teach what they do” very well, especially if they just “wing it” or “run on instincts.”

In Ted’s Williams case he had the ability to do both,  as attested to by Wage Boggs (former American Batting League Champion and Hall of Famer) as he described Ted as being, “ A major influence on my basic hitting skills through my formative years.”

From the Neck Down (50% is the body)

So with the preliminaries dealt with let’s move on to what Ted taught. First off here are some ideas that are fairly common, for example his preference for a light bat and keeping it that way with cleaning your bats regularly to make sure they don’t pick up weight from dirt, powder or other substances that are used to improve grips.  Mr. Williams was a strong man, but to get the bat around after sighting what kind of ball was coming you need every edge you can get.  As is common with many professionals he believed in a compact swing holding the bat close to the chest before contact is made, along with being on the balls of your feet leaning slightly forward and feet roughly shoulder width apart.

Not so common he believed when you were behind in the count you should choke up on the bat and be defensive. Low-balls means you must bend the knees including the front one closest to the pitcher. Today you see many hitters always jam their front leg straight. Or in his own words, “I’d say to go down a little, don’t stay quite as high, bend your knees down toward the pitch. That way your swing will stay more uniform. The tendency on a low ball is to hit it on the ground.  If you bend your knees and go down with the pitch you’ll be able to get under it enough to compensate.”-*

He also stated quite clearly to “keep your head still” to gauge the ball, and thus too much front leg movement and your perspective would suffer. You see with many young boys, and a noticeable number of NPB players, in Japan copying Ichiro’s high leg raising before placing it with their heads following suit in small measure or large. This won’t do, as their eyes are moving with their head as it goes up and then down before the ball’s arrival. How does this help to gauge the placement of the ball in or out of the strike zone?

Hands should be held higher than most batters do so as to oppose having to lift them to deal with certain pitches,  is also suggested by Tiger.  So he preached bended lower at the knees for the legs and hands higher, which can seem in conflict unless you see the thinking behind it.

Yet what I found very happily from Ted Williams was the idea I had logically come to the conclusion on, and that being the angle of your swing. What he called the “ Large Impact Zone” which means your stroke is matching the balls angle and height. If you chop down or come down only partially through the balls line of sight, you only give yourself a chance at impact ever so small.  A level stroke improves the chances, but doesn’t equal the matching of the pitch angle with the slight upward stroke at the end of the swing. I’m always reminding my son above all other advise to swing at the level of the ball, which means he may hit the ball late in his swing or early in his swing but he will make contact much more often than the chopping or level to ground swing. My boy is hitting 75-80% of 120 km pitches at the batting cage at age 10.

When this contact happens it allows your boy to then read where the ball goes and adjust. Fouls one-way means he is usually too late on the swings, while fouls the other way means he is usually too early on his swing. Thus he can adjust because he is making contact consistently.  This is the benefit of a “Large Impart Swing” suggested by Ted Williams. Someone missing the ball all together means he must wait till reviewing the tapes before he can adjust, or listening to someone else’s view of each pitch, or only hear the usual “Gumbate” from the otherwise quiet family members in support here in Japan.

From the Neck Up (50% is mental)

So many young batters wing it, or run on instinct. Some people love sports because they can turn off the brain and relax, but this is the kiss of death for the successful player, unless he has such instincts that it dwarfs everyone else’s, which is almost never the case.  So one must use the mind to hit better.

Ted Williams talks about trying to gauge a pitcher while others are in the batter’s box.  He talks of annoying pitchers as he tried to get further behind the other batter in the batter’s box as he warmed up to bat in the on-deck circle.  He talked of always taking note of what one gets struck out on at your last time up against that pitcher, and like many he talked of studying the pitcher as best you can before you meet him.  Here he states it quite clearly:

All they ever write about the good hitters is what great reflexes they have, what great style, what strength, what quickness, but never how smart the guy is at the plate, and that’s 50 percent of it.  From the ideas come “the proper thinking”, and the “anticipation,” the “guessing.”

Is the pitcher struggling with one of his pitches, is he stubborn, is he afraid of you? These are the many thought processes you go though at the plate. So early on you must get involved with the thinking of your son, and early on teach him not to wing it and empty the mind in some cheap attempt to appear Zen like.

Half an idea can be a dangerous thing.  In Japanese combat they often say, “don’t think to much” with the sword (as shown in the movie “Last Samurai”), but that’s after practicing so that your swing has become second nature. You must think wisely. The better expression of this was Yuzan, but I will be paraphrasing him here:

-First in youth you don’t think at all

-Then as you become a teenager you think too much

-After that you think about thinking

-And finally you think so well that it almost seems like you have come full circle, yet you haven’t.  You have just come to think about the right things with ease and then focus in on your issue at hand to be in “the zone” to hit.

So letting your boy wing it, as he gets older, is a wishful thinking measure on your part.  Counting in your head to gauge the speed of a pitch is an early first step. Take him through ideas on the how the ball is arriving (inside and outside of the plate) and how to deal with them (swinging earlier on the inside, and later on the outside pitch) so as to “hit the ball where it wants to go.” Later you can deal with what types of pitches a pitcher can throw and how to deal with them. Finally take him into the mind or heads of the pitcher he is facing, as your boy progresses in the thinking stages.

Always learn from the best when they know how to teach.

*- “The Science of Hitting”, by Ted Williams and .John Underwood.

Clarifying Baseball Levels, Terms & League Needs

On the left are the levels for Canadian Baseball, which are likely to be very close to the US level system. On the right we have the level system in Japan.

T-Ball (8 & under)————————Mini-Minor (9 & Under)
Junior Rookie Ball (8 & under)
Senior Rookie Ball (9 & under)
Minor Mosquito (10 & under)———Minor (10-11)
Mosquito (11 & under)
Minor Peewee (12 & under)———–Mini-Junior (12-13)
Peewee (13 & under)——————-Junior (12-13)
Minor Bantam (14 & under)———–Mini-Senior (14-15)
Bantam (15 & under)——————-Senior (14-15) or Junior High School (13, 14 & 15)
Minor Midget (16 & under)————High School (16 yrs.)
Midget (18 & under)——————–High School (17 & 18 yrs.)
Junior (21 & under)———————City Teams
US University Teams——————-University
MLB Farm Teams———————–NPB Farm

I believe the MLB is stronger than the NPB (Nippon Professional Baseball) because of the level and numbers of foreign players playing in the MLB from all over the world. I would place the NPB above all US triple A teams though, as the NPB is a much higher level of play. When the MLB and the NPB leagues play each other the games are all played in Japan, and not all the MLB players come overseas, and then many players (and their team management) are not keen to go all out for the games.

In the Baseball Classic the USA loses out because the Japanese team is just better and or plays better together, as all the very talented Latin American players play for their national teams and make it plain for all to see why the Japanese rightly deserve to be the best team in the world.

The Need for an Big Asian Baseball League

I think that the NPB must lead in forming an Asian League that must have at least 2- teams from South Korea, 2- teams from Taiwan, 3- teams China and of course 3-teams from Japan.  Having two teams in each nation will develop the local rivalry needed, and allow citizens with less money to pick up games at two venues closer to home.

At first glance these teams from Japan should be the Giants, Tigers & a third team to be decided by wins.  The history and rivalry between these two teams would no doubt fit the bill.

Each national league would need to have a stake in the Asian League or they wouldn’t cooperate, so funds would have to go to the national league systems and they must not be left on the outside looking in. Government involvement in the teams would be made clear and penalties given for violations. The national leagues from each country should do as the English Premier Football League does and level up the best team from their leagues when one of their Asian League teams hits the bottom of the rankings table in this proposed Asian League. The worst Asian League team would be relegated to playing back in the national league system, unless from a country with only one team and no national league system to fall back on to replace the lowest falling Asian League team.  In this way any financial problems will be dealt with, as transportation costs would go down for the relegated club, upon being brought down to the national level, along with the need for expensive players. The Asia League would be less in need of propping up weak teams that overspent or mismanage in other ways, and avoid the risk of supporting some teams more than other teams with stretched rationalizations.

Efforts to expand this league should be centered at first with a lesser division (Southern Division) that should include 2-teams in Australia, 1-team in Singapore, 2- teams in India, 1-team in New Zealand, 1- team in Indonesia, and 1-team in Malaysia. The Asia First Division Teams should be encouraged to have Triple A teams in other countries so that national differences are not made to boil over.  As the, say Southern Division, will likely be a Triple A team for a bigger First Division team, the expenses will be more manageable and allow for the sport to grow in the more troubling expansion markets like India & New Zealand.

Umpiring would be very tricky, but a use of a video booth back up umpire, who would have a video with a box of the strike zone to review, would help to ease any risk of corruption, along with voting on of umpires by each team for those to take part in the playoffs.

What is needed for this to come to be is a real headliner that has an Asian outlook to meet the demands of the shrinking world. If this comes into being I have no doubt that the Asian League would surpass the MLB, as the inflow of talent from around the region would level out this advantage of the MLB, as would the revenues generated. The alternative is to slowly have the best talent whisked away to the MLB.

I will watch and support any efforts to bring this about, yet the most important mindset that must take place is looking clearly at the strengths and weakness in structures, not cover over problems with Disney happy talk, politeness taken to extremes, and stubborn control of teams and leagues by leaders who can’t see that the MLB will overtake such stubborn mindsets if the Asian Leagues keep to their private leagues and try to ignore the growth of the International flavor of the MLB.

Too Little Practice or Too Much (focus on little leaguers)

The Weather

When I played little league in Winnipeg Manitoba many years ago we really didn’t practice often enough.  Part of this problem was and is the weather, as snow came in around October and was not gone often until late April.  Even then the ground was not good for many sports until the water or semi-permafrost was gone.

How many sports can be taken indoors and run over 7-months and not have everyone go stir crazy or broke paying for gym space to play their sport by themselves? Not enough if you want to continue sports like baseball in the colder regions of the world.

On the other hand hockey can be run outdoors and thus gives such nations a great lead.  This is common sense, but where some fail to see these facts is in the nations that move ahead internationally, and due to compilable weather 365 days a years, like here in many parts of Japan and in countries like sports mad Australia. The race to teach skills is often won by these facts alone, for example 7 more months of grounders and fly balls is bound to have an effect upon boys with less natural talent. Asking boys to wait 7-months to continue playing is extremely risky and many boys never reappear in spring simply because they took up something else or forgot about playing baseball because they discover computer games.

Weekly Practices

The very serious team my son and I went to practice with here in Japan had 2 practices a week (standard for them) and more when holidays were nationwide. They started at roughly 8:00 am and finished at roughly at 7:00 pm both days, and when you include travel time it becomes a time black hole of sorts. Now I’m sure some teams in other nations are lucky to get everyone there once a week, with poor nations not having school systems that allow boys to be practicing with coaches or playing stick ball type games by themselves with the less school hours to none. This certainly has the same effect as that of weather.

Now here in Japan education is very serious, as in many Asian nations, and they additionally go to cram schools during the week, weekends & holidays, so to demand such hours for sports is to virtually to give up on being tops in education, with thousands of Chinese characters to be learned and levels of math & science that lead the world to be studied.  So some “way” must be designed to maximize time spent, or thus not cripple the education of your children.

The Infielder & Outfielder Bias

I will go into this in detail later, but such long practices help infielders, outfielders and batters, but are not always good for pitchers. Sure players learn to play other positions, but this is almost always a one-way street as clearly future pitchers learn to field in other positions, while outfielders & infielders almost never learn to be pitchers to the same level the other way round. Any time spent teaching an obvious future pitcher to field other positions, instead of only the mound region & first base is a waste to him and the team. The constant contempt that one hears for pitchers fielding their position, even in the MLB, has its roots in this bias.  Teams and coaches are made up of many more infielders and outfielders than former full time pitchers. In the movie “Bull Durham” this bias is shown in a very funny way, but not all pitchers are dumb, some are made and some forced to be.

I tend to think of pitchers arms as racehorses’ legs. The time and care taken to not overwork such horses legs is an art, all the more for the young. You always want to start younger (I would suggest 7- 8 for baseball), but how you work such issues is the devil in the details.  Macho coaches are a curse in baseball, and Japan certainly has its share, as has been seen on so many occasions in the high school tournaments here. Many boys pitch well beyond the right pitch count for their age, as they also pitch too soon with no proper rest between starts. Up until recently not allowing children to drink water during P.E. classes was very common too. What jack ass thought up such ideas deserves to run into an involved parent like me who will chew them out, in front of all if need be (or more), for such moronic ideas. All this in the name of pitchers “taking one for the team” like this is some sport where guts trumps the facts of life is well beyond silly.

In Japan there is such respect to authority figures that weak men, as coaches, get the bad general’s mind.  The shoulder, elbow & wrist are not the field of battle to be waged in any tough guy battles. That would be like taking infants and throwing them on the frontlines of a war and saying “suck it up.” These body parts are tender & fragile for full-grown men, let alone young boys.

Now I’m a former rugby player, gridiron player & free style wrestler so there are lots of places and times to teach discipline, toughness, and fighting spirit, but not on this battlefield of the pitcher’s arm.  Such bad coaches need to get out more and play other sports and learn baseball will never be as tough as others sports, so get over it or be insecure forever. It is a graceful sport and as we all know bulk doesn’t help in baseball. Mental toughness matches up with other sports and focus is much higher in baseball than most sports, but toughness just isn’t as high. Outfielders deal with boredom as they stand around waiting for action to start. This and the weather did me in for Winnipeg Little League. Over practice can lead to a lack of looseness on the part of players and leads to more injuries and errors, as Bobby Valentine showed quite well as he would increase pressure in a fun way during practice, and try to lessen it before and during games.

Pitchers are going to be taller boys and that means more growth time, with longer clumsy periods. Shorter infielders are going to look better as they are dealing with the same height and appendage lengths as they have always had.  So you must pick your battles better with pitchers and not yell at a boy going through a growth spurt as the shorter guys sets the pace for the rest.

Most, and almost everyone here in Japan, are quick to say someone is good because he is tall and strong, yet they don’t like to see or say shortness allows for better coordination and speed. A good question must be asked is why your shorter son or daughter is not doing better than the taller children? Only time well spent allows a growing youth the ability to catch up in these areas, or they simply remain clumsy all their life.

The good coach and or father must balance these issues and not let tradition and “chip on their shoulder tough guys” blow your boys spirit, interest and arms early.  As a switch pitcher coach I have worked one arm a week when my son was 7-9 years old. Working other areas like catching, balance, leg speed etc. can go on all week if you get the chance. Having my son catch head on pitches from a batting machine at the batting center, after going through the motions of a pitcher (on both sides of the  home plate)  shows that there is lots of room to teach toughness, fearlessness & outside the box thinking. I’m sure some tough guys may like such stuff, but the purpose is to work on what pitchers deal with in their position (the come backer) instead of practicing with outfielders or looking foolish as he sometimes does infielder drills. Only with a constant come backer from a batting cage machine can one truly ingrain the need to get into a fielding position after a pitch. The improvement in his fielding and fearlessness has been remarkable. Time will tell when he gets to higher levels of competition how good he has become, but his fielding  skill is likely to be ignored as his switch pitching and switch hitting gets more attention. Still  readers here will get a look at the full range of ideas that go into a all-round pitcher, and if I have my way the nickname “Meat” from the Bull Durham movie will be placed where it belongs on the stupid coaches who are too stubborn or unimaginative to have pitchers learn fielding of their position proper.

Call in the Marines (a Marines’ fan lands on shore)

When I first starting watching and choosing a team to follow in the  N.P.B. (Japanese Professional Baseball League) I was very impressed with the Tigers’ and Marines’ fans sometimes fanatical support. Giant fans are solid too, but they are the NY Yankees of the N.P.B. and thus have huge advantages in market share and more.

I’m not too keen with Johnny-come-latelies, as armchair supporters that change their support with the winds of fashion, and who are for the latest “in” or “it” team.

The Chiba Marines are the closest team to my home, yet there are so many teams in the region that one doesn’t have to go local or be starved of coverage or getting seats. The colors (black, gray, white and a dash of red) are good and the team’s name is solid too.  I’m not into making everything cute (kawai) so a team called “The Marines” is interesting too.  I later learned they use the name to mean like that of the Mariners, as opposed to the “soldiers on ship” or military reference, but either way the name is sharp.

In our time of endless fashion a historical respect is nice to be found in baseball,  yet teams named after buffaloes and whales just don’t fit a gracefully sport like baseball. So I’m glad Yokohama changed its name from the Whales. The exception to this, to date, is that of the the Hiroshima Carp, as the carp has a very in-depth meaning in Japan. That being in the times of much more social control the place for fun and entertainment was found in special walled cities or separate parts of town. There people were allowed to let off steam and find fun & relaxation, and this life was represented by “the carp” (often seen as a kind of kite on a pole). This fits very much with what baseball is about. So the Carp gets a big thumb’s up from me.

My first baseball team was the Toronto Blue Jays and from the beginning of watching them play at CNE stadium in a snowfall many years ago I liked to watch the sport, not just play. Then they won 2 World Series and all was worth the long support, this is exactly how I feel about the Marines; as they don’t disappoint.

Recently I have seen the Jays give up great pitchers every year, and seen the state of the turf in the stadium in Toronto with a bit of shame. From the Jays I became a great admirer of Pat Gillick, as what he did with the Jays and Phillies begs one to take note of what a good GM should do.  I have moved over to another MLB team to support, as I wait for Toronto to be reborn under truly competitive GM.  My parents are snowbirds and live down south half the year, so I have picked up supporting the Arizona Diamondback. Another team that  doesn’t disappoint.

So when the Chiba Lotte Marines hired Bobby Valentine many years ago I very was impressed with the GM going foreign.  Gutsy decisions by a GM needs support, and so I gave my support to the Marines all the more. I was eager to see a blend of styles to gauge how a balance could be found.

I had played the gridiron game in Japan and my years of experience in Canada were negated because I was “not Japanese.” My talents were claimed to be due to my size, not so much because I could possibly know more.  One of the biased issues here in Japan for foreigners was and is the idea that “ Japanese are just smarter.” So when Bobby came to manage I very much eager to see how he handled it.  I had hoped that when Bobby helped take the Marines from the bottom to mid-table, that he might escape some of my experiences being he was more well known, and thus would allow the blending with the “Japanese Way” with other ways to take place.  Then the shoe dropped and they fired him as I’d feared and I was pissed as they then dropped down the league table again.

Happily Bobby’s return and the teams great success proved a great step to bringing a mixing of ideas in the sport. From Bobby’s  getting  rid of the cherry blossom pink uniforms to his raising pressure in practice. That being by giving  money for hits, and a lose of money for strike outs, while at the same time lessening the pressure during games on his players he was able to loosen his players up as he increased their focus. Overly hard work outs before the games was stopped, and likely other well thought out ideas came to be seen as successful. They have continued to do well after his leaving, and as many have seen in 2010 they peaked at the right time to come from a very low playoff position to win it all.

The Korean ownership brings a Asian fell to the league as well. Cross your fingers and keep your powder dry Marines (and your bats clean), as you can never count out the Chiba Marines!

Switch Pitcher History

Larry Corcoran (1859-1891)

“In 1882, Corcoran became the first pitcher to throw two no-hitters in a career. Two seasons later, he became the first pitcher to throw three no-hitters, setting a record that would stand until 1965, when Sandy Koufax threw his fourth no-hitter. He is also famous for being one of baseball’s very few switch-pitchers. A natural righty, Corcoran pitched four innings alternating throwing arms on June 16, 1884, due to the inflammation of his right index finger. He is credited with creating the first method of signaling pitches to his catcher, which consisted of moving a wad of chewing tobacco in his mouth to indicate what pitch would be thrown.”

For more information link:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Larry_Corcoran

Tony Mullane (1859-1944)

“Anthony John “Tony” Mullane, nickamed “Count”, was an Irish Major League Baseball player who pitched for seven teams during his 13-season career. He is best known as a pitcher that could throw left-handed and right-handed, and for having one of the highest career win totals of pitchers not in the Baseball Hall of Fame. “

For more information link:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tony_Mullane

Elton Chamberlain (1876-1929)

“An ambidextrous pitcher, Chamberlain alternated arms for four innings of a game on June 16, 1884 while he was in the minor leagues. On May 9, 1888, he had a large lead against the Kansas City Cowboys and pitched the last two innings left-handed, giving up no runs that way.

In several seasons, Chamberlain finished in his league’s top ten in a number of pitching categories, including wins, ERA, strikeouts, and shutouts. His two best seasons were 1888 (25-11, 2.19) and 1889 (34-15, 2.97). His 1888 St. Louis Browns team won the American Association pennant with a 92-43 record. Chamberlain went 2-3 in that year’s “World Series” against the New York Giants.”

For more information link:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elton_Chamberlain

George Wheeler (1846-1946)

“George Louis Wheeler was a professional baseball pitcher. He played all or part of four seasons in Major League Baseball from 1896-1899 for the Philadelphia Phillies.

Wheeler, primarily a right-handed pitcher, threw left-handed on a handful of occasions[ to become one of the few known “switch pitchers” in MLB history.”

For more information link:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Wheeler_%28pitcher%29

Billy Wagner (1971-

“William Edward Wagner, nicknamed “Billy the Kid”, is a retired Major League Baseball relief pitcher. He pitched for the Houston Astros (1995–2003), the Philadelphia Phillies (2004–2005), the New York Mets (2006–2009), the Boston Red Sox (2009), and the Atlanta Braves (2010). Wagner is one of the few Major League relief pitchers to accumulate a total of 400 or more saves in his baseball career.

Wagner was a natural-born right-handed person, but after breaking his right arm twice in accidents as a young boy, he taught himself to throw baseballs using his left arm by throwing thousands of balls against the wall of a barn, and then fielding the rebounds, and repeating.”

For more information link:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Billy_Wagner

Greg Harris (1955-

“Harris pitched in 703 games in his career, starting 98. He pitched for the Padres in the 1984 World Series, which they lost to the Detroit Tigers in five games.

Harris is best known as the only pitcher in the modern era to pitch with either arm. A natural right-hander, by 1986 he could throw well enough left-handed that he felt he could pitch with either hand in a game, but the opportunity did not arise. Harris wasn’t allowed to throw lefty in a regular-season game until September 28, 1995, the next-to-last game of his career, for the Expos. In the ninth inning, Harris retired Reggie Sanders pitching right-handed, then switched to his left hand for the next two hitters, Hal Morris and Ed Taubensee, who both batted lefty. Harris walked Morris but got Taubensee to ground out. He then went back to his right hand to retire Bret Boone to end the inning.”

For more information link:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greg_Harris_%28pitcher,_born_1955%29

Pat Venditte (1985-

“Patrick Michael Venditte Jr. is an American baseball player. He is a minor league baseball player currently in the New York Yankees organization. He currently pitches for the Class-AA Trenton Thunder in the Eastern League. Venditte is a “switch pitcher”, meaning he can throw and pitch proficiently with either arm. He is recognized as the only active professional pitcher who is able to do this.”

For more information link:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pat_Venditte