GUT CHECK TIME FOR COACH RICH....
When you walk into a local association, you could close your eyes and find the machine pitch games....just listen. About every 45 seconds you will hear the "clunk" of a ball being fed into a machine and usually every 90 seconds or so the cheer of a three-error double. On base percentages for most teams are around .650. Its exciting for the parents, kids, and coaches to score 15 runs on 32 "hits". Watch some of the club teams play and you get to see offense and defense on display. Most of the teams have 3-4 really good defensive players on display at the "golden triangle" (SS - 2B - 1B).
Its easy to play the 3 best players at those positions because doing so makes the team "better" and when the team is "better" (wins more) then its easy to overlook the weaknesses. How can a team with a great record be weak? Here are just a few ways:
- They cant catch fly balls
- They don't really understand situations in the field
- They really don't understand situational baserunning
- They get away with sloppy defense
Frankly, I found myself in the same boat last year. There were times were I got too caught up in getting that win that I lost track of one fundamental reality:
THIS IS NOT REAL BASEBALL
8U and 9U baseball have rules in place to allow boys and young men the opportunity to slowly uncover the "mystery of life" in baseball: IT IS THE HARDEST SPORT TO LEARN WELL. Many teams that were VERY GOOD at 8U will fail by the time they are 10U / 11U. An excellent 8U team will have:
- 1 or 2 boys that can catch a fly ball
- 4 or 5 good hitters
- 1 good shortstop
- 1 good 1st baseman
With that you can have a team that wins ALOT of games.
When you get to 11U baseball (the year the rules open up to full MLB rules) you will need AT LEAST the following to be successful in a 35-45 game season:
- 7 consistent pitchers who can throw a fastball and change-up
- 4 very good middle infielders
- 10 players that can play the outfield
- 2 solid catchers
SO....HOW DO YOU SURVIVE MACHINE PITCH BASEBALL
- Find boys and families that are committed to learning the game the right way
- Teach the game to everyone....all the players and all the parents
- Teach your players to "think baseball", understand situations
- Teach your players how to play 3-4 positions
- Develop catchers early and place emphasis on this position early
- Teach good mechanics over performance
I think by following these basic rules a team can develop into a nice "plug and play" team. (ie there are multiple options at every position) Team spirit will be less about "Billy the stud shortstop" and more about a team that is solid from beginning to end.
Again this is a lesson I have recently learned (or at least "re-learned"). Its a rocky road, and I think it takes bravery to stay the course and avoid the easy win, but in the long run its better for the team as a whole.
Hopefully a little more clarity from the chaotic dugout.....