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Your Own Spring Training - Getting Ready for Your Baseball/Slo-Pitch Season

This article is a collaboration by Blake Murphy and Michael Cascone.

A few weeks ago I was talking to my buddy Sean about how best to get your body ready for the baseball season. Keep in mind here that I am by no means a physical specimen or workout guru. Instead, I am a researching machine and extremely able pseudo-baseball coach. So as one of my best hitters was seeking advice on how to improve his long-ball without losing speed, I figured it was a good idea to look into it for him.

Fast forward four weeks, and I’m just sitting down to do it now. I knew a couple of overarching things already – a lot of your power comes from the hips, a strong core improves everything, and you don’t have to make a lot of drastic changes to improve some areas of your game.

And then I got distracted again, and commissioned Mike Cascone, a fantastic center fielder and long-time baseball player, to help me out with it. Now, we have quite the developed plan. It’s not spring training, but with the less competitive baseball seasons not kicking off until May, there is still plenty of time to incorporate these tips into your planning for the baseball season.

A note to those who play Slo-Pitch in place of real baseball – Step 1 is without a doubt to start drinking, heavily, at all times of the day and in as many different situations as possible. This will no doubt help you on a cold and windy August Saturday morning when you’re still a little drunk from the night before or on a sweltering July Sunday afternoon when you’re half in the bag for a championship game. Trust. Anyways, on to the tips you haven’t already started practicing.

Part 1 – Five Tips for Working Out
By Blake Murphy
The following five tips are workout-related tips to improve your bat speed and batting power without sacrificing speed or flexibility.

1. The first thing to remember is that you want to do a good full-body workout. Most baseball skills use compound movements and it’s therefore better to just be in good shape than to focus on any particular body part. Recommendation number one, then, if just to workout with some regularity to ensure that overall you’re a pretty athletic and healthy person.

2. Most people already know that a good deal of your power comes from your hips and, therefore, your legs. It should go without saying then that explosiveness in the hips and legs is a desirable trait for a smooth power swing. The best way to create this explosiveness is through working the legs pretty regularly. People hate leg workouts, so to maximize improvement without ruining your enjoyment of a workout, try doing two leg exercises three times a week, rotating squats, jump squats, hack squats, deadlift, standing calf raise, and leg press. It isn’t necessary to get ‘jacked’ legs, but doing 2-3 sets of these will definitely improve your leg strength. Be careful not to overdo it on weight, because you want to maintain range of motion.

3. Don’t use weighted bats or multiple bats. Seriously. It’s okay to use them in the on-deck circle or as a warm-up, but using objects 10% heavier than your bat will alter your swing movement in the long term, potentially messing with your swing. If you want to alter the weight, do an overload-underload-regular load circuit where you only use a weighted bat for a 5-10 swings, then switch to an underweight bat, then swing normally, and repeat.

4. Your abs are key. Not only do sick abs help at the beach or by Flounder’s pool post-game, they are also vital for bat speed. A note here, I just found out that Flounder’s hot tub is broken, rendering him useless for the season. Shawn, you’re cut, sorry. I mentioned core strength in the introduction, and this definitely starts with the abs. Luckily, I think abs is the body part easiest to get motivated for, so don’t be afraid to work them hard and often. 8-minute abs provides a quick and grueling daily tool, but you can also create any ab program you like, so long as you’re working them hard.

5. Stretching and warming up. Ew, I know, disgusting and boring. But guess what? It’s really freakin’ important. Not only does warming up limit your risk of injury, it also increases the flexibility and range of motion of your muscles by warming them up and getting blood flowing to the muscles. There are a ton of good baseball exercises, but I would start every workout with leg swings, ins and outs, and hip flexion/extensions. I’d also incorporate these in your pre-game warm-up, as part of a 5-10 minute warm-up package.

Obviously, this list is not exhaustive. The important thing to remember is that baseball is a full-body sport that requires flexibility and range of motion just as much as it does raw power and strength. Technique is also key, so don’t worry a great deal about your time at the gym. The key to using workouts to improve baseball skill is to focus on the entire body and don’t shy away from the abs and legs, while remembering you don’t want to get jacked. Chicks may dig muscles, but they also dig the longball, batting average, and turning a single into a double.

Part Two – Five Specific Baseball Drills
Mike Cascone has been playing ball at a high level his whole life. He also has a sweet stroke and a pretty sick arm, so I enlisted his help for this article. He provided us with the following five drills with specific baseball goals in mind.

1. Follow the Bouncing Ball – Slick Hands for the Middle Infielder
Now it’s easy to sit at home and watch shortstops like Jose Reyes or Hanley Ramirez eat up short-hops, deny infield singles, and twist dirty double plays, but all of that ability starts with good hands. For an infielder this means three things: fielding the ball cleanly, transferring it to your throwing hand, and releasing. While there are a fair amount of people out there under the assumption that having good hands is simply a natural gift, I beg to differ. It’s true that some ballplayers are born with silky smooth technique, but the average infielder can improve significantly with routine groundball drills.

The best way to improve your hands is tireless groundball fielding, but you can spice up this exercise by using a rubber bouncy ball. Ideal for the long Canadian offseason months, this one can be done in the gym. Get your buddy on a gym basketball court and stand 10-20 feet apart. Use a bouncy ball (i.e. Indian rubber ball, or even one of those multisided bouncing balls to add a little challenge) and try to short-hop or bounce the ball past each other, varying the bouncing and velocity. When fielding, practice staying in front of the ball (ass down, chest up), fielding on your throwing side, and transferring to the throwing hard quickly and smoothly. What’s up Jeter, this summer you’ll be smooth as silk.

2. Scaling the Wall – Make Griffey Look Like a Chump
As an outfielder, making dirty plays on the warning track is my second favorite moment in baseball (second, of course, to gunning guys down at the plate). As far as straight-up fielding ability is concerned, the best way to improve yourself as an outfielder is to stick to the basics: shag fly balls, ground balls, gappers, etc.

However, to have some fun and improve your ball-tracking skills, get a few baseballs and go out to the warning track with a buddy. Start roughly 10-15 feet from the fence, and have your buddy throw lazy fly balls either just before the fence, just over the fence, or line-drives off the fence. Be careful to time your approach to the fence properly; or in the case of a ball hit off the fence make sure to give yourself space to pick up a ricochet quickly. This will let you practice your approach to the fence, which is always a tricky area. You’ve seen too many ball highlights for me tell you how to scale a fence, so pimp it out.

3. Tee Ball – Go Oppo
In the classic baseball epic, Major League: Back to the Minors (in reality a terrible end to a fantastic trilogy), Billy ‘Downtown’ Anderson is dominated by major league pitching for his inability to hit off-speed pitching. Every spring, I deal with the same thing and look stupid on curveballs and low changeups. Everyone wants to jump on a fastball, but this can’t always happen. The first step towards being able to hit off-speed pitching is developing the ability to keep your hands back and hit to the opposite field.

In the movie, the young stud is told to hit off a tee, which looks degrading but in truth is fantastic for swing mechanics. When you are hitting off-speed pitching, keeping your hands back is important, so you have to wait a little longer for the ball. This means you are hitting the ball a little farther back than you would a fastball (which seems counterintuitive because its coming in slower, but trust me). Set up the tee as if the ball were on the back part of home plate, in line with your back leg. Practice hitting the ball into the opposite field with power and consistency.

4. Whiffles – Keep Your Eye on the Ball, Son
If your hitting woes lie more in the batting average department, then the issue may be that you are pulling your head off the ball. During the course of an average swing, there are an infinite number of things that can go wrong, but the most common mistake among rookies and vets is moving your head too much. This can be caused by a number of different problems within the swing, but one way to teach yourself to watch the ball into the hitting zone is by using whiffle balls.

Have a friend kneel 15 feet in front off you and throw whiffle balls in all areas of the strike zone. This will teach you to wait and see the ball in, and it forces you to keep your head still or you will embarrassingly miss time and time again. This drill is best run using the golf ball sized whiffle balls and a broomstick instead of a bat. You will notice professional teams running drills like this before games, and it’s a great way to hone your hand-eye coordination.

5. Relays – Hit the Target
Catchers, outfielders, and infielders alike all need to be able to throw accurately at a distance…and nothing feels better than gunning an unsuspecting baserunner. This drill is simple, fun, and promotes arm strength and accuracy. Group up in teams of four (you don’t even really need more than one team if you don’t have enough people), and line up equal distances apart in the outfield, in a line beginning on the foul line and going roughly to the far warning track.
The goal is to go back up and down the line twice without any drops. If you drop a ball, you have to start over. Developing your accurate long throwing ability will help prevent baserunners from advancing in a game situation, and pitchers can use this drill to stretch out their arms before or after throwing a bullpen session.

Good luck out on the diamond, and if you try out some of these drills and workouts you’ll be the one holding that trophy at the end of the year.

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One Response to “Your Own Spring Training - Getting Ready for Your Baseball/Slo-Pitch Season”

  1. snydes Says:

    sick article boys

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