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The Hitter's Checklist
What do you do when it's your turn at the plate? Do you follow a plan? Do you have a strategy? Does that strategy change in different situations? Or do you just get up there and try to make contact?
I believe it's important to have a plan every time you step up to the plate. Next time it's your turn to bat, think about what goes on in your head.
Here's a checklist I use every time it's my turn to hit:
What's the pitcher's arc like.
What's the umpire's strike zone like.
How is the ground in the batter's box. Usually I'll stand where I'm most comfortable, then depending on the pitcher's pitches and the strike zone of the umpire, I'll make adjustments from there.
What are the elements, ie. wind and sun.
How are the fielders positioned.
What is the current game situation, ie. what runners are on base, what's the score, and what is my minimum job.
What are the tournament rules.
Some of these points you address before you step into the box. For example, if there's a strong wind blowing in, maybe you can't go yard; so instead try to hit hard line drives. If there is tough sun for the fielders, always run hard. A routine fly ball to left field could end up being a double. Look at the defensive alignment. If one fielder is too deep, a ground ball in their direction could end up being an easy double. Also, pay close attention to where the strong and weak arms are in the field.
Determine what your minimum job is at the plate depending on the current situation. It's great to hit home runs, deep line drives etc., but let's face it; no one can do that all the time. If there's a runner on second with none out, your minimum job is to advance that runner to third. Likewise, with less than two outs with a runner on third, your minimum job is to hit a deep fly ball for a sacrifice. You get the idea. Always know what your minimum job is.
Be ready for this situation. I'm amazed how many times I see this throughout the season: You are leading off the inning, the pitcher delivers the ball, and one of the outfielders is not ready. Usually, hitters may choose to take the first pitch, but in this case it may be applicable to swing away and try to hit in the direction of the out-of-position fielder.
So you've assessed the situation and now you step into the batter's box. Now what are you doing? Here are some tips that may help:
Keep your hands loose.
Don't be oxygen deprived. Breathe!
Try not to squint. Open your eyes!
Get comfortable in the batter's box.
Don't fall into the trap of allowing the pitcher to "quick-pitch". You control the timing. Don't be afraid to call time and step out or do some grounds keeping to get set in the batter's box.
Don't grit your teeth. As crazy as it sounds, relax your face.
Keep your mouth slightly open. You'll have a greater chance of not blinking so much.
Focus on the ball leaving the pitcher's hand.
Between pitches, visualize success. Tell yourself that you will win this battle.
Finally, try this technique. Are you ever nervous? When you are nervous or outright scared, what happens is that the blood in your body rushes inward towards your major organs. Hence, your hands and arms may feel weak and shake. In the on-deck circle, squeeze and release your hands on your bat. Do this several times. This will pump more blood towards your hands so they won't feel as shaky. (This also works while playing pool! When it's your turn to try to sink the eight ball for that twenty dollar bet and you're nervous as heck.)
Develop an awareness of these points next time you do batting practice. There are a lot of points here to consider at first. When the ball leaves the pitcher's hands, ideally you shouldn't be "thinking". Your goal is react naturally with the end result being that you'll apply a mechanically sound and strong swing on the right pitches to hit in such a way that the ball comes off your bat with the maximum speed possible.
I'm sure you've heard the statement, "in the zone". Many times you'll make a play or produce a hit and it seems like you were "unconscious" while doing it. That's the mental frame of mind you want to be in all the time. The points discussed above are checklist items you should be aware of. However, once the pitcher starts his/her delivery, clear your mind and usually good things will happen.
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March 23-25, 2001 Air Athletics Sports Dome, Oakville, ON
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