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Sunday, December 12, 2010

By the yard?

In the summer of 1986, I played in an American Legion All-Star game in Boyertown, PA.  The day of the game, actually right up until the start of the game, it poured rain.  The fact that we played the game was a minor miracle.  If you have ever played in Bear Stadium or know anything about Boyertown baseball, this may not surprise you.  Anyway, during the rain delay, the players on my team were sitting in a dugout when a man from the Major League Scouting Bureau walked in, sat down, and began to chat it up with us.  A player asked him just how much better are major league players.  The man responded by saying “three feet.”  We sat in silence for a few seconds since nobody knew what he meant.  He laughed and then explained.  He said that everything major league players do, they do it three feet faster then you guys.  Shortly after saying this, he had to leave and was not able to explain this any further but the thought has stayed with me ever since.  The more I played, the more I began to realize just how true the statement was and still is today.  One of my assistant coaches, who is a commercial pilot, flew into Houston and stayed in a hotel right across from Minute-Maid Park, the home of the Astros.  While there, he ran into several top prospects from the Astros organization who were in town for an off-season minicamp and were staying at the same hotel.  It struck my assistant that most of these players did not look much different from our high school players in terms of size and overall strength.  When he told me this, it reminded me of the answer the scout gave us.  

Three feet. One yard.

 If you take two players identical in size, strength, and even speed, one a high schooler and the other a major leaguer, the major league player will do everything three feet faster all because of two things: better technique and an understanding of the "little things."  Take a routine ground ball to a shortstop as an example.  The high school player fields the ball and throws to first only to find that the runner has beat the throw.  The same ground ball to a major leaguer, with the same size, strength, and speed, gets the same runner out by 10 feet.  

How?  By being one yard better.  

The major leaguer is more aware of his surroundings (the height of the grass, the speed of the runner, hitter tendancies, etc.) and positions himself a little better than the high school kid before the pitch.  This, along with a proper first step, enables him to get to the ball three feet sooner.  He then has better, more efficient footwork which allows him to transition from catching to throwing three feet faster as well.  The major leaguer gets the ball out of his glove faster which enables him to throw it three feet sooner.  He generates more momentum with proper foot work which gets the ball to first base three feet faster also.  In total, the major leaguer picks up three feet getting to the ball, three feet in a better transition, three feet with a quicker release, and three feet on his throw.  That’s a twelve foot difference!  So instead of the runner being safe by 2 feet, the runner is out by 10.  But here’s the kicker.  If the runner is a major leaguer, he gets out of the box three feet sooner, takes a better path (straight line) to first and picks up three more feet, and runs with better technique which gives him another three.  Add this up (9 feet) and the runner is out just by a step and not ten feet.What most high school players fail to realize is just how long it takes to whittle down this three foot gap in ability.  It takes an understanding of the Little Things and years of dedicated practice to accomplish this.

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