Monthly Archives: May 2013

John Scolinos Taught With Amazing Passion

John Scolinos Taught With Amazing Passion

John ScolinosBy LOU PAVLOVICH, JR.
Editor/Collegiate Baseball
© 2013 Collegiate Baseball

CLAREMONT, Calif. — I really miss John Scolinos.

He was possibly the greatest human being ever involved in college baseball and passed away at the age of 91 in 2009. 

He led Cal Poly Pomona to three national championships (1976, 1980 and 1983) in 30 years and retired in 1991 as the winningest coach in NCAA Division II history.

Scolinos was named NCAA Division II Coach of the Century by Collegiate Baseball for not only his coaching ability but the influence he had on thousands of baseball coaches across the nation and athletes who played for him.

Prior to becoming Pomona’s head coach, he spent 14 seasons at Pepperdine University where his teams went 376-213. His all-time record in 44 years of coaching was 1,198-949.

Scolinos’ overall record is highly misleading since his teams always played the best teams in Southern California and Arizona, including all the top NCAA Division I teams.

This giant in the profession influenced more coaches than possibly any skipper has in the history of the game with the way he broke down the game during clinic sessions — often in front of standing room only crowds at American Baseball Coaches Association conventions with audiences approaching 4,000.

And after almost every presentation, he would be given a standing ovation from the crowd.

Here are some of those priceless lessons coaches learned from Scolinos through the years that Collegiate Baseball has collected.

“On days when nothing goes right, I call them ‘jock games,’ ” said Scolinos.

“That’s when all the defense does is throw their jocks out there, the hitters get faked out of their jocks, and the pitchers get their jocks knocked off.

“If a team gets in a jock contest, they don’t have a chance.”

About the type of ball players there are in the game:

“There are a lot of puppy dogs and hot dogs with a few bull dogs scattered among the group. We want the bulldogs.”

Possibly the greatest moment I have of Coach Scolinos was as at the 1990 American Baseball Coaches Association Convention in New Orleans where he gave a clinic in front of thousands of coaches discussing the finer points of hitting. He sternly told coaches in attendance they should never allow players to have their heads in their jocks.

To demonstrate the point, he quickly pulled a jock strap over his forehead. Every coach in attendance howled with laughter. But Coach Scolinos made his point.

This legendary skipper has always been a fascinating person to study at baseball clinics. Most coaches over the age of 50 have a set system for teaching all aspects of baseball and rarely change. But every clinic I ever saw Coach Scolinos at, he was always sitting in the first row gleaning information from hundreds of clinicians over the years. Even at the age of 72 during the 1990 convention in New Orleans, he was learning from others in the game.

Years ago, I interviewed former Cal. Poly Pomona assistant coach Steve Osaki who explained in detail Scolinos’ other legendary clinic sessions.

“At clinics, he was well known for giving his talk on handshakes to demonstrate fielding mistakes,” said Osaki.

“The first one was the halitosis handshake. Coach Scolinos and another coach would each shake hands but turn their heads away to demonstrate how a fielder turns his head away from the ball. The next one was the political handshake. Coach Scolinos would walk up to another coach on stage and extend his hand.

“Just prior to a handshake taking place between the two, Coach Scolinos would slip his hand back and flip his glove.

“The third demonstration was the mafia handshake. Two people were shoulder to shoulder embracing each other in a handshake as Coach Scolinos says, ‘Let’s make a deal.’

“Then comes the Japanese handshake. Two people walk up and bow to each other signifying the player who lets the ball roll through his legs.

“The final one was the best way to field called the American handshake. You look your opponent right in the eye with arms not locked and shake.”

To read more about the amazing John Scolinos, purchase the May 17, 2013 issue of Collegiate Baseball by clicking here. A detailed rundown on his favorite clinic moments are explained.

Hanson Explains How To Conquer Slumps

Hanson Explains How To Conquer Slumps

Editor/Collegiate Baseball
© 2013 Collegiate Baseball

TUCSON, Ariz. — One of the most frustrating things that can happen to a baseball player is being in a prolonged slump as a hitter or completely lose command of pitches as a hurler which is commonly called the yips.

Both conditions cause embarrassment for the athlete because he can’t perform at the level he is accustomed to and endures many sleepless nights and anxiety as he prepares for his next outing.

The affliction is all consuming and a nightmare which doesn’t usually go away unless professional help is obtained.

Few coaches really know what to do to tackle this horrible condition that has derailed too many careers in baseball.

After studying the athlete’s hitting or pitching mechanics, giving them continual positive reinforcement and exhausting every common sense approach to bring these players back to the level they once were, the coach ultimately has to move on and bench these athletes.

Dr. Tom Hanson, co-author of Heads Up Baseball with Ken Ravizza, came out with a book called Play Big which explains a tapping technique which helps many athletes bounce back.

“Having the ‘Yips’ or being in a prolonged slump is a mind set,” said Hanson.

“Our mind is constantly creating programs that we call beliefs. It takes individual experiences and generalizes them into a belief so we can process information quicker. For example, we look at a house and understand that it is a house. So we don’t check to see if it is safe to walk into.

“Our mind is doing that all the time. What happens in a slump is that you have a bunch of experiences where you fail or don’t feel good. Then your mind bundles them into a belief that you can’t hit or not hitting well. Then the hitter acts on those beliefs. And then it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

“So you must break that pattern. My way of doing it is to go over each at-bat that the person hasn’t liked while using the tapping technique that my book Play Big discusses in detail. And it actually changes the memory of what happened for the batter. It seems a little far fetched, but this is how the technique works.

“For example, I just worked with a player the other day. He was really struggling, and we went through each at-bat that he didn’t like. And using the tapping technique that I teach, we went through and changed him. Then he hung up the phone feeling like a million bucks.”

Tapping Explained
For those who aren’t aware of what the tapping technique is, Hanson explains.

“You literally tap with your fingers on different spots on your body which are acupuncture points and on meridians from the Chinese medical model. Tapping is only about 20 years old and is a combination of Western and Eastern philosophies. You also have a lot of Western psychology involved.

“It has evolved from Dr. Roger Callahan. He initially worked with a person who had a water phobia. Her stomach would tighten up when she saw any type of open water. Dr. Callahan remembered that just underneath the eye is a spot on the meridian for the stomach. So he had her tap on that area for several minutes. And amazingly, she didn’t feel so queasy with her stomach.

“She felt she could go in the water, and she walked right into the water after suffering for years from this phobia. This led to the tapping technique. While you are tapping, the traumatic events from your past that has created some emotion for you is being changed by the tapping. A signal is sent to your mid-brain saying, ‘It’s OK…it’s OK.’

“As a result, the brain shifts how it remembers those traumatic experiences. The big thing is that the past is over. And the only way that it exists is in the player’s mind and how the player’s mind is representing it. So if we can go into how his mind is representing his past failures, then he can free himself to hit or pitch with the freedom we want.”

To read more about how to solve the yips and prolonged slumps, you can purchase the May 17, 2013 issue of Collegiate Baseball by clicking here. Tom Hanson goes into detail about how his techniques can reach struggling baseball players.

Kris Bryant Named National Player Of Year

Kris Bryant Named National Player Of Year

Collegiate Baseball National Player of Year Kris BryantBy LOU PAVLOVICH, JR.
Editor/Collegiate Baseball
© 2013 Collegiate Baseball

SAN DIEGO, Calif. — Kris Bryant hit more home runs than 223 out of 298 teams in NCAA Division I during the 2013 season as he belted 31 circuit clouts in 58 games.

The 6-foot-5, 215-pound third baseman from the University of San Diego, Collegiate Baseball’s National Player of The Year, is tied for the 16th highest single season home run total in Division I history.

He led NCAA Division I players in eight offensive categories during the 2013 season, including:

• Total home runs: 31
• Home runs per game: 0.53
• Runs: 78
• Runs Per Game: 1.34
• Slugging Percentage: .860
• Total Bases: 185
• Walks: 62
• Walks Per Game: 1.07

Bryant has accomplished these staggering numbers with the new BBCOR bats that have reduced offenses across all of college baseball since they were introduced for the 2011 season.

Bernie Wilson of the Associated Press wrote a story recently which mentioned that if Bryant had used the higher performing BESR certified aluminum bats of the past that allowed Pete Incaviglia of Oklahoma State to hit a record 48 homers over 75 games in 1985, Bryant may have delivered 68 homers in 75 games.

San Diego statistician Mark Kramer crunched the numbers which were acted on by a theory from USD broadcaster Jack Murray.

Bryant put up numbers so astronomical that he eclipsed San Diego’s single-season home run record by 13. He also owns the career record of 54 set in three seasons. The old standard of 43 was set over four seasons.

San Diego Head Coach Rich Hill simply could not believe what Bryant did in 2013.

“Adjectives don’t describe what Kris has done this season,” said Hill.

“Teams weren’t pitching to him, so we started having him hit in the leadoff spot in the batting order. Then teams had to pitch to him at least once a game.

“Kris very rarely hit a home run with one of our guys on base because nobody would pitch to him. That makes his season total of 31 home runs even more remarkable. He also had over 60 walks this season. When you look at the amount of homers, his on-base percentage and many other stats, it was a season that won’t be forgotten in a long time.

“Frankly, I don’t know if a player has ever had an offensive season like this in college baseball history when you consider the BBCOR bats being used.”

To read more about Kris Bryant, his hitting philosophy, and the amazing year he has had, purchase the May 17, 2013 issue of Collegiate Baseball by clicking here.

Bill Holowaty Forced Out By Administrators

Bill Holowaty Forced Out By Administrators

Bill HolowatyBy LOU PAVLOVICH, JR.
Editor/Collegiate Baseball
© 2013 Collegiate Baseball

WILLIMANTIC, Conn. — Bill Holowaty, one of the most successful coaches in NCAA Division III history, was forced out of his job in late April after serving Eastern Connecticut State for the past 45 years.

The Hall of Fame skipper led the Warriors to four national championships as he stepped down with an overall record of 1,404-525-7.

Holowaty posted the most victories of any coach in any sport in New England collegiate history.

According to The Hartford Courant, five charges of misconduct were leveled against Holowaty by Eastern Connecticut St. administrators, and he was suspended for three weeks starting in late April and was eligible to return to his job May 13.

The charges included complaints of alleged public cursing and abusive language, failure to comply with directives from his supervisor in a timely manner, failure to follow financial procedures as articulated in the department manual, failure to comply with a Feb. 7 agreement that dealt with proper documentation of department funds and throwing a helmet into the bleachers after a recent game.

After careful consideration, the 68-year-old decided to retire instead of fight the administration over these charges “even though they were trumped up to get rid of me,” said Holowaty.

The legendary skipper, who is contemplating a lawsuit against the school, said his problems began when Jeff Konin was hired in July of 2012 as the school’s athletics’ director.

“What was done was evil and sinful,” said Holowaty in an extensive interview with Collegiate Baseball.

“It all started when a new athletics director was brought in (Jeff Konin), and we didn’t start off too well. A whole bunch of situations happened with different sports, and he came in right in the middle of it. During an August meeting, I said to him, and I probably shouldn’t have said it, that one of the problems in our department is that everybody is afraid to say something to you because they have no tenure and can be removed very easily. I am the only person with tenure, and that is why I have been the spokesman for all our coaches.

“The next day, he comes into my office and tells me that your tenure will not protect you from me. It was a direct threat. From that day on, it has been hell on wheels, and there has been a constantly choreographed plan to go after me. He got the school president (Elsa Nunez) to change her opinion toward me, and it went down hill from there.

“As an example, I was only given 17 days to raise $32,000 for our 2013 spring trip to Florida. And I raised about $26,000 during that short period of time. I was then told that since the total amount was not raised that we couldn’t go on our spring trip. Over the 45 years I had been at Eastern Connecticut State, which included 15 years as the athletics director, I had raised approximately $3 million during that time, if not more. So raising a few thousand dollars more for the spring trip was not going to be a problem.

“I routinely raised between $50,000 and $75,000 a year.”

Confidential Information
Holowaty said what concerned him a great deal was confidential information about him being leaked to the media.

“Elsa Nunez (President of Eastern Connecticut St.) allowed confidential information to be distributed to the media illegally. And then she made the comment, ‘We thought we had him before, but the witnesses did not come through. Now we have all the witnesses we need to terminate his employment. This was said to the papers while the investigation was going. It was handled totally improperly.

“Our president was also quoted as saying, ‘There had been other allegations through the years. And every time we got close to where termination was possible, a witness would not come forward.

“This whole thing was well orchestrated. It was me versus the administration. I wasn’t aware of what they were doing. It was a witch hunt that got out of hand. I approached the administration a week before resigning and told them that what was going on is totally wrong for me and the university.

“Let’s stop and reevaluate the whole situation and go forward with logic. One of the Vice Presidents called me and said this was not about my job. A few days later, this individual told me that he was wrong. Things have changed.

“This was a witch hunt that was planned last year probably in August and has been carried out this entire year. I was set up to fail.”

Holowaty, who also served as the athletics’ director at Eastern Connecticut State for 15 years (1974-1988) during his career, carried the torch for other coaches at the school.

“What bothers me is that I built the athletics program at Eastern Connecticut State. When I became the AD here, we had no women’s sports. Now we have more women’s sports than men’s sports. We had no outdoor facilities for our women. And these were all things we accomplished during my 15 years as athletics’ director.

“I ultimately was asked to choose between being a full time AD or baseball coach in 1988. I choose to be the full time baseball coach and stop being the AD.

“The current president at Eastern said that I have never liked our ADs that have come along. And I said that’s not true at all. The former AD and I got along very well and called me recently asked if she could help me. So this has been a witch hunt, and I don’t know where it went sour for me and the president of the university. Prior to the new AD coming aboard, we were on solid ground.”

Lets Assistant Go
After last season, his assistant coach for 36 seasons, Bob Wojick, was let go.

“I told him that it was time to part because we just were not good for each other. He couldn’t stop talking about me behind my back to anybody who would listen on campus for a period of time. He was always questioning my decisions. I have been told that when he talked to administrators, he said ‘Holowaty is not the same’ and this and that. I gave him a year to change his ways because we had been together for so many years. I owed him that. But he didn’t change. So a year ago in May or June, I told him that we had to part. I told him that he did a hell of a job for many years. But I just couldn’t put up with it any more.

“I was told by a vice president that the talk behind my back by Bob was going on for the previous 3-4 years. When he left my office that day, he said, ‘You will never hear the end of this. Since then, I have had 3-4 hearings by the university for me being accused of stealing money or me doing this or that with the source being him.

“None of the allegations were proven to be right.”

Holowaty said that another situation came up involving his son Jared.

“I knew after the 2012 season, I was going to retire in one or two years. And I thought it would be great to have my son Jared with me as an assistant coach to finish off a great career. He would not be paid a cent and would be a volunteer. He previously was a volunteer for our program during the 2003 or 2004 season. Then he left to coach at College of New Jersey, the University of Maine and Whitman College.

“He resigned at Whitman (located in Washington) because was not happy being so far from home and wanted to come back and help me out on the basis that Bob Wojick would still be here. Jared would not take anybody’s position and would simply volunteer his time and help me out.

“I was happy as heck that I had the chance to finish my career with my son next to me. We went through the entire summer of 2012 with no answer from the president of the university if this was going to be allowed. Then in August, I wrote a letter asking for an answer. And she (Elsa Nunez) wrote back that I had a hard time handling volunteer workers at the university, and she wouldn’t allow this to happen.

“I didn’t handle the answer well. The new AD got involved. This just set the tone for the rest of the year. Jared left and went to Montclair St. to coach with Norm Schoenig and has enjoyed his experience. I hired new assistant coaches, and they did a heck of a job.”

More Problems Erupt
The problems Holowaty had with his president and AD didn’t stop there.

“Since the school year started, I have been accused of causing social media problems. Being an older guy, I had no idea what social media meant. And the AD called me a liar.

“Then I handed in my budget the same way I have done for the prior 44 years. It was hand written in ink. But it wasn’t done to the AD’s specifications. He wanted it typed.

“Then he gave me 17 days in November to raise $32,000 for our spring trip. I raised $26,000 in 17 days. And then I mentioned to him that it would be appreciated if he let me raise money beyond this 17-day window because on Jan. 1 I would have over $40,000 for the trip. He said no. And he refused to allow us to go on our annual spring trip because I couldn’t meet this 17-day deadline.”

In the 45 years Holowaty had been at Eastern Connecticut State, no AD had ever put up a road block to a spring trip as Konin was alleged to have done.

“I had a survey given to NCAA Division III schools at the 2013 American Baseball Coaches Association Convention, and not one Division III school had their money raised before the spring semester started. In our league, the earliest a team had all their money in was Feb. 1. The latest was the middle of March. And one school didn’t have a deadline.

“This guy (Konin) required this 17-day deadline so that I would fail. In the mean time, our women’s softball program had an organized, type-written budget that he thought was appropriate, and it was approved. They didn’t have their money raised until the middle of February.”

Holowaty said that he then had to scramble to complete his 2013 schedule with a chunk of games now being played in freezing weather instead of the sunny weather of Florida.

“Since our AD refused to allow us to go on a spring trip, I lined up games in Long Island, New Jersey, and other locations. We played over 60 percent of our schedule in 30 degree weather, if not colder.”

Holowaty was asked if any of his players suffered injuries because of the cold weather.

“We lost three catchers and our shortstop, but our kids have done a heck of a job battling through all of the cold weather they had to endure.”

Player With DUI
Holowaty explained another situation that cropped up during the season.

“One of our ball players was arrested for DUI on a Thursday evening. Friday morning, he called me to tell me about the situation. I suspended him indefinitely and took away his honor of being a captain. And he did not dress with his teammates for games the whole weekend.

“Then I told him that I would see the athletics’ director on Monday. And we would talk and then make a decision. So I saw our AD that Monday morning and had a game that afternoon against Wesleyan. I told our AD that our player would do this and that. I said that he should be let back on the team. However, he would not start today but would dress.

“We travel to Wesleyan. I had to keep 3-4 kids at home because they had class. Another 3-4 kids were at home because there was a JV game there. So we traveled with a skeleton crew. Our shortstop in pre-game stepped on a pipe and sprained his ankle. So I am left with pitchers outside of the DUI guy to play. So I started the DUI guy because I had nobody else. I didn’t want to see a pitcher get injured playing a position they weren’t used to.

“In retrospect, I probably should have put a pitcher out there for one inning or one out and took him out. Then there wouldn’t have been a problem. Our AD came down for the game to see how I would handle everything. He called my cell phone during the game, which I didn’t have on, to talk to me about the situation.

“This AD has never coached in his life. He is a former trainer. Here I am once again being questioned. And he wrote it up in my file that I did not follow orders. And then he accused me of winning at all costs.”

Holowaty said that in early February, Konin suggested that he assign an assistant coach to help him out with financial matters.

“I told him (Konin) that one of my assistant coaches is a volunteer coach who drives 1½ hours one way to help the program. My head assistant runs three big restaurants in Hartford. My other assistant had to get a full time job because he was getting married, his girlfriend was pregnant, and he was buying a house. Then I mentioned that three people were turned down as office workers.

“I was told my son couldn’t volunteer his time to be with the program. Second, we had an assistant equipment manager for a long time who was told he couldn’t coach with me. Third, I trained a student for two years to do all my work in the office to help me out. And I was told he couldn’t work for me. Now is this helping the baseball program or deterring the baseball program? I was set up to fail once again.”

Helmet Tossed Into Stands
One of the allegations by the administration was that Holowaty threw a helmet into the bleachers during a game this season.

“Administrators said they did an investigation into this situation, and I was never asked my side of the story. Here is what happened. It was probably 30 degrees, and there was virtually no one in stands. We have a team rule that batters are not allowed to throw helmets in frustration. We want batters to walk back to the dugout and put their helmet away properly if they make an out.

“One of our players, a senior, has grown up tremendously over the years. But he had a helmet throwing problem every once in a while when he got frustrated. In this situation, he throws the helmet, and he knows the rule. I probably should have just kicked him out of the ball game at that point. But I didn’t. I picked the helmet up and looked in the stands above the dugout. Nobody is there, and I threw the helmet up there in disgust and to show how childish his antics were.

“The President at Eastern Connecticut State (Nunez) responded by saying, ‘I am a grandmother, and I have children. If somebody threw a helmet at my child, I would sue. Once they saw he threw a helmet in the stands, it was over. This was egregious. I can’t have anybody do that. It is just unacceptable.”

Holowaty said that nobody at the school has asked his side of this story until Collegiate Baseball inquired.

“We’re all about student education. And I was trying to show this young man that throwing a helmet was simply not acceptable. I wasn’t angry at the kid. But a point had to be made about how horrible it looks to throw helmets. Like I said, nobody was in the stands because it was 30 degrees.”

Holowaty said his AD constantly wrote negative things in his file.

“I dropped by the AD’s office one day to reschedule a game, and I headed out to practice shortly after that. The next day, I was talking to kids all day because that is what you do at a university. I didn’t have a chance to look at my e-mail.

“So I run by the AD’s office before I go to practice and ask him if he decided what was going to happen with the rescheduled game. He then tells me that he spent a lot of time e-mailing me an answer. Read your e-mail! We rarely had meetings because he can’t go in front of people and talk to them properly.”

Holowaty said another allegation brought up against him was being abusive to a ball player during the 2013 season.

“This is what transpired. After a ball game I was sitting in the dugout, and nobody was around. I have my hands on my chin. One of our players comes by and tells me that he wants to hit.

“I told him that he should go home and rest. Then he repeated that he wanted to hit and then started to mouth off. Then I used several swear words to tell him to go home. Then he takes his ball bucket, throws it on the ground and dislocates his shoulder. He hasn’t played since.

“After that, he goes home and tells his mother that I was verbally abusive. Guess what? I have gotten in kid’s faces. I have never had any intention of harming anybody. This is what happened, and nobody at the university has ever asked what transpired with this kid. Nobody.

“My final conclusion with all of this is that it is extremely difficult to be a leader in our society now. You have principles, and you must follow those principles. I am an educator first and foremost. If you are a good coach, you are an educator, period.”

Law Broken
Holowaty said confidential information was released to newspapers from his personnel file.

“This is never supposed to happen unless approved by court order. Yet when I was suspended by the university recently, I was not allowed to talk to anybody or go on campus. While I was muzzled, the President of the University (Nunez) was quoted in The Hartford Courant that there had been other allegations through the years about me. But she said, ‘Every time we would get close where termination was possible, a witness would not come forward.’ This is called fishing in the newspaper.

“She was quoted as saying, ‘The bullying and abusing (by Holowaty) are being investigated. That may go on past May 13. If it does, he (Holowaty) would not go back to coaching.’

“She said that the investigation may show that two people come forward or 42 people. And we have to talk to them all by law.”

Holowaty said that this “fishing” expedition in the media was disgusting.

“She then said, ‘If he did something wrong, he should be terminated. If not, we owe him an apology.’ ”

Holowaty said that an open message was addressed to Nunez following this ordeal.

“The person who wrote the message said: ‘If cursing in public and throwing a baseball helmet are grounds for termination, then what are the consequences for discussing in public pending unsubstantiated allegations and throwing confidential documents into the public forum?

“To Coach Holowaty: This process was not evil and sinful. It is illegal. To Connecticut State Board of Regents: This wasn’t a personnel matter for Elsa Nunez. It was a personal matter.”

Holowaty said he woke up the morning of April 25 and rolled over to see his beautiful wife Jan with tears streaming from her eyes.

“This year has been nearly unbearable,” said Holowaty.

“And my wife, who is one heck of a lady, has been abused by these statements by administrators. They are totally out of line, totally illegal, and I just couldn’t put up with it any more. So I had to resign so she wouldn’t suffer any more.

“I just wanted to be treated properly and fairly. And this is not that. There is not one time in my entire career that I purposely did anything to hurt someone. My thought all the time was to try and motivate, teach and excite players to be better in whatever they do. And yes, I yelled at kids at times and also got in their faces. Did I hurt them? No damn way.

 “Hundreds of former players from all over the country have come to my aid during this tough time. Being 68 years old, I was going to retire soon. This just hastened it. I am extremely disappointed at how this university treated me when I was someone who had been loyal and dedicated for 45 years.

“I have contacted a lawyer and am not sure if I will file suit against these people or not. My union is involved in this matter, and I don’t know where that will go. My good name and family have been dragged through the mud unnecessarily. And I have been slandered without any regrets.”

To obtain this issue of Collegiate Baseball or subscribe, CLICK HERE.

Ray Birmingham Explains Amazing System

Ray Birmingham Explains Amazing System

Ray BirminghamBy LOU PAVLOVICH, JR.
Editor/Collegiate Baseball
© 2013 Collegiate Baseball

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — One of the premiere baseball coaches in the USA is Ray Birmingham of the University of New Mexico. The head coach of the Lobos recently celebrated his 1,000th coaching victory with a 19-5 win over Air Force and has been a collegiate head coach for 26 years.

His teams are tougher than boot leather and endure “Marine Day” training sessions at 4 a.m. through the fall to allow the team to bond together. He has been a passionate student of the game every step of the way and has utilized information from such great Hall of Fame coaches as Ed Cheff (Lewis-Clark St.), Lloyd Simmons (Seminole St. J.C., Okla.), Gary Ward (Oklahoma St., New Mexico St.), Tony Gwynn (San Diego Padres, San Diego St.), Andy Lopez (Arizona), Cliff Gustafson (Texas), Ron Polk (Mississippi St.),  Augie Garrido (Texas), Mark Johnson (Texas A&M), Wayne Graham (Rice), and Mark Marquess (Stanford) to name just a few.

From this vast knowledge base, he has come up with a coaching system that is one of the best in the business. He began his coaching career at College of The Southwest and won 53 games in two years before leading New Mexico Junior College to a 765-255-2 record in 18 years and won the 2005 NJCAA national championship.

He has been at the University of New Mexico since 2008 and has led the Lobos to three straight NCAA regionals after UNM had not been to one in 48 years.

Weather, Scheduling Issues
New Mexico always seems to struggle early in the season because of frigid weather in Albuquerque and the talented teams they play. But this toughens them up for conference games and the playoffs following that. As a result, the Lobos usually have a marginal record through 15-20 games prior to conference games starting.

But then New Mexico begins to win and keeps winning through the rest of the season.

“Baseball is a journey to me, and many people get caught in the records of teams, especially early in the season,” said Birmingham.

“But records mean nothing to me at that time because we are focusing on playing the toughest teams we can early because baseball is all about the last man standing.

“And then your ball club will either get tough or die. I want to play Stanford, Texas, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Arizona, Arizona St. and teams like that. If your team doesn’t learn to play against the best teams, how will they compete when the post-season arrives?

“I was inspired by what Stony Brook did last year and what Fresno St. did a few years ago when they won the national championship. We don’t need sunshine. All we need is an opportunity.”

Birmingham acknowledged that generating a great Rating Percentage Index score is tough for New Mexico.

“We usually are a victim of the RPI because we play such a tough schedule early which is very demanding and might not come with a lot of wins. In my first year at New Mexico, we opened up with a 10-game winning streak but didn’t play great teams like we do now early in the season. We scheduled teams that had RPIs in the upper 100s and even into the 200s. I decided after that we needed to play the toughest teams possible which would help our team improve. And it has helped us tremendously.”

Birmingham said the improvement his teams show as the season progresses is the result of other factors as well.

“I am a big believer in team building. We are all teammates and are pushing the rock in the right direction. I will bark at the players if they don’t play it the right way, but I am always pulling for every kid on the squad. I have a real problem with kids who don’t hustle down the line to first or think double on a single. I don’t want our hitters to take a pitch off.

“It is mandatory that we can’t lower the bar when you are striving for excellence. That is the way the game must be played to achieve success. Too many kids arrive in college baseball programs at the age of 17 or 18 and have been told over and over again they are the best at what they do.

“But we have a blue collar approach at New Mexico. We demand hard work from every player on the squad.”

Towel Wrestling, Marine Day

When Birmingham was at New Mexico Junior College, he was legendary for the tough team bonding activities he had his squads perform.

“Kids would run 4-5 miles in the mornings and not just jog. They had to do sprints and run miles. Then in the afternoon, we had the players pair off and did towel wrestling. Both players are on a mat, and one guy grabs one end of the towel and the other player the other end. Then they fight to get the entire towel. It made for some interesting team bonding drills.”

Birmingham said he doesn’t do that at the University of New Mexico because of time constraints with NCAA Division I rules.

“But we do have them run sand hills and do strength and conditioning at 5:30 a.m. We also have ‘Marine Days’ through the fall. Players never know when they are coming. Our guys will get a text message early in the evening the day before that tells them we will have ‘Marine Day’ at the indoor football practice facility the next morning at 4 a.m. And don’t be late!

“Kids are absolutely terrified at first. We have different stations within the indoor facility set up which includes blocking dummies, blocking sleds, harness pulls with heavy weights and others. I show up in battle fatigues. And for the next two hours, our players go through a gut check with an array of calisthenics and exercises. Kids will do 50 yard sprints, pushups, situps, jumping jacks in cadence. If they are not all in unison, they start over.

“The point of all this is that we are counting on everybody to work together. Everybody must do it right or we won’t be successful. And when we face those tough teams early in the schedule and might not do as well as we want, we tend to bounce back and learn from our mistakes as players improve with our great work ethic.”

Birmingham said something wonderful transpires as the kids go through this team building activity.

“Because of how tough this is, they all begin to pull for each other and transform into a team. It is fantastic to watch. I was influenced into doing this as I studied the team building concepts of Ed Cheff at Lewis-Clark St. and Lloyd Simmons at Seminole J.C., Okla. Both are 1,000 game winners, and they are two of the best coaches of all time.”

Birmingham said that he is constantly learning as a coach.

“I am a product of many coaches who I have learned from. I am still learning concepts to help my players. Beyond baseball, you want your kids to do well in the classroom. Our kids always have a grade point average over 3.00. So academically they do well. We want our kids to do well socially and have a great life after baseball.

“When you see kids 20 years after they graduate, it is such a warm feeling when you realize they are good fathers and a leaders in their communities.”

Hitting Philosophy

Birmingham is one of the elite hitting coaches in baseball and has studied the concepts taught by Ward, Gwynn, Charlie Lau and George Brett, to name a few.

When he was at New Mexico Junior College, six players led the nation in batting and six teams hit over .400. The Thunderbirds hit .416 as a team in 2007. The 2005 NMJC national championship team hit .411 during the regular season and .400 in post-season play.

In 2001, the Thunderbirds hit .438 as the team led the country. And in 1998, NMJC led the nation with 122 home runs.

“My philosophy on hitting is the culmination of instruction learned from many people in the game of baseball. In its simplest form, you want the hitter to let the ball travel as far as possible and square up the ball. You want hitters to have proper hitting vision, great hand coordination, utilize the lower half properly, and have a short stroke with the proper bat path. All of these things are vital.

“Drills in our program are used for the players to understand a concept and feel what should be done. We utilize angles a great deal in hitting, and that is a big concept for me. Our hitters use the whole field, and plate discipline is crucial. If you look at our stats, our players walk a lot and don’t strike out much.

“Overswinging is a problem with many hitters. We have had success taking bat speed away from hitters to teach the proper mechanics of the swing. It is surprising how far players can hit the ball by accomplishing this simple concept. They can always speed up their swing later.”

 Birmingham also is big on slowing the game down for his hitters.

“We work very hard at this concept and making the game as simple as it can be. We also work hard at making adjustments with different pitchers such as soft lefties, hard throwers, hurlers who throw in and away. We want our hitters to know what to do in certain counts and make positive outs.

“There is so much to what we teach. In fact, I have a checklist of 250 things I look at for each hitter. We don’t go over all of them at once. Kids are given little pieces of this checklist over time so they can be successful and master concepts.”

Adjustment Interesting

When new players come to New Mexico, whether they be from high schools or junior colleges, they have usually dominated competition at their former school.

“Every hitter wants to be a table cleaner when they come into the program, and that simply isn’t going to happen. We determine who are the table setters and table cleaners. They are told what their role will be, and then through a lot of work, they make it happen.”

Birmingham said that he learned from long time Texas Head Coach Cliff Gustafson that letting hitters fail right off the bat is important when they come into the program. So Birmingham puts them in a situation which will cause failure.

“I tell the kids that to be in pro baseball, they must be able to handle fastballs near 100 mph. That is what they will see in pro ball. So I have a Ponza Hummer pitching machine that is set for the upper 90s and is aimed at the same spot for batters. As they get ready to hit, they know the pitch will be a fastball, and they must catch up to the speed. And this trips them up every time.

“Virtually every kid has a long swing and doesn’t realize it or has a hole that he doesn’t know about. So when they struggle initially, they are now open to suggestions on refining their swing so that it is short and productive. Each hitter has their own style. We don’t want them to dramatically change. But every hitter must do certain basic things. Not everybody has great hand speed who can knock home runs out of the park. But they can be a productive part of the lineup.

“And when suggestions are offered, not every player agrees with what I say. And that’s fine. But over time, we come to an agreement on what should be done to get the most out of our hitters.

“Our hitters are taught physically and mentally because both are crucial. And it is absolutely crucial that they never take a pitch off when batting. Hitting is not always about getting a hit or having great batting averages. For us, we closely observe a player’s on-base percentage. Making productive outs and moving runners over is the right approach for us. It is a team game. But you have individuals playing it.”

Birmingham said that hitters must be able to adjust to different ball parks as well.

“If you play at Arkansas and TCU, those parks were made for pitching. When the wind blows straight in, you can square a pitch up and will almost always make a fly ball out. So hitting is not only pitcher to pitcher adjustments and adjustments in at-bats, we have a strategy for different parks we play in.

“I have always been very passionate about hitting. And listening to the great coaches and hitters of all time which deal with hitting has been a revelation.”

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Are Pitchers Being Coddled Too Much?

Are Pitchers Being Coddled Too Much?

Editor/Collegiate Baseball
© 2013 Collegiate Baseball

HOUSTON, Tex. — Talk to any pitching coach, and the subject of pitch counts will undoubtedly come up.

While the sport hemorrhaged more than half a billion dollars for players on the disabled list last season, the answer to elbow and shoulder injuries is still an elusive mirage.

On the college, high school and youth baseball levels, elbow and shoulder surgeries to pitchers are costing parents millions of dollars each year. For years, the medical community has recommended that college and professional pitchers throw 120 or fewer pitches a game. 

But that is hardly the total answer when you are dealing with pitching mechanics or hurlers throwing a large number of stressful pitches in one inning. According to The Cultural Encyclopedia Of Baseball,  pitch counts were not utilized for many years in pro baseball. The main factor was how successful the pitcher was. If his velocity went down or he was laboring, the pitcher was simply taken out. Common sense ruled the day.

Sandy Koufax averaged 155 pitches per game in one season during the early 1960s which was not unusual for that era. Nolan Ryan was an absolute workhorse. He threw 235 pitches in a 12-inning game against the Red Sox in 1974. He also threw 241 pitches in a game for the Angels in the mid-1970s. Ryan believed he averaged between 160-180 pitches per game in 1974. Washington Senators’ pitcher Tom Cheney threw 228 pitches in 1963 as he struck out 21 Orioles in a 16-inning game. Luis Tiant threw 163 pitches in a complete game win by the Red Sox over the Reds in Game 4 of the 1975 World Series.

In 1987, there were 106 performances where a pitcher threw at least 140 pitches in a Major League game. Eight years later in 1995, that total was only 36. The protocol by the late 1990s was 120 pitches as the limit to keep pitchers healthy.

If you think these numbers by starting professional pitchers were high years ago in pro baseball, the Japanese really push the envelope when it comes to high pitch counts.

In a remarkable story by Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports recently, he discussed Japan’s national high school baseball tournament which takes place twice a year. Recently the spring championship took place, and a young 16-year-old boy named Tomohiro Anraku of Saibi High School threw 772 pitches over 46 innings in five days.

He started the tournament with a 94 mph fastball and threw 232 pitches over 13 innings in his first contest. Then he threw 159, 138, 134 and 109 pitches in succeeding games. In his last game, not surprisingly, he could barely muster enough arm strength to throw fastballs 80 mph as he gave up nine runs during an eventual 17-1 drubbing.

According to Passan, the ultimate compliment for a baseball player in Japan is to be called Kaibutsu which translates to “Monster” and symbolizes an athlete who performs at a remarkable level during the national tournament.

Passan also pointed out that 15 years ago at the Japanese national high school tournament that Daisuke Matsuzaka threw 250 pitches over 17 innings during a quarterfinal game. Then he pitched the next day in relief. And a day later, Matsuzaka fired a no-hitter in the finals.

He pitched eight seasons in Japan pro baseball dominating hitters and signed with the Red Sox for $103 million for six years. In his fifth year at 30 years old, he blew out his elbow which required Tommy John surgery. And he wasn’t able to make the Cleveland Indians as the fifth starter out of spring training.

Tracking High Pitch Counts
For years, Boyd Nation has produced a web site called which features college baseball ratings and analysis.

One of his categories is the Pitch Count Watch in NCAA Division I.

This season, he uncovered 13 outings by pitchers that resulted in 140 pitches or more. Box scores either have actual pitch counts or the number of batters faced. So some of the counts are estimates that are extremely close.

The highest number this year was an estimated total of 183 by pitcher Josh Freeman of Alabama A&M when he threw 9 2/3 innings against Jackson St. on April 6. He faced 50 batters, walked 11, and had 4 strikeouts as he gave up 10 hits in the 5-4 loss to Jackson St.

No actual pitch count was listed in the box score of this game — only batters faced. But if Freeman threw an average of 4 pitches to each of the 50 batters, the count would be 200 pitches.

And it isn’t unreasonable to assume he hit that figure or higher with the number of walks he registered and strikeouts. Alabama A&M’s sports information department and baseball office were called to seek an actual pitch count for Freeman. But nobody called Collegiate Baseball back with Freeman’s pitch count total for this outing as of press time.

Late-Season Heroics
Last season saw two pitchers go far beyond what hurlers normally do.

RHP Taylor Sewitt of Manhattan College pitched 22 scoreless innings over three straight days at the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Tournament to guide the Jaspers to the league title. He struck out 20 batters, allowed 10 hits and won three games as he threw 296 total pitches. He began with a nine inning complete game, 1-0 victory over Fairfield on a Friday with 12 strikeouts. The next day, he came out of the bullpen and held Canisius scoreless in the final two innings of a 5-4, 10-inning walk-off win. Then on Sunday, he pitched 11 scoreless innings to lead Manhattan to a 3-2 win.

Mitch Crocker of Westmont College (CA) accomplished something that may never have been done in college baseball history as he recorded three wins over a 25-hour period. Those wins allowed Westmont to quality for the Golden State Athletic conference tournament for the first time in 15 years.

After losing the first of the four-game series to Vanguard, Westmont went on to win the next three in must win scenarios.

In game two, which was scheduled for seven innings, Crocker took the mound in the bottom of the seventh with the bases loaded, two outs and the score tied at three. The righthander coaxed Van-guard’s Alec Rosales to ground out to end the threat. After Westmont scored three runs in the top of the eighth, Crocker returned to the mound and pitched a scoreless bottom of the eighth to record the win.

The next day, Crocker was called in the seventh after the Warriors had given up five runs and fell behind, 9-8. With two outs and runners on the corners, Crocker struck out Adonis Tountas to end the rally. After Crocker pitched a scoreless top of the eighth, Westmont’s Tim Leary belted a 2-run homer in the bottom of the eighth to put the Warriors back on top, 10-8. Crocker then retired the side in order in the top of the ninth to earn his second win. Upon returning to the dugout, Crocker told his coaches that he was ready to go back out in the second game of the doubleheader.

Crocker then went out and pitched a complete game, giving the Warriors an 8-2 win. He gave up one run in the second and third innings, but kept the Lions scoreless in the final six innings. In those three games over 25 hours, Crocker threw 173 pitches in 12 2/3 innings of work. He allowed two runs on 10 hits, struck out nine and walked three.

Where Baseball Is Today

Derek Johnson, pitching coordinator with the Chicago Cubs, weighed in on pitch counts in baseball.

“The reality is that pitch counts are where baseball is today,” said Johnson.

“Years ago when I played, starting pitchers would have much higher pitch totals than today. And common sense was the tool that determined when a pitcher was pulled or not. If pitches were getting up in the zone or you saw velocity drops, fewer strikes and a change in mechanics, then pitchers were getting tired and were usually taken out.

“On the professional level, we are talking about protecting pitchers who are being paid millions of dollars. We always have to be vigilant on whether we need to have pitchers back off on innings or games or continue pitching. And every pitcher is different.

“There are variables within the pitch count as well. One is how stressful innings are and how quickly he got to 100 pitches and the history that a pitcher may have. Was his arm abused in travel ball at a young age or at another level? At the end of the day, the game needs a subjective measure on whether a pitcher will break down. But that’s not the easiest factor to determine.”

Johnson was asked if pitchers are being babied too much now.

“There is a fine line to walk between coddling a pitcher and abusing him. You obviously don’t want to be overprotective. But you don’t want to injure him either. The bottom line is that each pitcher is different, and you must treat them accordingly.”

Unique Approach In 2012
While more teams than ever are monitoring pitch counts on the high school, college and professional levels with precision, and utilizing closers late in games, the University of Arizona won the 2012 national championship by extending their starting pitchers deep into games.

Wildcat starters finished with 16 complete games, including eight over its final 19 contests. It was the most complete games in a single season at the school in the last 23 years.

To put this in perspective, Arizona had the same amount of complete games as the entire Southeastern Conference made up of 12 teams.

In 36 games, their top three starters worked into the seven inning at a minimum.

Kurt Heyer ultimately threw 2,212 total pitches while Konner Wade fired 1,851 pitches and James Farris 1,612.

And interestingly, there were no pitching injuries last season.

“From a pitch count perspective, our magical number is 125 pitches,” said Wildcat pitching coach Shaun Cole.

“Once a pitcher hits that number, we really watch him carefully. We usually make a decision at that number. But we also watch pitchers throughout the game and monitor their velocity. If it drops or command starts being an issue, we might pull them.

“There were plenty of times last season when we went out to visit Kurt Heyer at the 125-pitch mark, and he still had a lot more in the tank. The most we ever allowed Kurt to go to was 135 pitches.

“But other guys might not be able to go past the fourth inning without showing problems.

“Every pitcher is different when it comes to how far they can go in games.”

Cole said that the time of year must also be taken into account.

“If it is early in the season, why would any coach press a pitcher to go 125 or 130 pitches? But late in the year if a pitcher is conditioned well and his velocity hasn’t dropped, you probably should consider letting that pitcher go a little longer depending on the game.

“But at the same time, nobody really knows what the exact number should be in a pitch count. From a coaching standpoint, you never want to hurt a young man’s arm. Staying consistent with what works well helps tremendously. Knowing what a pitcher can handle is important as well.”

Cole feels pitchers are babied too much today.

“In Nolan Ryan’s day, there was a mentality of finishing games by starting pitchers. Pitchers today, and probably a lot of position players, simply don’t throw enough.

“I feel catchers should throw more than they normally do. Catchers can strengthen their arms by throwing to second but with the second baseman standing behind the bag on the outfield grass.

“When the middle infielder comes back to the bag, the throw by the catcher is much easier. Throwing more often with position players is an area that is not addressed much.”

Youth Baseball Limits
With the rise in elbow and shoulder injuries to youth baseball pitches, the American Sports Medicine Institute feels important steps must be taken to minimize such injuries.

ASMI suggests watching and responding to signs of fatigue (such as decreased ball velocity, decreased accuracy, upright trunk during pitching, dropped elbow during pitching or increased time between pitches).

If a youth pitcher complains of fatigue or looks fatigued, let him rest from pitching and other throwing. For specific pitch count limits in the different youth age groups, go to  

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