Everyone has been told by all the experts that hitting a baseball is the hardest thing to do in sports. I have to agree but what is the one thing everyone wants to do in baseball. They don’t want to shag or catch up. Everyone wants their shot at the plate and a chance to try and hit that little round ball. I have coached high school baseball for over 25 years and played for 10. I also have heard many lectures and attended many nights of discussions on hitting and all the other aspects of baseball. This means I am a not an expert but feel that I do have a large pool of knowledge to pull from to help kids in the struggle of baseball.
First I must say thank God for baseball, it is the only game where it is legal to cheat and steal. You can steal a sign or steal a base and receive rewards for both. You can also do everything right and get no reward. Hit it right on the button and it still is a out yet the guy who gets fooled and hit’s the bloop gets the hit. The game can be cruel as well as rewarding but it is one game where you can never get it right all the time. The man who tossed the no hitter on Tuesday can get knocked out in the first the next time out. I believe the game teaches more about life than any other game in the world. Hitting is a art that takes many years of practice and skills that you may never perfect but work at daily.
The one major skill in hitting that gets very little work but may be the most important is vision. In all the lectures I have heard, I never have heard one on vision. What about that kid who can hit but has the worst swing mechanics in the world. The coach has no answer except that he can hit. I think he can see better than most. If he had those good mechanics he might be great. The kid with the best swing you have ever seen but cannot hit a bucket full. The coaching answer is he just can’t hit but what if he can’t see.
The first obvious place to start for any hitter is the eye doctor. The hard part here is getting someone who can do a athletic eye exam for you. The kid may have 20 -20 vision but that does not mean he can see the ball. Check with the eye doctor before you go and see if he can perform a athletic eye exam. The answer is not always glasses or contacts but it helps to know before hand if he can see before we start working with him.
The number one drill I have learned for vision improvement I call dot to dot. Take a dozen balls and draw colored dots on 2 sides of each ball. I like to use 3 colors and draw different colors on 4 each and leave 4 white. Then have the kid get in the cage and get ready to hit. The first dozen I throw I have them yell out the color and not swing. A coaching point is try and keep the ball hidden behind your back so the kid does not see it early. The next round I have them yell out the color as they hit the ball. We try and make it a contest as to how many they can get right. It will frustrate many but be positive with them and keep working with them till they get more than 6 right before you go to the next drill. A helpful hint is to show the kids where to look on you to find the ball as it comes out of your hand. I teach to focus on the hat of the pitcher and the ball will appear out beside the hat as the pitchers arm begins to come forward. Ask them to try and see the ball before it leaves your hand.
After they have began to master the first drill then have them call out color only on the fastball and no color on any off-speed pitch you throw. Before you start this drill you can get them all in the cage and show them what a curve, slider, change look like. For many of them this will be the first time they have truly seen what a off speed pitch looks like. The curve should have a circle and the slider a dot when they see it. Then use the exact same pattern in the cage. No swing the first time but call out colors and then let them swing on the next round and call out colors. Remember they only call out color on the fastball. The more advanced kid can call out the pitch after the color. The change is the hardest pitch to recognize of all the pitches. There is no real sign other than spin speed and it really takes a advanced skill kid to recognize. This is the reason the change is the best pitch in the game.
Drill three we use is take a bucket of balls, there is usually 50 in a bucket, and color half of them one color only. We use these out on the field for live BP. Here we only call out yes if there is a dot. The kid has to go through a regular round of execution BP and still see the ball well. The kids will find that most of them do not see the ball very well but with a repeat of this drill they should improve with time. I feel this drill will greatly improve your kids chance to be more successful at the plate.
There are many other drills you will find such as hitting with basketball dribbling glasses or there are glasses that flash different colors. They all probably have some good to provide but I have never tried them because of one reason or another. This one drill has proven to be effective in what we were trying to accomplish with the kids improving their vision at the plate. They still will struggle but as they improve they will begin to strike out less and hit more balls hard which is exactly what they want.