Little League Gets a Bum Rush

Little league gets short shrift.

One of the things about coaching baseball, sooner or later you hear it. Someone says it. Mostly other coaches. Sometimes, parents, even an umpire once. Heck I say it from time to time.

This ain't little league!

People yell it to mean that something and more often someone is not playing up to their expectations. It is said with great criticism, condemnation and judgement all at once. It is the ultimate baseball snark.

It is also off base, and wrong headed. Sure little league has its features but so does every other level of sport. The thing is that most people forget that little league aims to include as many people as possible. It aims to instill a love of baseball in everyone who plays. It often falls short, but the goal remains. If you want to play (and your parents can behave), you can play.

I get why people yell, “this ain't little league”. Its a powerful way of telling someone they don't belong here, with the BIG boys. But thats the trouble with competitive baseball. It is also the great tragedy of the sport I love. After little league, the sport is all about cutting people out, and down.

Baseball becomes a game of exclusion. Rodney Davis once told me, “The sport will pick you.” Unless it is little league, then you get to pick.

As the 2014 All Star tournament begins, I can't help but think I am glad it is little league.

Go Tempe South!!

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I Use This: Wiffle Ball Alternative Smush Balls

I use this: Smush Balls

Wiffle ball alternative: smush brand foam baseballs.

As a baseball coach I am always looking for better tools to prepare my players. For years we have used wiffle balls, but the problem with wiffle balls is
1. They break
2. They hurt like heck if you get hit with them.
3. They can be hard to throw (excessive movement)

A few years ago I came across a product called “Smush balls”. A smush ball is basically a durable foam baseball. It has an advantage over other foam baseballs in that it matches the 9″ circumference of a real baseball but they are durable. They are also slightly heavier than an ordinary toy foam ball which makes them easier to throw. Because they are white, it is easier for the kids to see them coming out of your hand.

These things are just fantastic for pregame warm ups. I suppose you can also use them for indoor batting practice if you have a gym or even a garage. They are not going to damage anything and if you get stung with a comebacker? It is kind of like getting hit with a Nerf Dart – annoying but not painful.

The other advantage of smoosh balls is that you can stand pretty close to a batter when pitching them without fear of getting hurt, and because they are light they will not travel very far. At first hitters get used to seeing a ball coming out of a pitchers hand, but over time my better hitters really focus on driving them. They might not travel far but if a player has good bat speed they can drive these things a good 90 to 100 feet at the 11 & 12 year old age. My fourteen year old summer balls hitters can drive them even farther.

Bucket of Smush Balls
Bucket of Smush Balls

 

How we use them

We keep 4 dozen in a bucket and use the lid of the bucket as a plate. We setup down the foul line depending upon what dugout we are in and then then a coach (usually me), pitches them to a player who swings his game bat to drive them into the crowd of players shagging in the outfield. You can quickly get in 6,9 or 12 pitches per player. When you couple this with a soft toss and a bunt station you can get your players 20 to 30 good cuts before a game starts, enough to get them moving.

I recommend making smush that last station because that is what they are likely to see in a game, someone throwing a white ball at them.

You can find smush balls at http://www.smushballs.com/. I warn you, they seem expensive, however in my experience they last a long, long time. In fact, the biggest challenge with them is that they will pick up dew from the grass at morning warm ups and if you keep the lid on the bucket they can get a little smelly. But they can take years of abuse before they start to break apart.

– Scott

Interactive Map Shows Where the Fans Are

Gmail_-_Scott_NovisThis nifty Map from the New York Times shows By Tom Giratikanon, Josh Katz, David Leonhardt and Kevin Quealy. While people do not often respond to surveys, they do post many of their preferences on Facebook. As the Onion once quipped, Facebook is the greatest domestic spying tool ever created.

Sarcasm aside, this map is very clever.

Amazing Anatomy of a PITCH By ESPN

One of the things I often tell players is that one of the great things about baseball is that lots of things work. One of the challenges of baseball? Lots of things work. The trick is to find something that works for you.  Here, ESPN does a fantastic job of illustrating this better than anyone I have ever seen.  They look at 8 different pitchers from my home town team, the Arizona Diamondbacks.  They throw 7 different pitches.  They all use slightly different mechanics to achieve success.

What do I mean by success?  They are all professional baseball players!  That is the dream of most young kids.  Just making it to the “bigs” is a huge achievement.  And as this website shows, there is more than one way.

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Cincinnati Baseball Shinnegans

One of the reasons I love baseball is that it seems to have a sense of humor about itself. From Intentional Talk, to the Harvard Baseball Sing Along to this latest one… a series of interviews with the local Bearcat broadcasters.

Cricket for baseball fans

Cricket

There are probably a million explainations for Cricket on the web, but this is the one I will share from what I learned from Mark and Simon Adkins in Adelaide with a few observations of my own.

There is a real tendancy to compare Cricket to baseball and in some ways this makes sense.

Similarities:

  • Baseball has Runs, Cricket has runs.
  • Baseball is played with a ball. Cricket is played with a ball.
  • Baseball has fielders. Cricket has fielders.
  • Baseball has innings. Cricket has innings.
  • Baseball has outs. Cricket has outs.
  • Baseball has batsman (batters). Cricket has battsmen (batters)
  • Baseball you are out if somene catches a fly ball. Cricket has outs on a caught fly as well.
  • Both sports have strategies setting lineups.
  • Both sports have strategies setting their defense.
  • Both sports can have strategies for attacking certain batters.

The Charm is In The Differences

However, the differences are pretty substantial, but if you can wrap your head around them, it’s relatively easy for an American to learn to appreciate Cricket. Here’s the quick overview.

Start with Baseball

I will begin with the core – the core of baseball. Not many people realize this but at it’s core baseball is a highly specialized game of tag. The offense is trying to touch the four bases in order. The defense is trying to defend the bases by tagging out the runners however, they must control the ball to tag someone out. In fact, only someone in control of the baseball may put someone out.

If you look at baseball from this perspective, the job of the offense consists of trying to deflect a baseball passed between two defensive players using a wood bat. If successful, the runners may advance around the bases while the defense chases the deflected (hit) ball.

For the sake of this argument, that is baseball. Runners try to touch all the bases in order whenever the defense loses control of the ball. The defense tries to put runners out via tagging the runner with the ball.

Cricket is all about the Wicket.

Cricket is different in one key respect at its core. Cricket is not a game of tag. The only way to put a player out is to take his wicket. What’s a wicket? A wicket is a specialized wood structure that consists of three stumps and two bales. The stumps are three posts that stand about knee high and two bales rest across their tops. This structure constitutes a wicket. If the bales are knocked off the stumps the wicket is taken and the batter is out.

With the understanding in place we can really compare the two sports, and I will focus on Cricket.

Note: I can hear you screaming – but if someone catches a fly ball!?  The short answer: the batter is out in both sports.  Let’s ignore that for the sake of this argument.

Bowlers not Pitchers

In Cricket the guy throwing the ball (bowling it) is called a Bowler not a pitcher. His job is to try and bowl the ball in a way that the batter can’t hit it and the bowled ball knocks the bails off the stumps. Instead of “pounding the strike zone”, the bowlers try to hit the stumps. The batsman’s number one job is to defend the wicket. And this leads to perhaps the most confusing things for baseball fans. Just because a batter hits a ball, they do not have to run.

The batsman highest priority is to keep the ball from hitting the wicket. He only runs if he feels like he can change sides without the defense “taking his wicket”.

Cricket-2

Innings and outings

Now we need to talk about the structure of the game a bit. With baseball, there are usually 9 innings, and when each team bats this is called a half inning. We have a top half and a bottom half, with the visitors batting in the top half, and the home team batting in the bottom half.

In Cricket when each team bats it is called, “Innings”, and each team only gets two of them. Sounds like a short game right? Well… it’s not. And here’s why.

In baseball, players bat until the defense can record 3 outs. In Cricket, there are 11 players in a lineup (not 9), and they bat everyone until the defense records 10 outs.

10 Outs? Why 10 outs?

Because in Cricket, there must be TWO batsman at all times so they can switch sides. After you have recorded 10 outs only one batter would be left and that is not a viable situation to score runs so the “Innings” are over. After 10 outs the teams switch sides and the other team takes their innings.

Why it takes forever

Because each team has to record 10 outs to end an innings, and because batters only need to defend their wicket to stay alive, batters can remain at bat for a very long time. Also Cricket has no foul territory.  Therefore a ball can be hit or played anywhere. If a batter hits the ball, and he believes he has enough time to trade places with his counterpart, they trade places and this scores a run.

In Cricket there are only two bases, or wickets. Batters score runs by trading places. They can score a single by trading places once. If the batted ball goes over the boundary line by rolling on the ground (a ground ball) the offense is automatically granted 4 runs. If the batted ball goes over the boundary line in the air, the batter records 6 runs. (A Six). In Cricket is the same as our “Homer”.

Review

So let’s review.  In cricket a bowler (not a pitcher) bowls (not throws) a ball trying to take the batters wicket (knock the bails off the stumps). The batter is trying to defend his wicket. If in the process of defending it, he manages to hit the ball to a place where the defence has to chase it, batters may run and switch sides. They get a run for every time they switch.

If there are no tags, how do cricket players stop batters from running? If batters are “outside the crease” – basically in the no man’s land between the stumps, the defense can put a runner out if they can knock the bales off the stumps before the runners get back to their crease (this is like baseball runners getting back on base). The runner closest to the wicket taken is the batter who is out.

What is a crease?  There is a line in the ground that a bowler may not step over when he bowls and the batter must be behind when defending his wicket.

Overs

Now, one thing that is also alien to baseball fans is the concept of the over.  An over is a set of 6 legally bowled balls.  Once an over has been completed, the defensive team must switch sides and switch bowlers.

Imagine if a baseball pitcher would throw 6 pitches then we would change pitchers.  Every 6 pitches.  That would take some time.

 

Australia-Jan2

Championship day. Conner Walsh was pitching. The lefty sensation with the nasty breaking pitch and the tailing fastball. I was nervous for the Reds. The game started out pretty tight. It was zero, zero for two innings.

To face Conner we pitched Tanner Beachy. Tanner had pitched in two little league world series in a row. Since his dad worked for an oil company in Saudi Arabia, Tanner easily made the Saudi Arabian little league team that won the middle east region. He had pitched in front of 50,000 people in Williamsport. Crazy.

In his first go around was a rough outing, but his second tour, he nearly toppled highly rated Japan. Tanner could pitch. He did not just throw the ball, he pitched. He could vary his location and speed to set batters up to get them out. But he needed a defense behind him.

By the championship the coaches figured out where to play everyone. They spent most of the trip figuring out who they had and where they belonged. By the championship they put the best hitters in their best defensive positions. Not everyone got to hit. The kids didn’t care.

They batted 9. I should point out that the Reds really gelled as a team. The boys liked each other and seemed to find camaraderie in the experience. The host family experience had a profound impact on the team. They all shared things they had learned from their families. Some tried Kangaroo and Crocodile. Others talked about the iced coffee or different fountain drinks they had discovered.  Solo was a favorite among all the players.

They made jokes, they teased each other, they backed each other up. No one ragged on anyone in the field if they made a mistake or had a bad trip to the plate. All in all they supported each other. The alien nature of Australia made them come closer as a group. Some of the boys stayed with rich families, others stayed with working class Aussies. A few stayed on a farm. Some could walk to the fields, others had to drive for an hour or more to get to the games. Some could play, then leave, only being at the pitch for a couple of hours. Others were there the whole day because of brothers or other guests.

Hosting two teams of players is a lot of work and I will always appreciate the families who made such a trip possible. Being able to stay with Australian families made the whole experience infinitely richer and better.

So, back to the game. The wind would ultimately play a crucial role in the game, that an a key error. With runners on second and third with two outs, our three hole hitter smashed a ball right at the second baseman, he knocked it down but could not find the handle on it. Both runs scored as the player tried to get the out at first. 2–0 Reds. Connor kept his composure.

The game stayed tight until they pulled Connor out in the 5th. After that, the Reds hit several pop ups to right field – and the wind took them. One ball that looked destined for deep right field ended up next to the first baseman the wind was blowing that strong. Several hits in a row landed in no mans land, thanks to the stiff breeze.

Meanwhile the Reds defense was flawless. I did not record a single error. Plays from every position came naturally and fluidly. Spider had several awesome catches in center field as the ball swirled around in the breeze.

Eventually the Reds won it after Tanner completed the game throwing 87 pitches and beating the WA Heat 16U 8–1. The contest felt closer than the final score indicated and the Heat always seemed to be a swing away from a breakout inning that would tie it or win it. But the boys held on and won the tournament.

They received medals for their efforts and everyone congratulated them.

After the game we checked with Jill and Jerry and they were okay with us taking Ryan after the game. We followed them home so the boys could shower (Matt brought clothes to change into) and then we headed for downtown Perth to show the boys the City they missed Monday. We ended up eating dinner at a hotel called the Boheme where I had one of the best steak dinners I have ever had.

 

Ryan tried Kangaroo, Matt had a Wagyu burger, and Rebecca had the Lamb pie. The final dinner tab cost $212 (without alcohol!) but it was worth every penny. Stacy was as happy as I had seen her on the trip having all her little ducklings with her as we walked through town. Not having GPS made me a little stressed and early on, finding a place to eat was challenging.

One thing we were able to have along the way was a “Caramel slice” from Jesters. Stacy’s friend Erin suggested it and we were able to try it. Stacy made everything work because of her positive attitude. We had the whole family together for one night and she was not going to let anything get in the way of us having a great time. When we finally settled on the hotel restaurant everyone enjoyed their meals to the utmost.

Ryan also bestowed the greatest compliment when I asked him what he thought of the trip. He said, “That was the best possible choice ever.” He sincerely loved the experience and was glad we’d done it. The rest of us felt the same, but he was having a different experience staying with a family. For him as a teenager, it worked out perfectly. High praise indeed.

We dropped Ryan off back at his host family. Tomorrow would be our last day. WE said we would meet up with them after we checked out. The rest of us headed back to the apartment at the Vines where we finished packing up.

It was dark out and Stacy suggested we get out the iPad and star gaze and check the constellations.  This was one of the coolest things because I always get a kick out of seeing the Southern Cross when I am in Australia. In case you did not know, the Southern Cross is a constellation of stars that is only visible below the equator. In fact, it appears on the flags of 5 countries of which Australia is one. It is very visible and easily recognizable. As strange as it sounds, few things make a country seem more alien than having different stars at night.

It was easy to imagine we were on another planet.

We went to bed and thought about our last day.

We would miss Australia.

Australia-Jan1

Australia-Jan1

New years day and it’s baseball again. It’s bracket play. The Reds have to play a combined Singapore team to try and make it to the championship.

It looks like a made a mistake in my memory as well. Turns out we had dinner at the Rose and Crown on New Years day. You see, nothingnothing is open on New Years day in Australia. Also, my dataplan ran out. Now I am a little stressed. I can no longer rely on my good old Waze App to navigate down under.

With only one game to play, the Singapore team forfeited their morning game and combined both teams into one team to face the Americans. This was going to be a closer contest. During the double headers the Singapore black lead the Reds until a walk off double by Justin Morris at the bottom of the 7th. (Spider was on deck).

We were playing on field two. The interesting thing about field two is that it had a short backstop. Also, there was no real fence to protect the audience. The Aussies were kind and set up tents with chairs, but there was no screen in front of them. An errant throw from short to first whistled by Stacy’s head so she put down the camera. She did not want to go home with a broken nose.

We watched the game, and the coaches really tightened up the rotation. I think Matt got one at bat. They pitched one pitcher the entire game. He had a solid outing and the Reds won 5–1.

Ryan returned home with his family and the rest of us headed out for dinner. On New Years nothing was open. There was a sign for a cattle feed store. It reads, “Open every day of the year, except 1 Jan.”

That about summed it up.

So as I wrote about the Rose and Crown on Dec30, I will write about our real dinner on Monday night. We had Hungry Jack’s. In one sense it was great eating Aussie fair all the time, we had a hankering for some American food and it seemed like as good an idea as any to try some fast food. In case you didn’t know, Hungry Jack’s is Burger King branded for Australia.

The first thing I noticed is that while the food was excellent (again the base ingredients were fantastic like real mayonnaise), overall the experience was the worst yet. Fast food does not seem to fit the Australians very well. Of course the new euphemism is Quick Serve Restaurant, but in truth the place was dirty, the staff looked frazzled, and the customers were anxious. This was not just about the dining experience, it was the whole enchilada. The management did not know how to behave, the staff did not know how to behave, the customers did not know how to behave.

It’s not that hard. It’s a burger. You order it. They make it. You take it. You eat it. You leave. That’s it. You don’t come back 10 minutes later and argue with the staff over your french fries. Holy cow.

Napkins blew through the dining area like forlorn tumbleweeds.  The restrooms were disgusting on a level we had not seen anywhere else in Australia. It was almost as if clients and staff put in some extra effort to make them gross.

I exaggerate, but not by much. I could not help but shake the feeling that if not most fast food places, this one in particular was a half a bubble off center. The other thing about fast food (at least in Perth) was that only the very biggest US Brands seemed to be present. The Aussies had their one token franchise (Red Rooster), but you had McDonalds, Hungry Jack, Dominoes, Subway and KFC. And that was it.

Within a stones throw of where I live here in Tempe there are no fewer than 9 burger joints (McDonalds, Burger King, In-n-Out, Smash Burger, 5 Guys Burger, the Joint, Sonic, Wendy’s, and Jack in the Box). That does not include all the sandwich shops, Mexican places, pizza places.

Food served fast for not a lot of money is our specialty. And we’re good at it. We know how to order it, eat it, and get the heck out. The cultural elements that make us demanding of service, hungry for tips, impatient to get to the next thing, and not too picky about taste seem to be missing from Australia. And absent those things, Fast Food has an entirely different flavor.

By the way. A whopper cost $8, Australian. Still, that was miles cheaper than the $20 to $40 per person we were paying everywhere else.

After that we stuck to the local restaurants. We paid a lot more, but had a better experience.

Photo Gallery Added to Australia Dec29

I’ve added a gallery to Australia-Dec29 post.  Check it out.

Holy cow, sorting through images takes a crazy amount of time.  And it is not easy to upload galleries to WordPress with an iPad.  Now that I am trying to bring it all together some of the dates don’t fully line up, but the posts seem better with images.   The post for Dec 29th now has an image gallery.

 

 

 

Australia-Dec31 New Years Eve

Australia, December 31st. New Years Eve.

Golf at the Vines

This day started out pretty early as 8 of us went golfing. We played in a scramble format which was good because Matt was new, Natalie did not really golf and I was terrible that day. Ken saved us. He was the one who could golf.

Now, not that I am making any excuses, but it is never a good sign when the caddie hands you the rental clubs and apologies. Everyone else was getting Pings and Calloways. My set? They looked like a reject from a clown fight. They were bashed up Wilsons with the grips falling off. K-Mart wouldn’t sell clubs that bad.

Many people have asked me how the golf course was. I did not know how to answer them. I have been blessed to play some terrible golf on some amazing courses. The Vines course was a 6 or 7. It played flat like a public course with wide fairways (not that I could hit any of them) and the rough was forgiving until you went out of bounds. Then it was all jungle. Matt and I bought a dozen “pre-loved” golf balls. We donated all of them back to the course.

The one thing about the course however was its size. It was virtually impossible to drive a ball onto another fairway and you never had to worry about balls coming from anywhere except behind you. The course was green, the greens were flat, and I brought my slice to match my bashed up clubs.

Sigh… What’s the saying?

If you play, it’s a game, if you practice, it’s a sport, and if you work at it, then it’s golf.

I was working pretty hard to no avail. Still, there were Kangaroos all over the place, the weather was amazing and compared the cost of other things it was a tremendous value. A few of the other guys went out 2 more times, but I was unable to make it happen. It was a family vacation after all and neither Stacy nor Rebecca were much into golf.

Too rough to dive

As soon as we finished our round of 18 holes, Matt and I raced back to the apartment and changed. Stacy and Becca were ready to head out so we hopped in the SUV and headed for the beach. Our goal? Do some snorkeling.

Now we had noticed during the past few days that by the afternoon it had gotten windy. Today it was really windy. But after a 40 minute drive, we found a dive shop on the beach and went in to rent masks and fins.

The guy behind the counter would not rent them to us. “Too windy mate!”

The water was very choppy. Turned out they were getting a cyclone to the North, and a big wind picking up from the South. All up and down the coast the weather was crap and it would not break until Sunday or Monday. That’s right. There would not be ideal diving weather until a day or two after we left.

Stacy sagely pointed out that this guy stood to make a ton of money off of us so to turn us away he must have been serious. Matt was bitterly disappointed. It was one of the things he most wanted to do. It didn’t help much that the dive shop guy bragged about how amazing their snorkeling was when the water was calm. Thanks dude. Big help.

But he did direct us to Cottesloe Beach. It is a super popular beach with lots of good ratings and it has a breakwater that shelters it from the high winds. We hopped in the car and headed South.

Cottesloe Beach

Cottesloe was as advertised. A very clean and not very crowded beach. Lifeguards kept watch between the flags and we dove into the warm Indian Ocean waters and had a ton of fun swimming. As the waves picked up, Stacy went and found a place to rent boogie boards. That finally broke Matts bad mood and he and Rebecca had a blast trying to ride the waves. I gave it a try myself and it was some of the best “surfing” I have ever had the chance to experience.

Now I will be honest. I have no idea what surfing really is, but getting on top of a wave and riding it with a foam plank is a lot of fun. I got out and let the kids play until dusk. I just sat there and thought, “How cool is this? We are sitting on the beach on New Years Eve. On the beach. On December 31st. The sand is like powdered sugar, the waves are crashing, the water is warm, and the sun is setting like a golden orb on the shining water.

I just sat there and tried to commit it all to memory. I never wanted to forget that feeling. Sitting there with the people I love most. We missed Ryan, of course, but he was where he needed to be, making new friends. Besides, the last place a teenager wants to be is a beach with his parents. I can almost remember what that felt like.

After the sun started to go down, Matt (who should open a restaurant) made another perfect meal suggestion and we all split a bushel of fish and chips. I say bushel because it was rather ridiculous how much they give you in a standard order. We noshed on the hot greasy food on the drive home and prepared for dinner.

New Years Eve Party at the Vines

I was really glad we had tickets to the Vines New Years Eve party because other other choice would have been McDonald’s or Hungry Jacks. The food was very good quality – steak and BBQ chicken and the deserts were amazing.

No help for you

While we ate, Stacy and I decided to split a bottle of wine. I went to the bar to order and I got a first hand experience in Australian service… again. The bartender was a little on the short side. She was very friendly, but the wine I ordered was stored in a cupboard over her head and out of her reach. The taller manager lady was standing right next to her (in front of me) and asked her to reach up and pull down a bottle for her. The manager looked at her sternly and told her to get a box to stand on.

Seriously

She made the poor girl go over, get a plastic crate and stand on it to retrieve my bottle of wine. I was a little taken aback, but didn’t say anything. Not only was it rude to the girl – I mean, you can’t help a staff member out? – But it was also rude to me and everyone in line who had to wait while she got the crate. The manager smiled as if that was the only possible solution. The girl handed me my wine (and plastic glasses!) and I was off back to my table shaking my head.

The lack of urgency was institutional. Everyone was very nice, they just had other priorities.

Fireworks

The kids went back to the room and Stacy and I met up with some of the other families. We talked to Bill Dement and his wife Barbara. Andrew Thomas and his wife as well. I talked with Cliff Wren about baseball and JR too. Around 11:15PM Stacy and I walked back to get the kids and we shuffled out to the golf course in our PJ’s in the dark to watch the fireworks show.

For all the flack I’ve given the Aussies about their service this I must give them credit for. They know how to put on one heck of a fireworks show. It lasted a full half an hour and it was absolutely fantastic. Three times we thought we’d seen the grand finale and each time they took it up a notch and outdid themselves. I guessed that fully half the cost of the event went into the fireworks. Perhaps it is because they do so much trade with China – I don’t know, but man those were quality fireworks and they shot off a lot of them.

Everyone headed back to the apartment. It was 2014.

2014.

Wow. The year flew by.