Sometimes I’ll be watching a game and one of the teams has a pretty darn good catcher. I mean, he has a cannon for an arm, good size, quick feet back there, blocks real good, and on and on.
But little things happen in games with guys like these and I sit there scratching my head thinking, “Why didn’t he do this? Or, why didn’t he do that? Or, he had him there if he would have just thrown it!” There can be a small list of these things that this “pretty darn good” catcher does, or doesn’t do. It’s only recently that I think I realize why I see this type of thing today.
Think back, you older guys, when your video game was Pong, or at the best, the original Atari. There were no computers (and, no Instant Messenger, thank God!), no cell phones, no X-Box 360 and so on. What did we do, besides have to cut the grass? Well, we played baseball, softball and sometimes football in the same day. We did this day in and day out and still had baseball games at night. We developed many baseball “instincts”, even as small kids. Kids don’t play pickup games in neighborhoods anymore. It’s all organized now, down to the smallest details.
Years ago, even though kids didn’t play as many organized games, I think on the average kids played more baseball. As they grew older, they developed many instincts…things that tell you to throw or not, in a split second. Catchers knew how to read batters. They knew how to read runners and remember that #14 always looked down when he started back to first as soon as he saw the catcher’s hand go up and start to throw back to the pitcher. Catchers knew when they had to trot out to the mound and say some bad, goofy stuff to make the pitcher laugh a little, just to relax. Many catchers were calling their own pitches at thirteen.
Today, this seems to be less and less. Catchers are more like wind up dolls. Just go and watch a game today, even older kids. You’ll see catchers looking into the dugout after every pitch, looking for the next sign and pitch to call. Many times they’re clueless why some of these are called. It’s like a wireless video game for the coaches sitting on the buckets near the on-deck circle. And to make matters worse, after every pitch, what do you usually hear? You hear two or three coaches yapp’in away at the catcher, the pitcher and the infielders given multiple instructions and demands. It’s a puppet show at times…not a baseball game.
Players attempt pickoffs when told to, or if some play is on. If they do it on their own and they throw the ball away, you’ll hear, “Hey! What was that? Did I call that? Let’s go!” So much for instincts. Won’t do that again.
I’m not saying catchers today are no good. I actually think they are way better than in the past in most cases. I’ll see many that are more trained in throwing and blocking than years ago. Hitting, well I just think players today are way better hitters than hitters in the past. Kids today are more exposed to different baseball training methods and different baseball drills. They get much more instruction and therefore are more skilled than kids years ago.
It’s those little things that they don’t have as much as players did in the past. Those little things are instincts. I guess they eventually get them, but just at an older age.
There are coaches out there that encourage the catcher to think on his own given different situations. You can always correct and teach later. This is commendable as it doesn’t happen very often anymore. In time, you and he will think alike and you’ll see him grow into a smart catcher, not a wind up doll looking for the next instruction.
Maybe some of the coaches out there can let their catchers and other players work on developing some of their own instincts at times. There might be a game that you know you are going to win or a game where the score indicates that you can maybe let the catcher try to call pitches, encourage the infielders to communicate among themselves and try to set some things up on their own. Let them take control. Let them be responsible for what happens on the field. They’ll make mistakes, sure. But that’s when you, the coach, come back in for a little word or two and then back out. If things look like they are going the wrong way, then take over again.
You’ll see them become smarter players in time. They’ll be developing some instincts. They’ll think a little more differently and maybe understand why you do some of the things that you do.
Most importantly, they’ll look forward to that time in certain games when they’re winning enough that you say, “Hey! You guys got it…don’t blow it!” They’ll have fun…just like we did in the neighborhoods years ago.