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What Makes Great Performers?

What Makes Great Performers?

Editor/Collegiate Baseball
© 2009 Collegiate Baseball
(Appeared In May 15, 2009 edition)

FAIRFIELD, Conn. — What separates world-class performers from everybody else?

It is a question that many have asked for centuries, but not understood until now. Geoff Colvin, senior editor at large of Fortune magazine, spent nearly two years researching this question. He wrote a remarkable book which hit book stores last year called Talent Is Overrated and is the hot book to read now by coaches in amateur and pro baseball.

According to Colvin, the short answer to being a world-class performer is practicing in a precision manner on a regular basis for 10,000 hours. But the subject is obviously much more complex than that.

“What separates world-class performers from everybody else is a deep question,” said Colvin.

“The simple answer is the thousands of hours these people spend with deliberate practice. But the question underneath that is why do they put in those thousands of hours when most people don’t? And why do they push themselves so they reach this level?

“But there is more to it than that. Two different people could put in the same amount of hours, and one person could just go through the motions while the other person could be intensely focused on it at all times. The second person would get much better results.

“So again, why do some people work so hard and with the requisite intensity? That is a much more difficult question. What I have come to believe in many fields, and sports is definitely one of them, is that training starts early in life, and the role of the parent is extremely important.

“At the same time, I have found that every great performer has a moment when motivation becomes internalized. The performer is no longer practicing hard because his parents are making him do it. It becomes his own quest and own pursuit. When that happens, it typically isn’t a goal that is driving him. It is because there is something in the activity itself that he finds rewarding.

“Wherever that comes from is what really separates world-class performers from everybody else. Research has been conducted by a number of people that suggests 10,000 hours of practice done in a precision manner is the magic number. And there is separate research, but related, that shows 10 years is generally necessary. These figures apply pretty well across most disciplines. That is why it is so striking whether you are talking about baseball, playing the cello, the violin or chess, in addition to a number of other disciplines.

“This information suggests that it takes a lot more work than most people realize to be a top performer. They simply aren’t born that way. Consider that 10,000 hours is an enormous amount of time. Twenty  hours of deliberate practice a week is a lot by any standard. But you would have to do that for 10 years every week all year long for that amount of time. It’s a huge amount of work.”

Undisciplined Practice
Colvin said there is a tremendous amount of undisciplined practice taking place all across the world in different disciplines.

“It is the most common thing in every sport or activity. People tend to do what they can already do and just do that over and over because it is rewarding and feels good. You get to see some pleasant results. Those people don’t get much better. The best are always focused on what they can’t do well. And there is research on this. If you look at figure skaters, the mediocre ones spend time practicing jumps that they can already do quite well.

“The best ones spend most of their time practicing jumps that they really can’t do yet. They are constantly pushing the envelope. It is the same in baseball. Ball players must try to hone their skills so they are better in the areas which need improvement. This is also why good coaches are so valuable in any pursuit. Even if it isn’t sports, a good coach is extremely valuable. A good coach will assess where the kid is at that moment in his development.

“Based on the coach’s own experience, he will decide what that pitcher or hitter must develop next. What is it that he can’t quite do that he needs to be able to do? He must repeat this over and over again until he can do it. If it is a certain pitch he can’t throw well or locating it properly in a certain location in the strike zone, the pitcher must grow constantly in his quest to get better.

“It sounds obvious, but it is also obvious why most players don’t do it. When you first try it, you will fail. Mistakes will be made, it will feel uncomfortable, and it won’t feel good. So most players avoid pushing themselves. They are fine with what they do. But it is obvious to me that good coaches will force the players to reach new skill levels by working on their deficiencies. These coaches will also provide lots of feedback on how it’s going.

“It is also important to point out that nobody can work hard on their discipline for a tremendous length of time straight. It’s not only because of the physical constraints. There are mental constraints involved, and coaches must understand this. A player must focus very hard on learning or improving a skill. After a certain amount of time, whether that is 30 minutes or longer, you need a rest. Then you can come back to it. The mental exhaustion is at least as important as the physical exhaustion.”

Colvin said in Talent Is Overrated that researchers looked at violinists at the Music Academy of West Berlin to find out whether there was any data that showed why some students excelled and others didn’t. They studied biographical data about every conceivable subject involving all violinists, whether it be the age they started, teachers, competitions entered and other information.

At the age of 18, three distinct groups surfaced. The most accomplished group had accumulated 7,410 hours of lifetime practice on average compared to the less talented second group which compiled 5,301 hours and 3,420 for the even less talented third group.

The 10,000 hour practice rule seemed to be in full effect with the data compiled and 10 year rule as well.

“What applies to the violinists applies very well to baseball. Both of those are activities that people start as kids. When you reach the age of 18, if you haven’t accumulated as many hours as another player, it becomes very difficult to catch up. At that point, the best players are adding to their total amount of hours at a fairly impressive rate and are getting a lot of help. If you are trying to keep up and trying to do more than they are doing in order to catch up, it becomes almost impossible.

“So the early training of an athlete turns out to be very important.”

Starting Young Essential
Colvin was asked if disciplined practice is vital at a young age or consistency of disciplined practice throughout one’s life.

“Having disciplined practice is important during a person’s life. But there are two reasons to believe that it is particularly important in the early years as a pitcher. Disciplined practice will alter your brain. Researchers call this brain plasticity. It can happen at any age even if you are an adult. At one time, researchers didn’t believe adults could have their brains altered in this fashion. But in fact, it is possible.

“However, it happens much more easily when you are young. That function will take over a larger part of your brain if you focus on it early in life. And that will last the rest of your life. It essentially changes the way your brain is wired. That is one reason why.

“The second reason is the pitcher’s ability to get the arm back much further than the ordinary person can get it back. There is research that shows if you do this early in life before your bones are fully calcified, you can get it way back there and continue to get it way back even after you mature fully. However, if you haven’t done that before your bones are fully calcified, then you will never be able to do it. You will lose the ability to get the arm as far back as possible.”

Colvin was asked how a young athlete can be trained by a parent so that youngster will have a passion to play the sport and not wash out at a young age.

It was pointed out to him that many times, well meaning parents live through their kids and force the kids to practice too hard or punish their kids for failing to excel in different sports. In time, the young athlete quits playing because he can’t cope with the pressure the parent puts on him or the constant abuse.

On the other side, Tiger Woods had an exceptional father, Earl, who passed on the love he had for golf through his son with demanding, focused practices. But both had a great time doing it. And Tiger Woods has been the standard as the world’s greatest golfer for years because of this early, focused training.

 “You’ve really put your finger on one of the key issues here. In fact, I had several paragraphs in my book Talent Is Overrated about how vital the development is between parents and the child.

“The preeminent researcher on the subject, Anders Ericsson of Florida State University, feels that the passion of a young person develops rather than emerging suddenly. A youngster’s childhood may be especially important in how the drive’s development gets started.

“Anders Ericcson goes so far as to say, ‘The research frontier is parenting. Push children too hard, and they respond with anger. You have to develop an independent individual who has chosen to be involved in this activity. It’s how you as a parent can make individuals feel free to reach these levels and aware that this is going to be a long process.’

“Getting a kid to understand and go through demanding practices at an early age is necessary. But you don’t want the kid becoming angry and resentful. In a way, this is what it’s all about. Obviously Earl Woods was able to do this successfully with Tiger Woods. Yet, we have all seen examples where an overbearing parent tries to force his kid to practice hard, and ultimately the kid reaches a certain age and rebels.

“He abandons the whole thing in anger and resentment, and it turns into a terrible situation. What you are asking is undoubtedly one of the most important questions. But unfortunately, there is no research available in this area that really explains how to do it right as a parent.”

Human Experiment
Colvin was asked to explain the story he discussed in his book about Laszlo Polgar, a Hungarian educational psychologist, who believed that great performers are made, not born.

In the 1960s, Polgar felt he understood the process so well that he could prove it with a live experiment with his children as they grew up. He wrote a book about how to do it called Bring Up Genius! (English translation).

To start the experiment, as incredible as this sounds, he publicly announced that he was looking for a woman to marry him so his wife could have children in the quest to help help him with the experiment. He ultimately found a schoolteacher in the Ukraine named Klara.

According to the book, the Polgars soon had a daughter named Susan. When she turned four, he began the process of making her a Grand Master in the game of chess.

At that point, the two parents devoted their lives to teaching Susan chess along with their two other daughters who were born later named Sophia and Judit. All three were home schooled, and the parents quit their jobs to work with the kids.

The schooling consisted largely of time consuming chess instruction every day. Incredibly, the family accumulated 10,000 chess books, and a filing system of index cards which cataloged the important areas of each book. It was a massive undertaking before computers became common.

When Susan was 17, she became the first woman to qualify for the Men’s World Championship. She wasn’t allowed to compete because she wasn’t a male. At the age of 21, she became the first woman ever to be named a grand master, the highest rank in chess.

Her sister Judit became a grand master at 15, the youngest person of either sex to do this. The middle sister, Sophia, never attained the grand master rank because she was the least committed of the three. But she did reach the rank of sixth in the world.

None of the three ever became world champion.

“This story vividly shows what deliberate practice can achieve,” said Colvin.

“The father, Laszlo Polgar, was not a chess master. He knew the game and was a serious player. But he was just average. He was still able to coach his daughters to be top-notch chess players and did it by learning about the game down in-depth.

“The time he brought up his daughters was pre-internet. They had a 10,000 book library that was strictly about chess. He also created a huge filing system where you could look up any position on the chess board and see what various great players had done.

“Today, that is almost trivial on the internet. But when he did it, it was an enormous piece of work. That’s what he was able to do which enabled his daughters to be great in chess, plus of course, requiring his daughters to spend hours and hours each day on chess.

“It shows you that you don’t have to be a great performer to teach others to be great.”

Jerry Rice Workouts
Colvin was asked to explain the remarkable work ethic of Jerry Rice, the greatest wide receiver in the history of the National Football League who mainly played for the San Francisco 49ers.

He is the all-time leader in every major statistical category for wide receivers and was an All-Pro 10 times in 20 NFL seasons. He also won three Super Bowl Rings with the 49ers. 

In Talent Is Overrated, Colvin explains Rice would sprint to the end zone after each reception during team practices when others would stop and go back to the huddle.

His off-season workouts were legendary. He worked out six days a week conducted entirely on his own. Mornings were devoted to cardiovascular work, running a hilly five mile trail. He then would reportedly run ten 40-meter wind sprints up the steepest part. In the afternoons, he did strenuous weight training.

“Jerry Rice was not the fastest wide receiver around,” said Colvin.

“By NFL standards, he didn’t have the speed necessary to be a great receiver. He would clearly be a good one, but he wasn’t fast enough. He somehow devised a training program that focused precisely on what he needed to do to be a great receiver.

“There is a larger lesson here. In any job on a baseball team, it is valuable to stop and think what the specific skills and strengths are needed to be great at that position. And then figure out what will build those specific skills and strengths.

“Jerry Rice knew that he had to run his patterns very precisely every single time so the quarterback knew exactly where to throw the ball.

“He knew he had to jump high to get balls that were thrown in this area to beat out defenders. He knew he had to develop tremendous hand strength to hold on to the ball when defenders tried to strip it away.

“Jerry Rice knew he had to have explosive power so he could come off the line faster. And finally, he had to have endurance so that at the end of the game when the defender was exhausted, he wasn’t.

“So he devised these workout routines focusing exactly on those specific skills to a degree that is incredible. It made him the greatest wide receiver in the history of the NFL by a mile… not a little bit…but by a mile.”

Colvin had some final thoughts on this complex subject.

“One point I would like to emphasize is that I hope people will accept this message, because it will really effect how they lead their lives and raise their kids. If you truly don’t believe that this type of practice will make you better and believe it takes a special gift that you either have or don’t, then you probably are giving up any chance of being extremely good.

“But if you do believe that deliberate practice will work, then you do have a chance.

“It is just tragic that people give up any chance of being great because they don’t think they can do it. The message here is yes, you can do it. You can always get much better than you thought.”

To read great instructional articles throughout the year, subscribe to Collegiate Baseball by CLICKING HERE.


Survival Is Operative Word In Baseball

Survival Is Operative Word In Baseball

Survival Is Vital Element In BaseballBy LOU PAVLOVICH, JR
Editor/Collegiate Baseball
© 2010 Collegiate Baseball

LOS ANGELES — When it comes to winning any type of championship in athletics, and particularly in baseball, survival is the operative word.

No matter how dominant a team is, they reach a crossroads during the season where a ball club will either move forward with renewed vigor, level off or go backwards without ever recovering.

It is an area in sports that is rarely talked about but happens every year. An expert on the subject of surviving is Ben Sherwood, author of The Survivors Club. He spent years interviewing people who survived near death experiences. And he not only documented these remarkable stories in his book, but he sought to find out who beat the odds, who surrendered and why people bounced back while others gave up.

If this wasn’t enough, he allows you to discover your own Survivor IQ through a powerful internet-based test called the Survivor Profiler which was developed exclusively for readers of the book. It gives a customized report on your top survivor strengths.

What baseball coach wouldn’t want to know this information about all his players? After studying the personalities and patterns of people who overcome adversity, five main survivor types emerged:

• The fighter.
• The believer.
• The connector.
• The thinker
• The realist.

The second part of the Survivor Profile digs deeper into each person’s psychology and tells you your top Survivor Tools.

There are 12 measured by the Profiler:

• Adaptability.
• Resilience.
• Faith.
• Hope.
• Purpose.
• Tenacity.
• Love.
• Empathy.
• Intelligence.
• Ingenuity.
• Flow.
• I

Sherwood granted an exclusive interview with Collegiate Baseball and explained how the information from his research plays a big part in sports and specifically baseball.

“Life and competitive sports present the same fundamental ups and downs,” said Sherwood.

“The question I sought out in writing The Survivors Club was who are the most effective survivors and thrivers. The translation to sports is winners in life. What makes them so successful? Are they different from you and me? Are they built differently? Are their genetics different? Are their personalities different? And how can we get more of what those winners have in life’s toughest battles?

“The framework in the very beginning of The Survivors Club in my approach was to find out what the secrets were of the most successful winners in life’s toughest battles. And how can we learn from that?

“The battles I explore in the book include plane crashes, ferry disasters, car accidents, cancer, violent crime, a mountain lion attack on a woman which left her barely alive and the like. What I’ve learned over the last few years in interviewing hundreds of survivors and thrivers around the world is that the difference between a mountain lion attack, a 10-game losing streak or crushing injury is much smaller than it seems.

“That’s because the personal qualities required to overcome hurricanes and tornados or losing streaks and injuries are quite similar and require a very similar fundamental set of skills. My thesis is that survivors and thrivers, winners in life’s toughest battles, draw from the same tool kit. We call them different things in different environments.

“In the military, they call it situational awareness. In basketball, they call it “court awareness” which is a sense of the game and play and what is happening on the court. In game four of the recent World Series between the Yankees and Phillies, I was struck by Johnny Damon’s steal of second in the top of the ninth for New York. Because the infield had shifted to the right with Mark Teixeira batting, nobody was covering third. As Damon approached second, he saw that third base was open. So he continued on to that base and made it safely. He stole two consecutive bases on the same play because of his situational awareness. He knew he could outrun the closest fielder to third base.

“The most effective survivors and thrivers are people who share this common tool kit. They have adaptability, resilience and tenacity. These are qualities of great teams time and time again in sports. You see these teams come back from being down from losing streaks, back from bad calls from umpires. They are the teams that have the ability to bounce back from adversity.

“So what I explored in The Survivors Club is what are the science and secrets of the teams, people and businesses who are able to bounce back the fastest.”

Sherwood said in baseball, you can strikeout one inning and be the hero the next.

“The great players are the ones who get knocked down. Take a look at Alex Rodriguez. He had a miserable time of it through the first three games of the World Series and essentially up to game four through the first eight innings. Then in the ninth inning of that game, he had a key at bat to win the ball game.

“A concept from the survival literature is the ability in the midst of the crisis, whether that be crisis of confidence or crisis of all the noise in your head, that you aren’t doing well and supposed to be doing better. The ability to create “deliberate calm” is essential in survivor literature.

“Deliberate calm is the concept taught to military pilots in fighter pilot school and survival school. Deliberate calm is the ability in the midst of terrible, terrible pressure, hostile environment and tremendous adversity to create the calmness to approach your task and problem you face with the type of calm that will allow you to handle it.”

Sherwood said that he noticed how Joe Torre, former manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers, handled a bad stretch during the season.

“The Dodgers were in a miserable slump during the second half of the season. There was a particular point where the Dodgers had lost a 9-game lead, and the Rockies were on the verge of catching up with them. Torre was asked what his approach was. He pointed out that the game of baseball at the major league level is a pressure cooker. There are high expectations of the best teams to win and perform.

“Coach Torres’ approach to get them out of this slump was to try to spread the notion of deliberate calm throughout the clubhouse. He didn’t use those precise terms, but that is what he was doing. It wouldn’t help his team if he ratcheted up the pressure by screaming at them.

“They were already under a tremendous amount. Instead, his job was to remind them of their strengths as a unit and to remind them of the things that they were particularly good at doing and encourage them to go out and string together hits instead of trying to hit home runs.

“Putting 4-5 hits in a row during an inning would lead to victory. Sure enough. After reminding the team about their strengths and that they needed to focus on that, the Dodgers went on to win the division. The concept of deliberate calm from the survivor literature is relevant. Under tremendous pressure, you need to calmly access the situation and focus on the strengths you have to deal with the particular challenge staring you in the face.

“One of the phrases in my book is ‘Eating an elephant one bite at a time.’ The concept is relevant to baseball teams. If you go out there and look at the fact that you are in the midst of a 9-game losing streak or blown a 4-game lead in your division, the entire challenge can be overwhelming. But if you just focus on each pitch, each at-bat and each inning and put together nine successful innings, eating an elephant one bite at a time leads you in the direction of more confidence. You get momentum in what you are doing. And instead of getting indigestion and giving up because an elephant is too big to eat in one bite, you start to make progress in achieving your goal.”

Sherwood said another concept baseball coaches will find useful is “hugging the monster.”

“The most successful survivors and thrivers don’t run from or avoid danger or fear. They wrestle with it and look it right in the eyes. The more familiar you are with your fears, and the dangers and threats out there, the more recognizable they become. And then they become more manageable when you deal with them.”

More About Surviving: A special 2-part series on this subject appeared in the Jan. 8 and Jan. 29, 2010 editions of Collegiate Baseball. To obtain these two issues, CLICK HERE.

Pitchers Use Everything But Kitchen Sink

Pitchers Use Everything But Kitchen Sink

Editor/Collegiate Baseball
© 2013 Collegiate Baseball

TUCSON, Ariz. — Throughout the history of baseball, pitchers have utilized everything they could get their hands on to tame the bats of hitters.

Some of the substances used by pitchers over the years include pine tar, spit, tobacco juice, emery paper, slippery elm (routinely chewed by spitball pitchers prior to 1920 to help keep up a good level of saliva), licorice, alum, Metamucil, hair tonic, Vaseline, vaginal creams, mud, beeswax, fine cinders, baby oil, turpentine, resin, sandpaper, belt buckles, tacks, steel phonograph needles, and on and on the list goes.

According to The Cultural Encyclopedia Of Baseball written by Jonathan Fraser Light, Russell Ford of the 1909-1913 Yankees, among others, glued an emery board to the heel of his glove. Ryne Duren of the Angels spread white soap flakes on his uniform and then applied them to balls.

Pitchers years ago threw the shine ball which was thrown with licorice, alum, tobacco juice or slippery elm saliva by the pitcher.It wasn’t unusual for a pitcher to scrape the cover of the ball with his spikes to give it grooves and cause it to wobble through the air.

According to John Herbold, Hall of Fame baseball coach at Cal. St. Los Angeles and Lakewood High School in Long Beach, Calif. who has talked to many old time pitchers over the years, some hurlers even jammed BB shot or duck shot into the seams of baseballs to gain an advantage.

After the 1920 season, Major League Baseball banned the use of foreign substances by pitchers. The rule prohibited the pitcher from having in his possession any slippery substance or anything which could scuff or gouge the surface of the ball. However, the pitcher was allowed to rub the ball between his bare hands and also utilize a rosin bag.

A former Major League pitcher contacted by Collegiate Baseball, who wished to remain anonymous, was signed in 1949 by the A’s and played in the 1950s. He said not many pitchers during his playing career utilized foreign substances.

“Most of the pitchers who used illegal substances were very discrete about it. Umpires always watched pitchers closely. One relief pitcher I knew threw a spitter. He was a master at getting saliva on his fingers and not much on the ball. It was just enough to keep his fingers moist but not enough to attract attention by the umpire. Umpires really didn’t know he threw a spitter mainly because his didn’t break that much.

“But the pitchers who had real good spitters at the time were watched very closely by umpires. Some pitchers used Vaseline and put it in a certain spot in their hair. I knew one pitcher who fixed a razorblade in one of the fingers of his glove to cut a little slice in the cover of the ball which caused the ball to sail a little more. But the ball was only good for one pitch when he used this technique.

“Keep in mind that back in those days — 50 years ago — balls were kept in games until they had rough spots on them. Today, any ball that hits the ground is thrown out during Major League games. Some pitchers had a great technique when using rosin, which was perfectly legal. They rubbed their hands vigorously, and the rosin would get sticky. It was great for curveball pitchers.

“One technique that was used for one pitch during a key at bat was to kick dirt around the rubber. With the rubber covered with dirt, the pitcher would stand 4-5 inches ahead of the rubber and throw his pitch to home plate which would usually blow by the batter with the closer distance. Keep in mind pitchers used this technique on rare occasions because they were watched closely by umpires.

“Balls in those days were not as tight as they are today and were hand sewn. Some of the big, strong pitchers would rub the ball real hard and loosen the cover a bit. When a batter did hit the ball, it wouldn’t go anywhere. Today, it would be almost impossible to do this.”

More On Illegal Substances: Read the entire story about the wild and wacky products pitchers have used through the years to gain an advantage over hitters. This story appeared in the Feb. 22, 2013 edition of Collegiate Baseball. To purchase this issue or subscribe, CLICK HERE.

Value Of Proper Sleep For Athletes Explored

Value Of Proper Sleep For Athletes Explored

Editor/Collegiate Baseball
© 2013 Collegiate Baseball

FORT WORTH, Tex. — Everyone endures sleepless nights. When a pattern of sleep deprivation takes place with athletes, serious consequences can occur as performances suffer on the field and in the classroom. Dramatic mood swings happen as well.

Those in the game of baseball have broken down almost everything in the quest for high level athletic achievement. And that can take the form of better nutrition, weight training, mental training, video technology and progressive teaching concepts specific to the different skill sets required. But rarely do coaches talk about proper sleeping habits which may be among the most important aspects of athletic performance.

Sleep is not something to take lightly.

Sleep deprivation has been utilized as torture, a tactic favored by the KGB and the Japanese in prisoner of war camps in World War II. Going without sleep is intensely stressful with unpredictable short and long-term effects. People lose the ability to act and think coherently.

Hallucinations, paranoia and disorientation are just a few of the symptoms of prolonged sleeplessness.

Collegiate Baseball is offering this exclusive interview with Dr. James Maas who will discuss how to achieve proper rest.

Dr. Maas is a leading authority and international consultant on sleep and performance who has studied the subject more than four decades as a professor at Cornell University where he taught more than 65,000 college students.

He recently wrote a book with Haley Davis called Sleep To Win!: Secrets To Unlocking Your Athletic Excellence In Every Sport.

The staff of Sleep To Win have presented highly successful programs on sleep to scores of corporations, the U.S. Navy, U.S. Figure Skating Association, New York Jets, Philadelphia Flyers, Ottawa Senators and Orlando Magic. But one sport they have not been involved with is baseball.

“About 70 percent of Americans aren’t meeting the 7 ½ to 8 ½ hour sleep requirements as adults,” said Dr. Maas.

“Sleep needs go up from puberty to about the age of 26 which involves everyone from middle school kids to Major League ball players. The amount of sleep this group of people needs to be fully alert and full of energy is 9 ¼ hours of sleep per night. If you ask this group of people how many hours of sleep they get a night, they will claim they are sleeping about seven hours. This includes regular students as well as athletes.

“But we have done actual brain wave studies in home monitoring, and they are really only getting about 6.1 hours of sleep a night. They are so sleepy that they don’t even know how little sleep they are getting. These people are in essence ‘walking zombies.’

“They think that because they eat well or appear to be in good athletic shape that this is enough. But they are missing 1/3 of the equation. We have been studying the effects of sleep deprivation both athletically and cognitively for years. And we also have studied lack of sleep with basic physiology.

“The findings aren’t of immediate concern. But they have long term repercussions to our younger athletes. Drowsiness at inappropriate times is a concern. During the mid-day dip in alertness that we all have in the middle of the afternoon, if you are sleep deprived as these youngsters are, the dip is even more serious.

“And this is often the time when baseball games on the high school and college levels are played. Obviously, when the brain and body is tanking because of lack of sleep, the athlete can’t perform at his highest level.

“So the athlete shows drowsiness, an increase in irritability, anxiety, depression and weight gain. For middle age people and older, there is a much higher risk of heart disease and Type II diabetes. Cancer has even been linked to sleep deprivation.

“Loss of sleep can impact a player’s teamwork, sense of humor and impact his motor skills.”

Dr. Maas said studies have shown reaction time deteriorates with athletes who suffer from sleep deprivation.

“This all happens during chains of events whether it is a pitcher who has to throw a quality pitch or a batter trying to hit a pitch. As an athlete, you must have your body synchronized in the athletic discipline you are trying to achieve in the proper firing sequence, so you don’t have to think.

“It all should be an automatic motor muscle memory. But when you have a lack of sleep, that chain of events can be seriously disrupted.

“When the athlete is sleep deprived, he has a lack of awareness and suffers from the ability to remember and think critically and creatively as one has to do to make a split second decision in baseball. You might make poor decision skills when balls fly off the bat or not looking at the third base coach who is waving you on…many different situations like this.

“There are a whole slew of events which happen, and sleep deprived athletes are blissfully unaware of how much they have lost over what they could be.”

For More Information: To read more about the importance of proper sleep, why young adults need 9 1/2 hours every night, how it can help athletes play at a higher level, how motor muscle memory will be enhanced, how to choose the proper mattress and pillow, why blue spectrum light from electronic devices can impair sleep, what the ideal sleep routine should be and how to solve the problem of jet lag, read the special 2-part series which starts in the April 5, 2013 edition of Collegiate Baseball. Part two appears in the April 19, 2013 issue. Single copies can be purchased for $3 each. Click here for more information.

Summer Instruction Series: Handling Failure

Summer Instruction Series: Handling Failure

Failure is a part of baseball. For this installment in our Summer Instruction Series, sports psychologist Brian Cain talks about different ways to view failure and handle it better as a player and coach. This article originally appeared in the May 4, 2012 edition of Collegiate Baseball.

Special To Collegiate Baseball

BURLINGTON, VT – We all know baseball is a game of failure.

But we all need to learn how to handle failure better.

As a Mental Conditioning Coach for some of the top college and high school baseball programs in the country and formerly with the Washington Nationals, I want to share some simple yet powerful perspective on handling failure that has helped the teams, coaches and players I am blessed to work with. 

Loser Or Learner
When you lose a game, does that make you a loser?  Can a loss be something that helps you to get to another level?

Ty Harrington, skipper at Texas State University, led the Bobcats into the Collegiate Baseball’s  top 30 this season and in 2011 took the Bobcats to the Southland Conference Tournament Championship after losing their first game of the tournament.

He has instilled in them that when faced with losing a game we must not lose the message and the lesson.

We must uncover the information in that loss and use it to help us get better.

Just like Georges St. Pierre says that the best thing that ever happened to him was losing his World Championship to Matt Serra in April of 2007, you must make the choice when you lose to learn the lesson and use that lesson as a way to get better.

Choose to be a learner.

Boll Weevil Lesson
Most people think that adversity is a negative thing.

That life is better when things are going well.

What people often fail to remember is that tough times don’t last, tough people do.

The year 1915. The location, Enterprise, Ala.

The major source of commerce and income in Enterprise was the abundance of cotton crops. The town was a world leader in cotton production.

However by 1918, a small insect, about the size of your thumb, had appeared and was reeking havoc on Enterprise, AL and their cotton crop.

The boll weevil a, small insect indigenous to Mexico, had appeared in Alabama in 1915, and by 1918 farmers were losing whole cotton crops to the beetle. H. M. Sessions saw this as an opportunity to convert the area to peanut farming, and in 1916, he convinced C. W. Baston, an indebted farmer, to back his venture.

The first crop paid off their debts and was bought by farmers seeking to change to peanut farming. 

Cotton was grown again, but farmers soon learned to diversify their crops, a practice which brought new money to Coffee County, Alabama and the city of Enterprise.

Bon Fleming, a local business-man, came up with the idea to build a monument, as a tribute to the boll weevil and let it serve as a constant reminder of how something disastrous can be a catalyst for change, and a reminder of how the people of Enterprise adjusted in the face of adversity. The monument was dedicated on December 11, 1919 at the intersection of College and Main Street, the heart of the town’s business district.

At the base of the monument appears the following inscription, “In profound appreciation of the boll  weevil and what it has done as the herald of prosperity. This monument was erected by the citizens of Enterprise, Coffee County, Alabama.”

The monument was built to show their appreciation to an insect, the boll weevil, for its profound influence on the area’s agriculture and economy.

Hailing the beetle as a “herald of prosperity,” it stands as the world’s only monument built to honor an agricultural pest.  In April, 1973, the monument was added to the National Registry of Historic Places.

Today, you have the opportunity to take one of our greatest adversities, and turn it into your greatest gift.

Remember that every setback sets the stage for your greatest comeback.

Today, embrace adverstiy, welcome the challenge of a great opponent, and play your game one pitch at a time.

Bitter Or Better
Todd Whitting, head baseball coach at The University of Houston, recently said something that stuck with me when speaking to his team after a tough loss in a game where they had the bases loaded down by one with one out in the 9th and could not get the run across.

He challenged his team to get better, not bitter. He challenged his players to make a choice. To decide if they were going to allow this loss or a lack of playing time or a lack of personal and team success to make them bitter or to make them better.

He said that they had to decide to either get encouraged, not discouraged and learn from their adversity. Whitting and the Cougs chose to use the loss as a lesson and days later beat The University of Tennessee and Arkansas at Minute Maid Stadium in Houston.

Failure Is Positive Feedback
My mentor Dr. Ken Ravizza taught us that failure was unavoidable in the pursuit of excellence that failure was healthy and failure was not to be avoided but embraced, because failure gives you an opportunity to learn and to grow. Without failure, we are without progress.

If you are like most average people and fear failure, or have failed to embrace failure, then I have a fool proof system for you.

It will help you win every game.

What you need to do is drop out of your competitive league and go play against the local Junior High B level teams. That is assuming that you are not a Junior High Coach.

If you are a Junior High coach reading this, you must go play the Little League teams in your area. 

When you play that schedule you will win.  But you will also not have much fun.

Augie Garrido, head coach at the University of Texas, speaks of failure as an unavoidable part of the game and as failure as your friend.

We all enjoy our success in the game, but the only reason we enjoy the success is because there is so much failure.

Failure is not negative, it is positive.

It means you are competing at the right level and it means that you have an opportunity to learn and use that failure as positive feedback.

Make the choice!

Baseball is What You Do, Not Who You Are!
One of the most mentally tough pitchers in college baseball I have worked with was Matt Purke at Texas Christian University in 2010 and 2011.

After being selected in the first round of the MLB Draft by the Texas Rangers, Purke went to TCU to play for a master of the mental game in Jim Schlossnagle.

Purke put up one of the best seasons in the history of college baseball…as a freshman. 

The left-handed pitcher was 16-0.

What was more impressive was how he handled the success and also how he handled adversity in his sophomore season. Purke said that he was able to stay humble and hungry by keeping the perspective that baseball was what he did, not who he was.

Purke was not defined by his performance.

He did not take his performance personally and treat you differently if he won vs. if he lost. He was a true professional, mature well ahead of his years. He was also one of the most competitive players I have ever worked with.

Do not let the success or failure of your on field performance dictate how you treat others and how you view yourself. Personalizing performance is a trap that will suck you in, beat you up and spit you out the other side a non-consistent competitor.

Mental Toughness Training
Mental toughness is a skill that can be trained. Mental toughness needs to be conditioned like we condition our bodies and arms.

With a system and through dedicated work and repetition, you can be stronger with the mental game.

My pride program available at www.briancain.com is currently being used by top programs at the college and high school level around the country.

To receive the May 4, 2012 edition which has the complete story or subscribe to Collegiate Baseball, CLICK HERE.

To find out more about Brian Cain, his books, where he is speaking and so forth, check out his website at www.briancain.com

Tim Corbin Named National Coach Of Year

Tim Corbin Named National Coach Of Year

TUCSON, Ariz. — Vanderbilt Head Baseball Coach Tim Corbin has been named National Coach of The Year by Collegiate Baseball newspaper.Tim Corbin Vanderbilt Mug

One of the most respected coaches in college baseball, Corbin led the Commodores to their first national baseball championship at the recent College World Series with a 3-2 win over Virginia.

Corbin led Vanderbilt to a 51-21 overall record and has now guided the Commodores to 10 NCAA Regionals (eight straight), four Super Regionals and two College World Series appearances. He ranks second on the all-time Commodores’ win list with 516 victories since taking over the program in 2003.

Vanderbilt compiled 17 stolen bases in 23 attempts over seven College World Series games. That is tied for the highest stolen base total ever at a College World Series with Oklahoma State in 1955. During the entire NCAA Division I tournament, the Commodores swiped 29 bases in 37 attempts. On the flip side, opponents were only successful in 3 of 6 attempts against Vanderbilt.

Corbin finished his 12th season at the helm of the Vanderbilt baseball program. He has turned the Commodores into a national power and taken the program to unprecedented success leading Vanderbilt to the College World Series in 2014 and 2011.

Beyond his national championship in 2014, he led Vanderbilt to one of its best seasons in school history in 2013. The Commodores matched the school record with a 54-12 mark and smashed the Southeastern Conference record, finishing the conference slate with an amazing 26-3 record.
In addition to the on field successes, the baseball program itself has had significant upgrades to the facilities with a new field house, complete with new locker rooms for players, coaches and Commodore alums playing professional baseball. Also included are coach’s offices, a classroom that overlooks Hawkins Field and a new weight room.

In 2009, permanent seats in the outfield pushed Hawkins Field seating capacity to double the amount when Corbin arrived in 2003. These upgrades reinforced the excitement and commitment made to the baseball program due to the successes Corbin had achieved. In the latest facility improvement the playing surface at Hawkins Field was replaced during the summer of 2012 with a synthetic surface. The timing of the change to turf was perfect as the Commodores played multiple games in bad weather during the 2013 season.

Corbin, along with his coaching staff, are a tireless group that saw their recruiting efforts pay in 2005, 2011 and 2012 as their recruiting classes was labeled the nation’s best.

Professional baseball has also taken notice of the program with nine Commodores being selected in the first round since 2003. Before Corbin was hired as the 21st coach in program history, Vanderbilt had not earned a spot in the conference tournament in a decade but made the post-season tournament in 2004.
Corbin came to Vanderbilt following nine seasons as an assistant coach at Clemson. During his time there (1994-2002), the Tigers had more victories than all but four programs.
Prior to his time at Clemson, Corbin was head coach at Presbyterian College for six seasons beginning in 1988. There he restarted a baseball program that had been dormant for several years. He directed Presbyterian College from NAIA to NCAA Division II status and had a 106-138 overall record. Along the way, the Blue Hose made three consecutive appearances in the South Atlantic playoffs (1991-93), and Corbin earned South Atlantic Coach of the Year honors in 1990.

Previous Collegiate Baseball National Coaches of The Year include:

• 2013: John Savage, UCLA
• 2012: Andy Lopez, Arizona
• 2011: Ray Tanner, South Carolina
• 2010: Ray Tanner, South Carolina
• 2009: Paul Mainieri, Louisiana St.
• 2008: Mike Batesole, Fresno St.
• 2007: Pat Casey, Oregon St.
• 2006: Pat Casey, Oregon St.
• 2005: Augie Garrido, Texas
• 2004: George Horton, Cal. St. Fullerton
• 2003: Wayne Graham, Rice
• 2002: Augie Garrido, Texas
• 2001: Jim Morris, Miami (Fla.)
• 2000: Skip Bertman, Louisiana St.
• 1999: Jim Morris, Miami (Fla.)
• 1998: Mike Gillespie, Southern Calif.
aaaaaaMike Batesole, Cal. St. Northridge
• 1997: Skip Bertman, Louisiana St.
• 1996: Skip Bertman, Louisiana St.,
aaaaaaAndy Lopez, Florida
• 1995: Augie Garrido, Cal. St. Fullerton
• 1994: Larry Cochell, Oklahoma
• 1993: Skip Bertman, Louisiana St.
• 1992: Andy Lopez, Pepperdine
• 1991: Skip Bertman, Louisiana St.
• 1990: Steve Webber, Georgia
• 1989: Dave Snow, Long Beach St.
• 1988: Larry Cochell, Cal. St. Fullerton
• 1987: Mark Marquess, Stanford
• 1986: Jerry Kindall, Arizona
• 1985: Ron Fraser, Miami (Fla.)
• 1984: Augie Garrido, Cal. St. Fullerton
• 1983: Cliff Gustafson, Texas
• 1982: Ron Fraser, Miami (Fla.)
• 1981: Jim Brock, Arizona St.
• 1980: Jerry Kindall, Arizona

How To Win The College World Series

How To Win The College World Series

June 13 2014 Page 1 graphic HRs1Last 3 National Champions Post 30-0 Playoff Record

Editor/Collegiate Baseball

OMAHA, Neb. — Analyzing how national champions have won the College World Series the past three years is a fascinating study. 

Only three home runs were hit in 14 games at the 2013 College World Series.

It marked the lowest home run total since 1966 – some 47 years ago when only two home runs were hit in 15 games.

And in the previous two years, only nine were hit over 14 games in 2011 while 10 were belted in 15 games in 2012.

Never in College World Series history have you had a 3-year stretch that demanded such incredible pitching to win it all.

Collegiate Baseball was intrigued at how the past three national champions have not only rolled through the College World Series with perfect 5-0 records, but each of these teams went 10-0 in Regional, Super Regional and CWS games.

UCLA and South Carolina utilized pitching in the traditional sense as they used a great starter, a setup man and a closer.

Arizona, out of necessity, had their starters try to finish games. Wildcat pitchers threw eight complete games in their final 19 contests and became the first national champion in 56 years to have every starting pitcher come close to throwing complete games at the CWS.

During the entire 2012 NCAA tournament (regional, super regional and CWS games combined – 10 games), Arizona’s three starting pitchers averaged 8.48 innings per start.

Collegiate Baseball contacted the three head coaches who led their teams to national championships the last three years in Ray Tanner (South Carolina), Andy Lopez (Arizona) and John Savage (UCLA).

First, a little background on the lack of home runs is in order.

The biggest reason for the downturn has been the use of mandated BBCOR specification bats starting with the 2011 season.

Also a factor has been T.D. Ameritrade Park in downtown Omaha which has been the venue for the CWS since 2011. The park faces southeast, and the outfield is a grave yard for hard hit fly balls that rarely carry over the fence.

The facility utilized for the College World Series from 1950-2010 was Omaha’s Rosenblatt Stadium. It was a hitter’s paradise built on a large hill which faced northeast as the wind blew many balls over the fence for home runs.

The recent downturn in offense is amazing when you compare it to the amount of home runs that were hit from 2007-2010:

  • 2007: 37 homers in 15 games.
  • 2008: 38 homers in 16 games.
  • 2009: 45 homers in 15 games.
  • 2010: 32 homers in 16 games.

The most home runs ever hit during the College World Series history took place in 1998 as 62 circuit clouts were belted in 14 games by 42 different players.

College World Series batting averages have also plummeted as well as runs scored which have been the lowest in 39 years.

During the 2011 ’Series, eight teams batted .239 with 101 runs scored (average 3.6 runs per team per game).

The 2012 CWS offensive numbers were just as anemic as the batting average was .234 with only 107 runs scored (3.5 runs per team per game).

Poor offensive numbers continued in 2013 as the cumulative batting average was .237 with 86 runs being scored (3.1 runs per team per game).

The last three years, the cumulative ERAs of competing College World Series teams has been 2.66 (2011), 2.97 (2012) and 2.54 (2013) — the lowest 3-year ERA period going back to 1952 — 61 years ago.

To win the national championship the last three years, South Carolina, Arizona and UCLA have had to lean heavily on extraordinary pitching staffs and remarkable defenses.

In 2011, South Carolina went 5-0 at the College World Series as they posted a glistening 0.88 ERA.

In 2012, Arizona also went 5-0 with a pitching staff that had a 1.12 ERA.

Then last year in 2013, UCLA won its first national title in baseball, also going unbeaten at 5-0, as the Bruins posted a microscopic 0.80 team ERA and only allowed four runs. In the 67-year history of the CWS, only one national champion has given up fewer runs with California allowing three in 1957.

To read the full story, including in-depth comments by Ray Tanner (South Carolina), Andy Lopez (Arizona) and John Savage (UCLA), purchase the June 13, 2014 issue of Collegiate Baseball by CLICKING HERE.

Collegiate Baseball’s National Player Of Year

Collegiate Baseball’s National Player Of Year

AJ Reed Kentucky action newBy LOU PAVLOVICH, JR.
Editor/Collegiate Baseball

LEXINGTON, Ky. — After one of the most amazing seasons in college baseball history, University of Kentucky junior LHP/1B A.J. Reed was named Collegiate Baseball’s National Player of The Year.

Through the end of the regular season, he had belted 23 home runs to lead the nation and hit more homers than 193 out of 296 teams in NCAA Division I.

The lefthanded hitting Reed also hit .351 with 17 doubles and 70 RBI.

Reed not only led the nation in homers but slugging percentage (.768) and OPS (1.259)

He was attempting to become the Southeastern Conference’s first triple crown winner since Rafael Palmeiro in 1984 as he led the league in home runs (11 more than the closest player) and RBI (12 more than the next hitter) while ranking third in SEC batting average which was just behind Jordan Ebert of Auburn who was hitting .353 as the regular season concluded.

When you consider that Reed was 0-7 against SEC teams last season as a pitcher with a 4.35 ERA in 10 starts, his pitching achievements this year are even more staggering.

He posted a 9-1 record in the SEC this season and an 11-2 mark overall with a 2.10 ERA. It could be the greatest SEC turnaround of a pitcher in history.

The great disappointment of his sophomore year as a pitcher was tremendous motivation for him to work harder than he ever has to become better.

And it started last Fall as he dropped 25 pounds from a 6-foot-4, 260-pound frame.

He worked his tail off to get into the best playing weight of his life which translated into unparalleled success for him this season.

“I went on a strict nutrition regimen as I cut out a lot of carbs,” said Reed.

“I came in every morning and did cardio workouts with our strength coach Monday-Friday. I did that all Fall and Winter and lost about 25 pounds as I slimmed down from 260-235 pounds.

“I was in the best shape of my life which allowed me to throw longer in games.

“By slimming down, it helped my pitching and hitting. I noticed more bat speed as a result of this work.”

Reed said that he also worked extremely hard in the off-season to have a more repeatable delivery.

“My goal was to make every pitch feel the same and have the same release point for all my pitches so they would be more difficult to hit for batters. Then every pitch out of my hand would look the same to them since I wasn’t releasing one pitch different than another.

“Two other important ingredients were keeping pitches down and working off my fastball. Also throwing three pitches consistently for strikes was a big change from last season when I was 0-7 in the SEC.

“This year, my changeup has been much better, and I can throw it on both sides of the plate on any count to both left and righthanded hitters. I have a new curve this year which is thrown harder than before. That makes hitters respect those pitches a bit more than last season. And having those two pitches working for me makes my other pitches better.”

Reed has five different pitches, including a 4-seam and 2-seam fastball, changeup, curve and cutter. He utilizes his 4-seam fastball more than the 2-seamer as he routinely fires it between 88-92 mph. His 4-seam fastball has enough run on it to be effective against hitters.

To read more about Kentucky’s A.J. Reed and how he put together one of the best seasons in college baseball history, purchase the June 13, 2014 issue by CLICKING HERE.

Hershiser Talks About His Pitching System

Hershiser Talks About His Pitching System

Orel hershiser Action  (Credit Los Angeles Dodgers)By LOU PAVLOVICH, JR.
Editor/Collegiate Baseball
© 2014 Collegiate Baseball

LOS ANGELES — Pitching command is one of the most elusive and cherished skills in baseball.

Every generation, there seems to be a hurler with exceptional control of his pitches.

One of the greatest pitchers in Major League history was Orel Hershiser who constantly hit his spots over a marvelous Major League career that stretched over 18 seasons, including 13 with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

He still holds the Major League record for most consecutive scoreless innings pitched with 59 during the 1988 season.

Known for his fierce competitive spirit, Hershiser was nicknamed “Bulldog” by former Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda.

Now a color analyst with the Dodgers after working for several years with ESPN, Hershiser graciously allowed Collegiate Baseball to interview him on the subject of pitching command and how he approached the art of pitching.

Hershiser was unquestionably one of the top pitchers in Major League history with regard to great command. On many occasions, he was able to throw pitch after pitch anywhere he wanted in and around the strike zone.

“You must have different components working for you,” said Hershiser. “First, you must control your mind to control your body to control the baseball. Then you must be blessed with the wiring to connect the three. Some guys can look at a target as they throw and hit it with natural wiring.

“So they might not need to control the mind. But if that wiring starts to go south with age, injury or whatever, it would be nice to know how consciously you can put your body into a position where you want the ball to go.

“All the components are what allow you to command pitches. And if you pay attention to all the components, then you have the best chance of being able to hit the target most often.

“Emotion also enters into the equation. Pressure, nerves, adrenalin and excitement do exist. And you have to decide when to control those emotions and decide when to ignore it.”

Visual Focusing
Hershiser described where he visually focused prior to each pitch in the quest for throwing precision strikes.

“The world is very distracting because there is so much visual information all the time. So I had to guard myself visually on what I saw and felt. Because of this, I stared down at the ground an awful lot. Then I let my eyes go from the pitching rubber to the dirt on the mound to the grass between the mound and home plate to the dirt at home plate to home plate to the catcher’s fingers and then finally to the catcher’s glove.

“Then I would visualize the pitch, feel it and then try to make the pitch. I didn’t do that sequence every single pitch. That was one of the tools I utilized if I felt I was getting away from who I was in executing pitches. This sequence would allow me to execute again.

“It’s almost like a golfer in a great round. He goes through his setup and visualization as he builds his habits for the day. But once he gets into that realm of feeling like everything is happening naturally, I don’t feel you get in the way with conscious thought then. You just do it.

“But once you find yourself not executing and not getting the results you need and feel you are not at your best, then you have tools, fundamentals and certain things you can go to so you can get yourself right again.”

Bullpen Approach
Hershiser also explained how he approached his bullpens between starts.

“Ron Perranoski worked with minor leaguers in the Dodgers’ organization and then became the Big League pitching coach with Los Angeles. He taught me my routine. And I built from that. Essentially it was establishing what my core pitch was. For me, it was a sinking fastball to my arm side.

“My secondary core pitch was a sinking fastball to the other side of the plate. If I could execute those pitches, I was usually in pretty good shape. If you are able to execute one pitch, it should go hand in hand that you should be able to execute all of your pitches.

“Throwing a different pitch for me was simply changing part of the lever system which was really my hand. If you can make everything from your feet all the way to your fingertips the same, and now all you are doing is changing the angle of your finger tips and hand position, you should be able to perform well.

“It’s almost like an Iron Mike pitching machine, and you are simply adjusting the handle at the top. If you can build the core of your delivery, then you just adjust fingers and hand. Then you should be able to throw precision pitches.

“That was the key for me. I worked hard at mastering that one delivery.”

Hershiser was asked if he threw one or two bullpens between starts with the Dodgers.

“Sometimes I threw one, sometimes two and at other times none between starts. It all came down to how many pitches I threw during a given start. If you throw 124 pitches and a complete game, do you think you should throw the same 65-pitch bullpen between starts?

“If you threw 35 pitches in a start and get knocked out in the second inning, what should your bullpen be? The workloads in these two scenarios are totally different.

“Is practice necessary or rest necessary prior to your next start? There were plenty of days when I picked up a ball between starts, threw it and said to myself, ‘I’ve got it.’ I realized that you don’t need to practice or throw out of enjoyment. Sometimes you throw bullpens because it is something you absolutely love to do, and now you are doing it so well.

“Then you find yourself overworking in practice and have a bad outing because you worked a bit too hard in practice. Then there are times you throw out of anxiety because you have been throwing poorly in games, and you know you need to work on things.

“So you work and work and work until you find it. Then you have a bad outing the next time. The reason was because you weren’t rested enough. Then your arm is a little sore after the outing because you over practiced.

“Pitchers aren’t like golfers where they can hit 2,000 balls a day and still be able to play. We only have so many bullets in our arms. There are only a certain amount of reps we can do before we are sore. So you must balance the joy of playing, the anxiety of trying to get better and work ethic so you are rested and ready to go by game time.”

To read more about Orel Hershiser’s pitching command techniques, purchase the April 18, 2014 edition of Collegiate Baseball or subscribe by CLICKING HERE.

Eshelman Is Ultimate Master Of Control

Eshelman Is Ultimate Master Of Control

Thomas Eshelman Action Cal St Fullerton 4C (Credit Matt Brown)By LOU PAVLOVICH, JR.
Editor/Collegiate Baseball
© 2014 Collegiate Baseball

FULLERTON, Calif. — RHP Thomas Eshelman of Cal. St. Fullerton is without question the greatest control pitcher in college baseball history.

His numbers last season as a freshman for the Titans were ridiculous as he only walked 3 batters in 115 2/3 innings and posted a 12-3 record, 1.48 ERA and struck out 83 batters in being named a first team Louisville Slugger All-American.

At 0.23 walks per nine innings, it was the single greatest season of control by a pitcher in NCAA Division I history.

Eshelman was so accurate last season that he didn’t issue his first walk of the season until April 12 — a streak of 63 1/3 innings.

So far in 2014, he has only walked one batter in 56 innings. He has posted a 5-0 record, 1.29 ERA and fanned 41 batters.

When you add it up, Eshelman has walked only 4 batters in 171 2/3 innings in a season and a half of college pitching.

The burning question from every pitcher and pitching coach in the nation is how does he do it?. Every pitcher attempts to throw with command, but only those rare pitchers have what it takes.

“Since I was a young boy, control has been preached to me as being important as a pitcher,” said Eshelman.

“Commanding every pitch I have on both sides of the plate is vital to success. And I have been fortunate to have control after working toward this goal for many years.

“So I learned the concept and importance of being a strike thrower at an early age, and I ran with it. But at times, it is a double-edged sword when hitters are aggressive knowing that you are a strike thrower.

“There have been a number of times when a batter swings at an 0-0 fastball from me. Sometimes it hurts me but most of the time having command is extremely helpful.

“You usually have quick innings and fewer pitches thrown that way.”

Eshelman said that Titan Pitching Coach Jason Dietrich emphasizes to pitchers in his program to throw more pitches in the middle of the strike zone early in games.

“Then as games go on, we expand the zone to see what home plate umpires allow as far as working the black parts of the plate.”

Catches Cape Pitchers At 12
Eshlman started playing baseball at a young age, and his brother Sam taught him his first lessons on pitching.

“I started playing baseball around the age of 3-4. My dad (Dave) and brother (Sam) were big basketball fans. My brother played basketball through high school, and my dad played basketball in junior college. So growing up, it was basketball, basketball, basketball.

“While I liked basketball, it wasn’t my passion like baseball was. Sam realized this and helped me out quite a bit. When I was 10-13 years of age, Sam taught me how to break down hitters.

“When I was 13, it seemed like all the other pitchers were just throwing while I was looking to set up hitters and really pitch. Sam has been a big factor in my pitching career.

“Ultimately, I played baseball year round since I live in southern California where the weather is great. I then was on some terrific summer teams which allowed me to play against high level teams in national tournaments.

“My brother’s alma mater was Arizona State. So he had me watch pitchers like Mike Leake and study how they got batters out. I also grew up watching pitchers such as Jake Peavy of the Padres and Greg Maddux of the Braves later in his career. I watched closely how each of them set up hitters and the way they went about their business which was extremely helpful.

“Sam not only was instrumental in my success as a pitcher, but he continues to help me today.”

Sam is eight years older than Thomas and is currently the varsity basketball coach at Sage Creek High School in Carlsbad, Calif. which is north of San Diego.

“Sam worked for a radio station that covered ASU baseball when he went to college. He also got a job in the Cape Cod League for the Wareham Gatemen. He was with guys such as Wade Miley, Ike Davis and a bunch of other great players from LSU and other top-notch college programs.

“I was lucky enough to go out there with Sam and sit in the bullpen and watch how these pitchers threw and prepared for outings. At the time, I was only 12 years old and was catching these pitchers. It was fun to see what they did and also what they talked about in the bullpen.”

While this may be shocking to many that a 12-year-old was catching high profile college pitchers in the Cape Cod League, it really was not a problem for Thomas.

“I told them all to throw whatever they wanted, because I’ll catch it. And if by chance they did hit me, I told them not to feel bad. So they threw to me without any problem as they gained more confidence in my catching ability as we went along.

“That summer was really beneficial in my development as a pitcher even though I was simply catching these great pitchers. I had a bird’s eye view of what every pitcher was doing as I caught them.”

Combo Catcher/Pitcher
Many people don’t realize it, but Eshelman was a catcher at Carlsbad H.S. (Carlsbad, Calif.) as well as a pitcher.

“Being a catcher my entire high school career helped me be a better pitcher,” said Eshelman.

“I was able to see pitching from both sides of the battery. I would pitch on Tuesday and catch on Thursday and Saturday. I learned how to break down hitters from behind the plate as well which helped my development.

“It helped me understand when to slow the game down and know when it is speeding up as adjustments in tempo were made as needed.”

To learn more about the evolution of Thomas Eshelman into a great control pitcher, purchase a copy of the April 18, 2014 edition of Collegiate Baseball or subscribe by CLICKING HERE.