Baseball is a deceptively easy-looking sport when you watch it on television. For one, the game has a slower pace than sports such as basketball, hockey or soccer, which is a big drawback for some spectators who feel it is not physical or fast enough.
However, to the trained eye, this slow rhythm and pace to the game hides many subtleties. That is why many (players and fans) regarded baseball as such an incredibly mental game.
These small pauses between pitches or plays allow for conversation, comparison, observation and reflection. In other words, there is much more bubbling beneath the surface.
In addition, baseball seems more accessible than sports like basketball or football because, in many respects, ballplayers are more average-sized athletes compared to a vertically superior basketball center or a gargantuan linebacker.
On average, baseball players are smaller than athletes from most major sports are. This is largely because baseball players rely on incredible hand-eye coordination. While this skill is applicable to all sports, it is, by far, most vital to baseball.
The best example is hitting a 90mph fastball, which travels from the pitcher’s mound to home plate in a little less than half a second.
This gives the players eyes, brain and hands a half second to see the ball, calculate where it will cross the plate, decide if it is a pitch worth swinging at and, if it is, try to make contact.
Baseball does not look so easy now, does it? Do not worry! Here are three tips to help you become a great ballplayer:
Know Your Player
The first step to becoming a great ballplayer is understanding what type of player you are. This is relevant whether you are standing at the plate or in the field.
For hitting, baseball players are divided between those who hit for power and those who aim for contact and getting on base. Both styles are vital to a successful team.
Understanding what category you fall under will help you choose the right type of bat and equipment to improve your performance (contact hitters prefer bats will fast swing speeds, while power hitters like heavier bats that increase ball distance).
In the field, there is a similar decision to be made. While many positions seem very similar to one another, there are subtle differences that separate a center fielder from a left fielder or a third baseman from a second baseman.
For example, a third baseman not only needs to be a competent infielder, but he or she must possess a very powerful arm because they need to throw across the entire infield diamond to make a play at first.
You may already be comfortable at a position and that is great. However, if you are still struggling to find your perfect fit in the field, the best strategy is to evaluate your defensive strengths.
It is never too late to ask your coach to try a new position out during a practice or scrimmage; everyone loves a utility player who can fill more than one role!
Learn to Accept Failures
Baseball, more than any other sport, is a game with a strong connection to failure. It is the only sport that keeps a statistic as unforgiving as the ‘error.’
Not only does it track how many times you have failed to make a play in the field, but should such a failure arise during a game, it cruelly celebrates it by displaying it on the scoreboard. Even in batting, failures are constant.
In Major League Baseball, players who achieve a batting average of .300 and higher are considered great hitters. That means the other seven times they came to the plate, they failed to reach base (disregarding walks and errors). In what other facet of life is 30% success good?
Batting slumps are going to happen; errors are going to be made in the field; rival teams are going to hit two, three, four homeruns off your pitching.
The difference between a great ballplayer and an average one is the ability to disregard these failures. A great ballplayer understands that failure is as much a part of the game as the balls and strikes.
Observe, Study, Learn and Practice
Every sport requires dedication and practice, but baseball is not just a sport; it is an art, a science and sometimes a philosophy. Its disciples understand the importance of, not only practicing the physical acts of the game, but also studying its mental subtleties.
Baseball’s greatest players are those who are always observing, whether they are on the field or waiting to bat in the dugout.
Every instance of the game reveals new information, such as a hitch in the pitcher’s delivery, a batter’s weak part at the plate or a gap in the fielders’ positioning. The power of observation is vital and can be easily leveraged to exploit the other team’s weaknesses.
Hitting and pitching, in particular, require special attention. No player, perhaps in baseball’s entire history, studied the art of hitting more than Ted Williams did.
He talked to players past, present and future to understand every available approach to the science.
Williams would accost any pitcher whom routinely struck him out, in order to learn and protect the chinks in his armor.
The slugger’s dedication to his study of the game allowed Williams to see things others did not. In 1953, the hitter had just returned from serving in the Korean War.
He visited Fenway Park to meet with the Red Sox’ owner, Tom Yawkey, to discuss his return to baseball. Yawkey convinced Williams to take batting practice (he hit nine batting practice homeruns in a row).
The next day, Williams met with manager Joe Cronin to tell him home plate was crooked. The managed protested this remark, but had the field surveyed.
Home plate was off by less than an inch. No one had noticed, but Williams knew in an instant.
Every sport takes practice and baseball is no different — practice everything. Sit in front of a mirror and watch yourself swing a bat; sit down and really watch a professional game to detect the subtleties; fire tennis balls against brick walls.
Practice everything. But beyond practicing, understand the mental and the dedicated focus that baseball takes.
Some of baseball’s greatest moments, and the player’s that made them happen, were on account of those players’ ability to pay attention and see what others did not.