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Fair er Foul Ball???

by Dave
Friday, April 30, 2010

I have seen and heard about some rather confounding incidents on the field.   Most of the worst ones involve balls called fair or foul incorrectly.   Apparently some umps operate only within their personal experience, however limited that might be when making these calls.   I say that because too many of these calls have been rather, well, wrong.

I am going to kick off this discussion with a pop quiz for you.   A batter hits or bunts a ball which strikes the plate and bounced skyward.   The balls comes down and stops right on the plate where the catcher then standing wholly in foul ground picks it up and fires to first ahead of the baserunner who is stumbling and staggering around, uncertain of whether she should run or not.   What's your call?  : Fair or foul?

Let's answer this by stating that homeplate is very much a part of fair territory.   So are, as a matter of fact the so called "foul lines."   So a ball resting on the plate or the foul lines that is picked up by a defensive player is a fair ball.

Further, the positioning of a player has absolutely no bearing on whether a ball is fair or foul.   The catcher being entirely in foul territory, while a physical impossibility when she reaches for the ball on the plate, is completely irrelevant to the discussion.   The only item which matters is the location of the ball.   In other words, a player can at least theoretically be completely in foul ground when she touches an otherwise fair ball and that ball is fair, plain and simple.

The reason I state this as such is I have seen countless examples of balls being poorly hit or bunted and coming to rest right on the plate.   Invariably, those balls are called foul.

Secondly, there was a play the other day in which a high infield pop was hit in front of the 3B right on the line with the wind blowing all over the place.   The 3B strolled into foul ground and then began drifting back towards fair territory.   She stepped over the line and then the ball drifted back into foul ground.   She reached clearly across the line, into foul gropund by about 2 feet, and just barely missed catching the ball.   It hit the outside of her mitt.   What was the call?   You got it.   "Fair ball!"   That was obviously wrong and the defensive coach argued it but the ump would not back down.   He was the only person in the park who thought it was fair.

A friend wrote in to tell me of a play in which a ball struck fair ground and then bounced towards foul territory and was grabbed by a 3B who was well in front of the bag and entirely in foul ground.   The call?   Fair ball.   When this call was argued, the umpire stated with the utmost sincerity that once a ball strikes fair ground, it must touch the ground foul or it remains fair.   That is absurd.

Let's say that a grounder is hit down the third base line.   If that ball bounces up hard enough and passes the bag on the foul side of third, it becomes foul at the moment it passes the bag in foul ground.   It is not foul because it lands on the second hop in foul ground and then remains there.   Similarly, if it passes over any point in the bag or to the field side of the bag, it matters not a whit whether it comes down in foul ground thereafter.   It is a fair ball.

There is no verbiage in any rulebook with which I am familiar which contains any sort of "establishment clause" with regards to fair and foul balls.   There is no requirement that a once fair ball strike anything in foul ground before it can be called foul.   The reason that has been conveniently left out of any rulebook is because it would make a travesty of the game.   If a bunter bunted a ball which struck fair ground, including the plate, and then bounced back to the catcher who caught it on one hop, it would presumably be fair under such a clause.   But it is not.   It is foul.

Likewise, a player trying to make a catch on a ball in foul ground has no requirement to establish her body in foul ground in order for the ball to be ruled foul.   Say a RF was chasing a line drive which curved ever so slightly into foul territory.   She raced to the line and made a play on the ball right as she stepped on the chalk line (which, again, is in fair territory), reached across into foul ground and just barely tipped the ball.   Does her presence in fair territory make the ball fair?   No, it is foul because it was foul before she touched it.   A player cannot do anything to make a foul ball fair.

There are othert bad calls and misapplications of rules I have witnessed lately but I want to stick with these fair foul calls and add just one more somewhat related item to today's discussion.   Recently, a game was played on your average field.   The field contained a backstop.   Where the backstop ended on each side, there were gaps which players used to take the field or step up to bat and then behind the gap were fences which extended a little past the bases.   As a general matter, in such a layout, the baseline fences are considered to be in play.   That is, when a ball comes to rest next to the fence or bounces against it, the ball remains in play or live.   If the ball goes past the fence or crosses beyond the gaps, it is out of play or dead.

This sort of circumstance regarding in and out of play is generally discussed and decided at the pre-game "ground rules" meeting between umpires, coaches, and team captains.   In the absence of a specific discussion regarding this, one would expect the generally accepted rule to apply.   In other words, unless some modification to the general rule were created by somebody, a ball which strikes the baseline fence or comes to rest next to it should be in play.

The other day I saw an umpire who was either extremely confused or under the weather.   A play was made on a girl running home and the ball bounced off the catcher and to her side.   The ball rolled over to the second fence where the pitcher, backing up the play, picked it up.   The third base coach came in immediately to argue with the ump.   He claimed that the ball should be out of play because it went past the pole of the backstop.   That is ridiculous but this ump actually bought into the idea.   he ruled the ball was dead and all runners should be allowed to advance one base.   That ruling sent the game into extra innings.   During those extra innings, again the same thing happened and the umpire again ruled the ball dead once the same 3B coach came in and reminded him of this rule!   This rather incorrect understanding of in and out of play ground determined the outcome of that game.

By the way, all of the errant fair and foul rulings I have seen or heard about recently had material impact on the outcome of the games in which they were made.   Sometimes coaches carry around rabbit-eared rulebooks which are left open to areas of arcane rules in regards to DP/Flex and other such "important" things.   Most of the time, coaches are studying the arcane rules because they are confuse and the coach wants to get them down.   Sometimes coaches aren't even sure where in a rulebook one would find anything about fair and foul balls.   This stuff is easy, right?   I would no sooner carry around an ASA rulebook so I could point to sections while arguing fair and foul balls than I would carry around my first grade math book in case I had to add two numbers together.   It almost seems silly.   But if you are on the losing end of one of these calls, you will really wish you had something in hand to show the umpire why it is that he was wrong.

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Permanent Link:  Fair er Foul Ball???


You Just Gotta Laugh or Cry!

by Dave
Sunday, April 25, 2010

We got rained out today!   I was freed from field duty and about 9 hours of watching games, so I took the day off from everything.   I was innocently just kicking back and watching TV.   Big mistake!   Innocence is often penalized!!!!!!

My baseball team wasn't on the tube yet so I went over to watch some college softball on ESPNU.   There was a game being televised between Radford and Winthrop.   During the early innings, the play by play man, Mike Gleason, asked color commentator, Cindy Bristow, former All American pitcher and member of the softball Hall of Fame, "Tell us something about the umpires this year, what they're really looking for when they look at the pitchers."

Bristow replied they are trying to cut down on illegal pitches, "trying to make sure that pitchers either don't leap or crow hop which are the two ways that pitchers can try and get an advantage."   The broadcast then "leaped" to a previously filmed segment in which Bristow discussed the ins and outs of crow hopping and leaping with the help of a pitcher demonstrating each infraction.   I wasn't precisely certain but I think the demonstrator was actually Bristow, herself.

I suppose it is always better to see something than merely hear it discussed.   Words have their limits.   Reading rules or listening to someone discuss them often falls short from creating the mental picture we need to fully grasp the concepts.   That is true, unless the demonstration fails to accurately depict what is being discussed.   Bristow's discussion was accurate but the demonstration confused things completely.

Bristow said a leap happens "when the pitcher leaves the ground at the same time with both feet."   She then discussed crow hopping and noted it occurs "where the pitcher's pivot foot replants before her stride foot hits the ground."   She then added that the "crow hop is the more common of the two."

The NCAA rulebook regarding a leap, reads as follows:

Rule 1.73 Leap (Pitcher)
"An illegal act in which the pitcher becomes airborne on her initial movement
and push from the pitcher's plate."

Rule 10.4.4
"No leaping is allowed.   The pitcher may not become airborne on the
initial drive from the pitcher's plate.   The pivot foot must slide/drag on
the ground."

In regards to a crow hop, it says:

1.28 Crow Hop (Pitcher)
"An illegal act in which the pitcher's pivot foot leaves the pitcher's plate and
re-contacts the ground before the release of the pitch."

Rule 10.4.5
"No crow hopping is allowed.   The pitcher may not replant, gain a
second starting point and push off her pivot foot.   Once having lost
contact with the pitcher's plate, the pivot foot may trail on the ground
but may not bear weight again until the pitch is released."

Bristow's descriptions comport with the NCAA softball rulebook.   Unfortunately, the pitcher-demonstrator performed basically the same mistake during each try.   There was a very slight difference because she did obtain a new point of impetus, a second starting point, in her crow hop example.   But to the casual observer, including IMHO umpires and many coaches as well as pitching instructors, the two infractions were indistinguishable.

The reason I find this issue disturbing is because I have seen any number of pitchers at various levels either get called for crow hopping or be told by an umpire at a friendly that they are crow hopping when they were very clearly leaping!   One coach recently instructed a kid who was throwing on a gymnasium floor and very obviously leaping that she was crow hopping.

It seems it is next to impossible to find anyone in this sport who can actually demonstrate a real knowledge of the difference between the two.   This is important because, if nobody can actually distinguish between the two, how can they presume to call one or the other?   And how is a pitcher supposed to correct her actions if she is being told she is doing one when she is actually doing the other?

It should be simple.   In a leap, the pitcher's feet are both in the air after push off and before ball release.   She must drag away from the rubber.   If she pushes into the air and both her feet are off the ground simultaneously, she has committed the leap and this is illegal.

A crow hop is essentially a leap in which the pivot foot lands again and a push off from the second point occurs.   In other words, if a pitcher leaps and her pivot foot replants, bears weight and is pushed off from, she has crow hopped.

These two types of infractions may seem to be so similar that no distinction is necessary but let me explain why I think it is important.   When girls first start learning the windmill, a couple simplification techniques are utilized.   It is a very complex motion which must be broken down into stages.   One technique/drill involves beginning the motion and then stopping with the hand and ball held straight overhead (at 12:00 o'clock).   Girls will do this drill 0over and over again to make sure pushing off well while rotating their hips and shoulders and getting their hand into the "perfect circle."   The next p-hase of the drill involves pausing at this 12:00 o'clock position and then finishing the delivery.   In this way, a singular complex motion is broken into two discreet parts in order to simplify things for the student.   This drill is pretty important but it involves a crow hop!

Next, after girls have the basic mechanics down fairly well, the most important thing they need to do is practice.   Not very many of us have a perfectly well manicured pitcher's circle in which to practice.   Often, the local recreational field has a huge hole in front of the chewed up rubber.   Many times, there are teams practicing on the field.   Sometimes, it is too dark or cold or wet outside to practice.   Generally girls working on their pitching practice on concrete, blacktop, gymnasium floors, or any old spot in some field either with or without a rubber or initial point from which to push.   They make adjustments so as not to hurt their knees, ruin their sneakers or spikes, or otherwise accommodate the less than ideal practice facilities.   They develop habits which follow them into games where coaches and umpires call them for crow hopping when they are leaping and leaping when they are crow hopping!   This is less than optimal for our sport.

Most importantly, when we consider the crow hop, it is a fundamental flaw which is involved with timing and pulling together a complex motion.   The way to correct it is really to work basic mechanics anew and then bring them together with proper timing.   The leap can best be cured by: 1) making the pitcher aware of what it is she is doing vs. what she should be doing and then 2) emphasizing her drag away through some means.   What I have done is placed a cloth on the ground next to where the girl pushes off the rubber and had her work on dragging that cloth with her on push off.   Generally that is enough at least until she truies to pitch from the rubber with the two foot deep hole in front of it.   In that case, I suppose, when the ump calls leaping, coaches should insist the pitch9ing area be repaired!   But I digress.

What makes matters worse with this issue is that nobody seems to be able to demonstrate correct and legal pitching mechanics.   The third demonstration on ESPNU's little segment was a pitch presumably thrown legally.   The demonstrator went into her windup, stepped off the rubber and forwards a few inches, then pitched while dragging her foot away.

That's very much illegal!   That is precisely what Jennie Finch was called for several times during the Olympics.   You cannot lift your pivot foot off the rubber.   You cannot step in front of the rubber and then pitch.   You must keep contact with the rubber, push off and then drag away.   The demonstrator, hall of fame pitcher or not, showed us exactly what not to do, however inadvertently!

I don't know whether to laugh or cry!!

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Permanent Link:  You Just Gotta Laugh or Cry!


Calling Out All Crowhoppers!

by Dave
Wednesday, April 07, 2010

There is a definite change in the air and I'm not talking about the weather.   Umpires are actually calling illegal pitches this year.   And they're doing it a lot.   I'm not sure precisely why - probably an instruction from the NCAA or some such - but high school and youth umps are following suit.   The issue and the new found frequent rate of calls brings up a number of questions that may have some folks fairly confused.   I'd like to discuss some of these to help clarify things a bit.

I was going to list out issues and questions numerically but there are so many cross-related items that I find I must write this in my usual rambling way.   I'm gonna throw a bunch of stuff against the wall and see what sticks.

The first item on the agenda is: why am I writing this now?   I am writing about illegal pitches because I have seen and heard more calls and more comments by umpires and coaches in the first few weeks of this year than I have in the several full years prior.   I watched my first college game on TV a few weeks back and witnessed multiple illegal pitch calls against both pitchers of two top teams.   Obviously the umps are calling it at the collegiate level.   This may be an early season emphasis on pitching rules or it may continue throughout the season as the ruling bodies actually get serious about it.

I do believe that the illegal pitch call must start at the top and emanate downwards through youth play.   If the college umps are not calling egregious infractions, why the heck should an ump at a 10U game care particularly much?   I have seen much ado about illegal pitches at the high school level and so I assume that every umpire is hot on the trail.   I expect to see more calls in travel ball this year than ever before.   Therefore, we must all be concerned with it until that supposition is proven wrong.

So what is an illegal pitch?   Aside from a pitcher going to her mouth while on the rubber, bringing her hands together twice, not bringing her hands together at all, etc., there are really three sorts of illegal pitches, one called a "crow hop" another a "leap."   The third kind involves a pitcher stepping outside the pitching lane but I'm not going to get into that today.

The distinction between crow hopping and leaping is really only important in as much as it elaborates upon the overall rules.   That is, an illegal pitch, whether crow hop or leap, is still an illegal pitch.   But nobody seems to grasp the difference between the two and this leads to something of a misunderstanding.

The basic rules of windmill pitching require the pitcher to maintain contact with the pitcher's plate (rubber) until she releases the ball from her hand.   Obviously, very few pitchers are actually in contact with the rubber when they release the pitch.   That is because it is not physically possible to push off well and throw using your legs while maintaining contact.   Therefore, the rules logically say that if the pitcher drags her push off (pivot) foot along the ground, she is deemed to have maintained contact with the rubber.   In short, you don't have to maintain contact with the rubber until you let the ball go.   You must be in contact initially and then drag away, not lose touch with the ground, before releasing the ball.

The infraction known as a "leap" involves the pitcher losing contact with the ground with her pivot foot.   The pitcher pushes off, becomes air-born with both feet off the ground and then throws.   It is not imperative that both feet be off the ground for a "leaping" infraction.   All that must happen is for the foot pushing off the rubber to lose contact with it and the ground.   You do not cure leaping by having a pitcher land with the other foot before losing contact with the pivot foot.   Generally, "leapers" become completely air-born, if but only briefly.

The "crow hop" is related to the leap but, in this case, the would-be "leaper" lands her pivot foot anew before releasing the ball.   She obtains what is called a "new point of impetus" before she completes her windmill.   This has the effect of putting her much closer to home than she would otherwise be.   That is, a pitcher throwing from 43 feet might leap to a new point of impetus several feet in front of the rubber and, in effect, be pitching from 40 feet or closer rather than the rulebook distance of 43.

Why do pitchers crow hop?   Some folks claim that they do this in order to throw harder because throwing with a crow hop is faster than throwing legally.   I very much doubt this is true.   The fact is a proper pitching motion is more efficient than an improper one.   The crow hop is not a faster method.   It does shorten the distance and thereby make it seem as if the pitcher is throwing harder but it does not make her faster.   I say this because I've heard claims that it actually adds mph on the radar gun.   There's just no way that is true.   Those who make the claim are just not thinking the thing through.

Still, a crow hop does provide an advantage to the pitch because it brings her closer to the batter and shortens the time, however slightly, that the batter has to decide and swing.   It provides an unfair advantage, one contemplated by the rule makers and is specifically prohibited.   The leap is also prohibited but I doubt it gives any real advantage to the pitcher.

When an illegal pitch is called, the batter gets a ball and any runners on base are moved forward one base.   Some folks confuse this with a balk in baseball because that is close to what results with a baseball balk.   But the two are really completely unrelated.   A baseball balk has nothing to do with a pitcher getting an unfair advantage over a batter.   Rather it is the baserunner(s) over whom an unfair advantage has been obtained.   Obviously baserunning rules in the two sports are very different.   Since there is no leading before the pitch in fastpitch softball, the baseball balk is completely irrelevant to softball.

There are generally two types of baseball balks, a procedural balk and a punitive balk.   The punitive balk happens when there are runners on base.   A delayed dead ball is theoretically called and runners advance a base.   I say "theoretically" because in practice, everything stops on a balk call.   There's no delay about it though that is what the rules call for.

When there are no runners on base, the only sort of balk that can happen is a procedural one.   Because the balk rule specifically contemplates baserunners being deceived, there is no penalty unless the umpires believe the pitcher was doing something illegal in order to fool the batter in which case they may award a ball.   When a softball illegal pitch is called, the batter is always awarded a ball and any baserunners awarded the next base.   There is no distinction between a procedural or punitive illegal pitch.

Baseball pitchers do not crow hop because this provides a disadvantage to them.   Every baseball pitcher knows that they need to keep their pivot foot on the rubber as they push off and come forward to the release point.   There is nothing to be gained from bringing the pivot foot forward on the mound, obtaining a new point of impetus and then throwing because they lose some of the downward trajectory advantage they have and because they cannot get as strong a push off.   This brings up a point relevant to windmill pitching but we're getting ahead of ourselves.

Baseball pitchers' pivot feet frequently do not drag away from the rubber, however, because, I suppose, the mechanics of baseball pitching are different - they are overhand.   Any overhand throw ends with either a foot dragging or not.   It is about 50/50.   There doesn't seem to be much particular reason to do either.   Neither is markedly more powerful than the other - it is more a question of style or habit.   Some pitchers do drag, some do not.   It depends on the style of pitching they are performing.   Some pitchers have their pivot foot fly away after push off and before release.   Some pitchers drag.   But it ain't covered in the baseball rulebook and absolutely nobody cares.

Regardless of what is covered in the baseball rulebook and regardless of whether baseball pitchers do or do not crow hop or leap, the fact is these are both illegal in windmill pitching.   So, why do girls do it?   There are several reasons but, again, I do not believe anyone is trying to learn to do it in order to gain an advantage.

Windmill pitchers, unlike their brothers in baseball, must train by performing actual pitches throughout much of the year.   In youth and high school ball, many baseball pitchers take much more of the year off than windmillers do.   The windmill is just that much harder.   But in most places, one cannot practice pitching outside on an actual pitching surface.

Most pitchers do their "winter work" on a flat surface, without a rubber, or on some type of artificial surface with a rubber but no actual dirt around it.   The gymnasium floor is often a place where pitchers work.   It is very difficult to drag away from a point of impetus (rubber or not) on gym floor surfaces because they are made for NOT SLIPPING.

If you get yourself one of those mats with a rubber on it, you can drag away more easily than on a gym floor but it is still far more difficult than real dirt.   So, regardless of where they perform their winter workouts, many softball pitcher's get out of the habit of dragging away.

Sometimes, they actually develop crow hops while throwing on these indoor surfaces.   I'm not sure why this is but perhaps it could have something to do with trying to develop more speed.   Again, the crow hop is not a faster method of pitching but when a girl is pitching on a difficult surface to push and drag, she may do things in order to gain leverage so as tyo throw hard and not put too much stress on her shoulder.   Since she doesn't lose anything in the gym because she has no rubber, perhaps she can be prone to crow hopping.   I really do not know but I have seen many gymnasium pitchers who were legal outside develop crow hops during the winter.

A larger reason why pitchers develop crow hops has to do with the windmill learning process.   The motion is, in my humble opinion, one of the most complicated moves in all of athletics.   There is so much to learn separately with the upper and lower body, not to mention the core muscles, that it has to be taught in pieces.   A girl learns to snap the ball out of her hand, then bring her arm down and snap, and then a full rotation followed by a snap.   After the basic arm rotation is taught, then and only then, the twisting of the core is taught.   Only after these two pieces are learned fairly well is she taught about pushing off.   Thereafter, drills and warm up routines are established which break the motion down into pieces and ultimately bring them together.   It is very complicated and many girls struggle along the way.

I have watched several girls who have been trained to pitch for several years have difficulty maintaining a reasonable circle throughout their rotation.   I have seen many who do not fully open and thereby reduce the quality and length of their circle from which much of the power is gained.   I have seen many other girls who, despite fully opening and maintaining pretty good arm circles, have difficulty with the end of the motion or simply get into the habit of forgetting to snap the ball.   It is not easy.

In order to fix broken parts, many coaches go back to the drawing board and build up from the bottom again.   Then, after the broken piece is mended, girls sometimes have trouble bringing the thing back together again.   Or, and this is really frustrating, the girl fixes the broken piece and then something else is out of alignment.   Windmill pitching can very much be "Humpty-Dumpty."

Sometimes girls learn to pitch while making the mistake of crow hopping or leaping and these aren't fixed by their coaches for a couple reasons.   First of all, if a coach is working on 50 different little pieces that need tweaking, probably the last thing he or she is concerned with is a tiny leap.   Secondly, because the leap is very hard to fix on a poor surface for pitching, why bother?   Heck, she'll fix that when she gets back outside and we have so much else to do!

Another reason why pitching coaches do not or have not in the past bothered to fix little leaps and hops is because nobody has been calling them for years.   There has been a lot of talk about the subject but nobody has done anything about it for a long time.   Now, all of a sudden, the talk has caught the attention of the governing bodies and they are trying to fix what they allowed to break in the first place.   So, at the last Olympics, illegal pitches were actually called.   Also, last year the NCAA got slightly tougher on pitchers' feet.   Then the high school umps applied it a bit more than they had in the past.   This year seems to be the water shed.   Umps are calling it left and right.

Why was the illegal pitch almost never called before last year and this one?   I can't really say for sure but I assume that 1) nobody saw a real advantage gained by pitchers and 2) the rule has one major defect.

In baseball, as I said, the pitcher who commits a balk is trying to get, or in effect getting, an advantage over the baserunner.   In softball, that's not the case.   In baseball, the rules very sanely say, if you're trying to get an illegal advantage over the baserunner, then not only will we not allow it but we will give the baserunner an advantage by moving him up one base very time you do it.

In softball, where the pitcher is trying to get, or in effect deemed to be getting, an advantage over the batter.   We sanely penalize her by awarding a ball.   But, we then turnaround and also award baserunners a free advance to the next base.   We penalize the pitcher once by awarding a ball to the batter and that should be about right.   That should be it.

Umpires are often gifted with a good amount of common game sense, whether they know the rulebook precisely as written or not.   Many I have encountered over the years have taken time to explain not only to pitchers but also to coaches precisely what it is they think she is doing wrong.   I have even seen umps take the additional step of explaining the problem to parents of pitchers between innings.   They seldom make the illegal pitch call, or have historically done it seldom, because it changes the game, slows it down and basically destroys much of the good.

If you walk up to a random field and observe a pitcher at 10U through 18U, chances are probably 50/50 or better that you will see a pitcher make at least one illegal pitch during any inning.   Most likely, if you stay for both innings, you will see both pitchers make multiple illegal pitches.   Can you imagine going to a softball game, expecting it to be a low scoring, hour and a half affair but when you get there, the first pitch is called illegal, then the second, and so on?   That nice pure game will end up taking more than the 4 hours many baseball games take.   The score will be something like 50-49.   And both pitcher will have thrown no hitters!   VERY BORING!

Many umps recognize this and call illegal pitches infrequently unless the game is an important one.   The last thing they want to do is make the game a huge bore for all involved.

Another reason umps have often ignored illegal pitches is because when you take some 11, 12, 16 year-old pitcher and tell her to change her motion in the middle of a game, two things can happen.   One is she is going to throw so badly that the ball is going to be hit all over the place.   It is not because she has lost that wonderful advantage she illegally gained over the prior hitters.   It is because she is now out of sync and unable to pitch the way she has thrown the last forty thousand practice pitches.  -; She doesn't know what to do.

More importantly, when a pitcher changes her motion in the second inning of some game and then continues to throw another 100 pitches in a failed attempt to correct the mistake she has been making without correction over the past 3 or 5 years, she is going to put far too much stress on her shoulder, her back or some part of her body.   She is going to end up injured.   And that is a really bad outcome of trying to correct something like this during a game.

Do you think I am overstating reality by claiming that most pitchers throw illegally and can be called multiple times each inning?   Take a look at the top names in our game and show me five pitcher who do not throw illegally!   Jennie Finch?   Sorry, almost every pitch she throws involves a slight step forward off the rubber onto the ground in front of it.   Monica Abbott?   Cat?   Ditto, ditto.   Keep going.   I guarantee you that almost every pitcher in the top 50 or even 150 in the world, some of the greatest pitchers of all time, has some sort of routine flaw with her feet that should, if the letter of the rules are followed, result in a call at least some of the time.

Now, there are crow hops and there are crow hops.   There are leaps and there are leaps.   Jennie Finch gains nothing worth noting with her "step" which is technically a crow hop.   I'm not sure that any of the top pitchers really do gain from their hops or leaps.   It is just hard to be athletic with one very important foot nailed to the ground.

Further, even the game surface is somewhat imperfect.   Have you ever taken a good look at the dirt in the circle during a tournament game when 5 games have already been played on this field and the only repair work is by some guy like me who is absolutely clueless and even if he had a clue, doesn't have the proper materials or equipment to fix holes in the surface?

I have watched games on occasion where a pitcher was called for leaping because she lost contact with the ground after push off.   But the area in front of the rubber had a one foot drop and it is getting worse each and every pitch!   That is certainly not true of international or NCAA level games but in everything from high school on down, there are some pretty bad field conditions.   And even with state of the art equipment and materials applied by a real ground crew, during play, there are going to be holes dug.

How about this resolution to the illegal pitch?   Let's get a guy with clay at the ready and a tamper to pat down each application.   Now let's call him in after each inning to fix the surface?   No, that's not fair, he should come in every half inning.   And if the area gets beat up during a half inning, the plate ump can call him in to fix it.   This will really make the game fun and quick!

As I said, there are girls who hop quite egregiously.   And there are girls who leap very badly regardless of field conditions.   These problems need to be fixed.   A pitcher with a 3 foot crow hop should not be allowed to continue doing it year after year.   I'm not really sure about the leap since I don't think it really provides anything positive and really results from bad timing and coordination or lousy field conditions.

A likely rebuttal to my diatribe today is probably going to be something like the rules are the rules and they should be applied evenly, period.   To that, I will say that, technically, if you apply the rules perfectly, no player on the defensive team, nor her parents in the stands for that matter, is allowed to distract an offensive or defensive player in any way, shape or manner.   That being the case, and the rules are the rules, you must remain quiet in the stands in those tense moments that determine the outcome of the game.   Probably it would be best if players only spoke when the ball is in the circle and the pitcher is not on the rubber lest they distract anyone.   So no chatter of any kind is allowed.   All those catchers taught to block the plate while the throw is still incoming, that is obstruction.   Any contact made between an incoming runner and the catcher has to be either interference or obstruction and because these players are really not supposed to come into contact at all, someone should be ejected from the game on almost every close play at the plate I have seen.

The point is rules can be taken to extremes.   Obviously there is need for most rules.   They ought to be applied and applied evenly.  , But rules change or are clarified every year because they are, by nature, imperfect.  -; before we go from a speed of -0- to one of 120 mph, we ought to at least consider the bigger picture (I almost wrote pitcher).

Personally, I think some degree of latitude should be given to the finch's of the world.   I think there should be room for a "crow hop" on one or two inches which really would be limited to a mere slipping and sliding of the pivot foot from the rubber to a point right in front of it.   I also think a degree of rationality should be applied to the leap rule.   I saw a pitcher against who illegal pitches were called the other night on my Tivo.   The broadcasters noted that she had lost touch with the ground by a few inches on each delivery.   I replayed one over and over until I saw it.   She did leave the ground though you'd have to have very good eyes to notice it.   The funny thing was that she left the ground on those pitches on which illegal was called almost as often as she did when it wasn't called!

We might also want to at least look over at our brethren on the baseball diamond and make note of their balk rule, just as a reference point.   if the attempted illegal advantage is over the runners, they should get the benefit of any penalty.   If it isn't, they shouldn't.   The windmill pitch is a theoretical attempt to gain on the batter, not the runners.   The penalty should be a ball.   Why should the runners advance????

Finally, I seriously doubt that many folks out there, be they umps, coaches or whatever, have a good understanding of pitching rules.   One umpire recently said to a pitcher throwing warm-ups that she was crow hopping.   She wasn't.   She was leaping.   And, by the way, you are allowed to do that during your warm-ups!   A coach once recently was heard telling a pitcher that she was crow hopping, she wasn't.   She was leaping but that was because the field was in such terrible condition that had she dragged, she would have ripped her toe nails off inside her shoes.

I know rules are often hard to understand and harder to apply fairly.   But to the guy coaching first base who screamed balk as my then 9 year old was about to release the ball approximately 100 times during a nothing tournament game several years ago, read my lips.   THERE IS NO BALK IN GIRLS FASTPITCH SOFTBALL.   Also, to the same fellow, your daughter is an egregious crow hopper!   For the rest of you, please consider the words of ten year MLB umpire, Ron Luciano, as he addressed the issue of baseball's balk.   he said, "I never called a balk in my life.   I didn't understand the rule."

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Permanent Link:  Calling Out All Crowhoppers!


43 Changes

by Dave
Thursday, March 25, 2010

The 43 feet vs. 40 feet pitching distance seems to change just about everything!

I don't know which states have switched their high school pitching distance to 43 feet and which will wait until next year but our state has switched for this year.   I have been to perhaps a half dozen or so scrimmages thus far and I have to say it makes quite a bit of difference.   Lots more balls are hit into play and this changes everything!

It finally occurred to me that I had harbored a misconception when comparing Gold/showcase ball to high school ball.   I always assumed that the hitters were far more skilled at the showcase level.   They probably are more skilled but not nearly as much as I previously thought.   The hitters are better but they are made to seem much better by the further pitching distance.

I have always enjoyed viewing showcases because the quality of play seems so high.   The fielding at this level far exceeds what one sees in high school because more players are more gifted and much more experienced and well trained.   Whereas in high school games, the average team might have one to five very experienced and gifted kids, the average showcase team at the events I have viewed is filled with that level of player.

A high school team is generally put together with whatever level of ability is available from the, somewhat limited in size, student body.   A showcase team might have kids from several states or at least some of the best players within its home state.   In any given year, a high school might or might not have a stud pitcher, catcher and shortstop who will play at the next level, and, only in limited circumstances, a lineup of quality hitters from 1 through 9.   Very often, there are girls on a high school team who have played little more than a few rec games each year.   There is absolutely nothing wrong with that as folks are free to choose what their own priorities are.   And many schools have as few as 100 girls from which to fill slots on the softball, tennis, lacrosse, etc. teams, not to mention other time consuming pursuits.

The result is many high school teams have been able to do well despite perhaps having as many as 4 or 5 fairly weak players in their field and batting lineup.   One super stud pitcher with perhaps a couple other studs at key positions could propel a team to a relatively high finish within their conference, county and maybe even the state playoffs.   That is probably no longer true except in very limited circumstances.

As I said, top showcase teams generally have more depth in the field and seldom "hide" weak fielders.   But to be honest, the level of hitting is not quite as gifted as I once thought.   That has become evident because now that our high schools pitch from 43 feet, there are a lot more balls hit into play which makes the batters seem more skilled.   What has become more apparent is the disparity between the two types of play when it comes to defense.

Generally girls who play showcase ball care deeply about their games.   They not only play between 50 and 100 games each year, but also they spend more time working on their skills.   They attend clinics, see private coaches, and work hard on their own to be strong defensively as well as with the bat.   There are often a lot of girls lined up to make successful showcase teams.   The coaches have to pick their roster by deciding between several very skilled girls.   They don't generally have to grab some kid to fill a slot even though her defensive skills are weak.   There are not many times that a good showcase team will be unable to put together an infield or outfield filled with kids who are at or close to being all conference high school players, at the very least.

Long ago, somebody told me, "the typical high school team is put together with 3 or 4 travel ball players while the typical travel team has 12 travel players."   That's obvious enough but the point is, high schools often have a fairly large number of kids who did not have the time to play travel softball.   Perhaps they chose to play travel soccer or some other sport.   Perhaps they are academic demons who would prefer spending their free time reading scientific journals.   But when they thought about what they wanted to do in high school, they decided to go out for softball.   And because the total number of kids in their class who went out for softball numbered just 10 or 12, they not only made the team but became a starter.

I can't speak for every high school, and in truth, I'm not really speaking for ours.   But I understand from talking to several coaches that many schools do not have freshman teams because, in any given year, they are unlikely to have 9 kids in one class.   Some schools I know of struggle to field a JV team.   It is quite enough for them to gather 9 live bodies with which to populate the varsity roster.   I recall one year in which a particular team had 10 on varsity and 9 on JV.   I don't know what they would have done if somebody was injured or quit the team.

The top softball schools in our area have more than enough travel ball players to fill a team, including subs.   But that frequently spans more than one class.   And some of the younger players, while very skilled, lack the level of experience one might see in a high level showcase or Gold team.

Before I get a bunch of e-mails, please understand that I do know there are some run of the mill "showcase" teams which are very weak.   I also can appreciate that there are nominal travel teams and some very weak genuine travel teams.   I suppose I'm not really referring to them.   I can appreciate that some kids who play some level of travel may not be as good as some other kids who are outstanding athletes but just do not have the time for travel softball.   But the general rule is that a girl who plays almost 100 games per year, plays spring, summer and fall, does 2 practices a weak in the "off" season, and receives generally better coaching from the age of 10, 11 or 12, is going to be a better player than one who merely plays a dozen or so rec games for 3 months of the year.

In any event, I'm beginning to blather and dance around the points I want to make.   The change to 43 feet has resulted in several important changes to the high school game which I was able to ascertain by watching just a few scrimmages - our regular season begins next week.

The first item on my list is pitchers who once were able to get through games without being touched very much are getting hit much harder.   We've been over the speed vs. movement vs. location argument before on this blog.   I stick to what I said several years ago.   Of speed, location and movement, which is the most important?   Yes!

All three elements of pitching are very important.   And I'll add to the three biggies with change of speed, deception, and breaking down hitters.   A pitcher who has speed but no movement and a mediocre change is going to find trouble unless that speed is somewhere around 65+.   There are not many, perhaps any, girls hitting 65 and up on radar guns during their high school years.   Actually, there aren't many in college doing that.   But a girl who is hitting high speeds may still be able to overpower hitters.   Still, more kids will hit balls into play against her than ever before.

If she changes speeds very well, our power pitcher will probably have much greater success.   It is easier to overpower even a good hitter with a 62 mph fastball if you just made her swing and miss or stand with a blank stare at a 42 mph change.   Throw that same hitter 6 pitches at 65+ during three at bats and I like her chances to catch up with one and drill it a long ways.

If our pitcher can throw a mediocre speed, sharp moving drop, she may not strike out as many batters but she is going to generate a lot of weak grounders.   There is certainly room for speed pitchers, especially against weak hitters but movement has been raised up a notch in importance at the high school level with the move to 43.   As I said, I hold to my ideal pitcher with speed, movement, location, etc. but at the high school level, I think the girls who got by on speed alone will find it much more difficult to do so this year.

Along with more balls being hit into play comes, obviously, lots fewer K's.   Some pitchers are going to have a difficult time soothing their bruised egos when they graduate from games routinely 14 strike-outs to those with just 4.   Also, innings which started out with an error and ended with the runner stranded and the score stuck at 0-0 will be fewer.   Gone are the days when our once overpowering pitcher will be able to work her team out of trouble by blowing a few past the next three hitters.   A much more likely scenario is maybe one K and two grounders or outs made someway else.   Runs are going to score against many teams and pitchers unaccustomed to the experience.

So what happens to those balls hit into play?   Well, they either drop as hits or are fielded by defensive players and played into, hopefully, outs.   Because pitchers will continue to use the full extent of the strike zone and areas around it, those balls are going to be sprayed all over the place.   All 7 defensive positions, excluding the Ps and Cs, are going to have to field their positions much more than in the past.   In the course of many games I have watched, there have been a high percentage of those in which one particular fielder or several of them have not made a single play, excluding backups or base running ones, during a full game or several games consecutively.   I do not believe that will be the case with the new pitching distance.

The other day, I watched a weak team play a scrimmage against a pretty average one and over just two rather difficult innings, I saw balls hit to every fielder.   The innings contained several strike-outs as weaker hitters eventually made their ways through the order.   But there were more balls hit into play than I have ever seen at any one game in just those two innings.   And the weak fielders became very evident.

I recall a similar game a couple years ago in which the score ended at 2-0.   despite the teams each containing weak fielders, few balls were hit into play and very few were hit well.   One kid was responsible for both runs as she had a 2 for 3 day at the plate.   The runners who scored on each of those hits were the only other base runners the team had.   The opponent had perhaps 3 or 4 who were stranded after successive strike-outs.   Of the total of maybe 8 baserunners for the whole game, for both teams, there were perhaps 3 hits, 2 walks and 3 errors.   the game was played in well under two hours.   based on what I saw in this scrimmage, that same game probably would have been 12-10 with 20-25 hits, 10 errors, etc.   Of course games between two good teams with two good pitchers, etc. will still be won by one run.   But I suspect rather than being 9 inning, 1-0 quick flings, they will be 9 inning, 3-2 exciting affairs.   Games between good teams will be longer, involve more baserunners and runs, and see saw back and forth more than in the past.   Games between bad teams will be high scoring and involve a lot of misplays.

At another scrimmage I watched a team comprised of two teams with mostly travel ball players, I had to remind an acquaintance of mine who was the father of one pitcher that the distance had increased.   He had watched his daughter play top level showcase ball for a couple years but was unaccustomed to seeing her get hit in high school games.   He was besides himself.   When I mentioned the distance change, his face lit up and he calmed down.   He had forgotten about that little item.

Despite all the balls being hit into play, his daughter's team did well.   They were mostly very skilled fielders and played most balls into outs.   They scored some runs and easily defeated their scrimmage partner.   I think they'll do quite well this year because their defense is very sound.   Solid defense is going to win a lot of games this year.   Defenders are going to get lots more experience actually fielding balls!

In years past I have watched a team that had good fielders but which also sported a very dominant strike-out pitcher.   She threw lots of no hitters.   Many of the games she pitched involved very few balls hit into play.   She was so dominant that the fielders could have sat down at a table in center field and had tea for most of the innings.   Occasionally, they would have to get up when she walked someone.   But the rest of the time was pretty leisurely.   And this was problematic for the team when they got into championship play.

During the later part of the season, when better teams play against better teams, the team which makes the biggest mistakes usually loses.   This team with the dominant pitcher never really got its defense into sync.   The players were talented but having played very few games in which the defense was tested at all, their combined defensive skill was not what it might have been.   They faltered at a bad time and were eliminated despite probably having the best team in the competition.   This year, with many more balls being hit into play, I imagine they will gel to a much higher degree.

When fielders stand in their positions for a long time without balls being hit to them and with the expectation that there is a low likelihood that they will see any action, they atrophy.   They get back on their heals, think about their next at bat, and otherwise drop out of the game for half an inning.   On the other hand, when a fielder expects that, on any given pitch, she is likely to have to make a play, she is going to play defense.   She will be ready.   She will be on her toes.   She will be sharp.   So good defensive players are likely to really enjoy the change in the pitching distance.

On the other hand, poor fielders are going to tense up and make errors with more balls being hit into play.   When an unskilled fielder has a high expectation of a ball being hit to her which she doubts she will be able to field cleanly, she gets so tense that, in general, she will make worse errors than she would if she were relaxed and confident.   The best cure for this is going to be good coaching and loads of repetition.   Coaches who want to be successful with less talented players than they would like are going to have to make the difference by working hard with their weakest players.   Fundamental skill teachers will see their teams compete better than coaches who just round up their kids and work plays.

Certainly plays will continue to be important but in prior years, with fewer overall balls being hit into play, coaches could round up their best players, populate the higher profiled positions with them and work plays that didn't involve those with lesser skills.   In general, that means infield because with very few balls hit into play, the focus was much more on dealing with baserunners, short game considerations, and that sort of thing.   Fewer balls were hit to the outfield and teams could hide kids in the corners.

Every member of the defensive team is going to have an important role to play in determining who wins and who loses games.   Skills of the weakest players are going to be tested.  , i Kids who cannot field well are going to make bad plays.   Outfield cut-offs, for example, are going to be much more critical.   It is one thing when a 1-0 game is determined by a runner from third scoring on a short fly.   It is quite an another when, in a 5-3 game, there is a fly ball with runners on second and third and the outfielder throws late and offline to home, allowing the runner from second to move up and score on the next fly ball.   Girls are going to not only need to know the cut-off plays but, perhaps more importantly, be able to throw very well so as to hold runners from advancing.

I think of the various scrimmages I have watched, the majority of additional baserunners over prior years has been due to balls being played badly and the additional runs came from mental mistakes made by players with apparently less experience.   Soft liners that would be caught at a higher level find the ground.   Over throws start the merry-go-round to spinning.   And throws to wrong bases have provided the opportunity for more runners than ever before to move up.   The game most certainly has changed.

In games between good, sound defensive teams, in the past a runner might get aboard somehow, move up on a bunt and then languish as the next two hitters struck out.   Now, it is more likely that such runners move around the bases on balls hit into play, if not necessarily for base hits.   If a team gets a runner on third with less than two outs, the likelihood that a run will get pushed across will be much higher than in years gone by.   The value of a grounder hit up the middle is going to go up.   That means the defenses which are able to play such balls and nail the runner at the plate are going to have an advantage.

Aside from this, defenses are going to have to short-circuit potentially big innings.   They may have to get hitters out at first instead of always playing to stop the run.   That takes some discipline, planning and coaching.   Too often, in the past, I have seen fielders always seeking and failing to get the lead runner.   That is not such a huge deal when the next couple of hitters go down swinging.   But when runners are moved via productive outs, bigger innings will follow such mental mistakes.

In short, the reduction in the number of strike-outs is going to change more than the face of the game.   Pitchers are going to have to become more crafty and rely less on overpowering hitters.   They will have to change speeds, move the ball and hit spots.   Defenses are going to have to be better in order to win games.   Fundamental skills will be far more important.   Coaches are going to have to train their weakest players better than ever before.   Scores will go up, games will get longer, and weak teams are going to have a heck of a time.   Better tams will still play exciting games against better teams but more of the thrill is likely to be out there in the field.

I have always considered myself a baseball and softball purest - I like 1-0 pitchers duels.   But having seen some of these games with more balls hit into play, I have to say that I agree with the powers who decided to put this in motion.   The game is vastly improved by having more balls hit into play and involving defensive teams more.   It is no less exciting to watch two very good teams play to a 3-2 final score than it was to sweat it out through a 1-0 one.

The only issue I have with this change is I happen to have one kid in middle school.   Their conference always follows the high school rules.   They are pitching at 43 feet!   In the past their games have been relatively high scoring, rather long and involved fairly large numbers of errors.   I am somewhat afraid of what this year will bring.

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Permanent Link:  43 Changes


Legal Batter's Box

by Dave
Wednesday, July 22, 2009

A reader recently wrote in with a complaint.   The issue involved a team of travel players beating up on his rec team.   The travel girls stood at the plate, 3 feet in front of the dish, and hit with their high performance composite bats just 35 feet, after taking a stride, from the pitcher's plate.   His concern was the safety of his players.   He noted that his purposes in coaching recreational ball are to emphasize team work, skill fundamentals, and general enjoyment of the game.   He expressed disdain for travel players beating up rec players for the purpose of "practice" and general dislike for the aggressive tactics employed by the travel girls against his recreational team.   The girls themselves, not any coach, argued with the umpire over the dimensions of the batter's box and cajoled him into allowing their stances out to three feet in front of the plate.   He believed they should be called out due to hitting outside the box.

There are two reasons I am posting this issue to the blog.   First of all, I don't really have much patience for travel players infilitrating a rec league.   But the reality is many do because they want to participate in the all-star program in Little League, Babe Ruth or some such.   And many leagues encourage or tolerate travel players in their rec leagues because they want them on the all-star team, because they will be playing with some of the rec-only kids on the high school team, and for other reasons.   Both arguments (for and against travel players in a rec league) have merit.   And the reality is that when we see our local rec all-star teams reach far into national playoffs, we often know the girls on the team from travel circles.   There's no getting around travel players in rec leagues unless the league decides this is what they want to do.

Secondly, the batter's box rules issue is an interesting one.   We seldom see a box drawn to regulation whether the competition is rec league, travel tournament, or high school.   Very often some guy who is completely clueless, like me, gets a liner and proceeds to guestimate the approximate boundaries.   I know I have drawn some pretty bad batter's boxes in my time. &n bsp; Even when a template is available, most boxes are drawn wrong.

Without going into chapter and verse, a softball batter's box is supposed to extend four feet from a line drawn through the center of a 17 inch homeplate.   That means, the front of the batter's box should extend slightly more than 3 feet in front of the front edge of the dish.   In other words, these travel players in the rec league were standing legally within the dimensions of the batter's box as expressed in the rulebook, at least before contacting the ball.

There have been many times I have seen discussion at homeplate about the box.   Most often, a coach complains because they believe somebody was or was not outside the box when contact with the ball was made.   Sometimes the issue is a batter being struck by a hit ball in front of the box.   These discussions are often protracted and very often do not result in any change to the original ruling.   Umpires very often know the dimensions of the box and that the one drawn in front of them is incorrect.   Most rule on the actual batter's box as opposed to the drawn one.   I have seen umps go so far as to first explain the issue to a coach and then step off the actual dimensions with their feet.   Most of the time, the coach leaves the discussion with a perplexed look, as if to say, "I didn't know that."   I dare say, most folks, be they players, coaches or fans, have never looked inside a rulebook to see the dimensions of the batter's box.

To go a step further, batters are required to stand with both feet inside the box before the pitch is thrown.   Also, they cannot make contact with the ball while one whole foot is completely outside the box.   So, perhaps the coach who wrote to me has a valid argument.   He seemed to be saying that the travel girls made contact when one of their feet was about 2 feet outside the batter's box.   That's not legal and it should be called.

Just to wrap up this brief discussion of an important rule point, the softball batter's box does indeed extend slightly more than 3 feet beyond the plate.   The typical drawn box is usually wrong.   Umpires enforce the rules, not the whims of the field crew.   They usually apply the rule on the batter's box the same way they usually apply the rule on the pitcher's circle regardless of how the thing is drawn.   Batter's must have both feet inside the batter's box before the pitch and cannot have one foot completelyu outside of it at the time they make contact with the ball.

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Permanent Link:  Legal Batter's Box


Just For Fun

by Dave
Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Recently, at a softball game, a girl suffered an injury while pitching.   She was struck in the hand by a line drive.   She could not continue pitching.   The hand was swollen, black and blue, and looked as if it might be broken, possibly in several places.   The girl had to come out of defensive line-up but due to the rules under which this game was played, the team was forced to either bat her or take an out when her position came around.   They chose to send her up to bat while holding the bat in one hand.   What do you think about that?

Before you answer, consider that this was not some sort of big time college or professional game.   This was not a national competition.   This was a USSSA sanctioned 10U game.   It was for a state title and probably a bid to nationals.   But we're talking 10U here.   Really!   I mean it!!

To round out your understanding of this event, the pitcher and other players on the opposing team were upset to the point of tears with the prospect of having to pitch and play against a girl bandaged and obviously hurt.   The opposing team objected to the umpires.   They consulted with the UIC and tournament director.   Ultimately the conclusion arrived at was there was no relevant rule and the decision was entirely up to the coaches of the team with the hurt girl.   She batted against a pitcher wiping tears out of her eyes.   The outcome is unimportant.

That's what I thought you'd say!

My reactions are as follows:

1) As a parent, I would never allow my child to suffer through that.   I'd probably never again allow the team's coaches the privilege of working with my kid.   I might consider legal or other action to make sure the coaches never worked with children again.

2) As a coach, I'd never ask a kid to do something like that.   Instead, I would feel it my duty to have the parent take the kid for immediate medical attention.   I don't have the expertise to have an opinion on what sort of damage might be done but it does occur to me that perhaps permanent nerve damage could result from severe swelling.   While we provide legal protections to volunteer coaches acting within a degree of normal, prudent person, (I believe this transcends that and I know how I would vote on a jury if a case like this ever came before me.   The coach would lose his house!

3) As a person who has coached softball and been involved with a few organizations, I wonder how this could possibly enhance the particular team's, coach's, and org's reputation.   If this, in and of itself, does not reduce the number and quality of kids who show up at tryouts, there is something seriously wrong with our community.

4) As an outsider of the teams and the tournament - I wasn't there and am going only by witness accounts - I am ashamed that anyone in the youth softball world would have a kid bat under these circumstances.   I'd like 5 minutes with the guy who made this decision.   But, while I feel strongly about promoting the sport, I think this event provides the impetus for certain rule changes which I'm going to get to shortly.

5) Finally, as a person interested in the game and its rules, I believe umpires should be given "reasonable man/woman" rights to determine whether they believe a player should or should not be allowed to continue in a game.   At the very least, there ought to be some reasonable guidelines beyond mere "blood" rules.   Tournament directors ought to be able to say, "no, this kid cannot continue."

It does not matter to me that the kids on the opposing team did not want to play against this girl.   It does not matter to me that the pitcher was crying at the prospect of having to pitch against her.   It matters some but is not dispositive that these were 10s.   They could just as easily been 12s, 14s, 16s.   I am still against the girl being put up to bat.   At some age and level of competition, I suppose my opinion changes - it has to.

Had this been the NPF championship game, I think you have to let the batter bat.   Ditto for the WCWS.   Between say 16U and the WCWS, I'm less certain.   I suppose a kid should be allowed to continue at the state high school champiopnship game under these circumstances.   I expect that most professional, college and high school teams would never find themselves in this circumtsance.   Their rosters are larger.   But I am clear that this shouldn't be allowed to happen at USSSA 10U games, even the national championship.

Our society has certain norms of behavior which are applicable under legal applications.   For instance, if a child is allowed to eat such a horrendous diet that they attain a level of obesity which is abhorent to most of us, that child can be removed from the custody of his or her parents.   Similarly, severe manutrition is considered parental child abuse.   There are norms of behaviors in terms of punitive acts which may be applied.   Exceed those and you'll have to answer to a judge.

Within the sports world, there are similar norms of behavior which, if exceeded, could result in criminal prosecution.   These are generally reflective of societal norms.   If a parent refused to get a child medical attention for an injury like this, I suspect they could be brought up on child abuse charges absent certain over-riding and extreme conditions.   This case does not qualify for the types of conditions.   This case is clearly abusive.   It must result in some sort of action by USSSA and other sanctioning bodies because, al0ong with being an embarrassment to the coach, the team, and the org, it has to be an embarrassment to USSSA because it cewrtainly is an embarrassment to the softball community at large.

USSSA and all the other bodies must give some sort of authority to tournament directors, UICs, and/or the umps themselves to say, "no, that kid cannot play under these circumstances."

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Permanent Link:  Just For Fun


At Long Last ... 43

by Dave
Wednesday, July 08, 2009

At long last, the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) has voted to implement a 43 feet pitching distance for high school varsity games.   This rule is effective for the 2010-11 school year but states can switch the distance this upcoming year, if they choose to.   Here is the press release.

Over the years, I have come out in favor of this change on a couple of different levels.   For one thing, if the college girls pitch at this distance, so should girls at 14U and above, including high school.   The boys game has always been that way.   Why should girls, who mature earlier relative to their older counterparts, as compared to boys, be any different?

Another reason I have been in favor of the change is high school softball games within and between the best 10-25% of teams is almost always a very low scoring affair.   To the extent the pitching distance change results in more balance between offense and defense, I think it has to be good for the game.   The reaction of coaches in the two states which tested 43 feet suggests the desired results have been achieved.

Along these lines, if you compare reaction time for batters between baseball and softball, the reality is girls must react far more quickly than boys.   A very fast 12U or 14U pitcher gives batters no more time to see and react to a pitch than a relatively fast high school varsity baseball pitcher.   I'd do the math for you but it bores me to do that again.   The announcers at the WCWS did, I'm sure, understate the case quite a bit.   They suggested that pitchers throwing at 67 during the WCWS were comparable to 90+ mph baseball fastballs.   If you account for the distance from which the ball is released in both games and accurately calculate the time from hand to plate, I think you come out with a more drastic result.   As I said, I won't calculate it for you, but I suggest the actual time is more like a 100 mph baseball fastball.

One of the reasons stated for making the change over the years is to give pitchers more time in which to react to balls hit back at them.   The amount of time provided is pretty much negligible, hundreths of a second.   It is also countered by the fact that batters will hit the ball more solidly given their longer time in which to react.   I think this reason for moving to 43 feet is perhaps the weakest one.

In terms of the impact on girls themselves, there are any number of girls, beginning at sophomore year of high school, who are stuck in this cycle of having to perfect their pitches at 43 feet for fall showcases and higher level winter competitive ball, then move back to 40 feet to prepare for the spring high school season, then move back to 43 feet in time for summer ball.   Very often pitchers have a matter of two weeks, sometimes even less, to make the transition.   This is, I believe, too much to ask of the best competitors in our game.   And the girls who are already pitching at 43 feet in high school have the advantage.

Perhaps the largest percentage of folks who have written reactions to my opinions on the subject have been against the change.   Their reasons are varied.   But I think mostly they have expressed concern for their pitcher-daughters.

They complain that if the purpose is to protect the pitcher, this change will not accomplish that.   I agree.   The difference in reaction time is minimal.   But without scientific studies, I also suppose that none of us really knows if the change will matter or not.

They also worry about slower pitchers who will give batters way too much time to see and hit the ball.   That's probably true too but it is almost as true at 40 as it is at 43.   Speed is a relative concept.   Speed gets adjusted to.   If you took someone who hits well against 50 mph speed, and put them up against 50, they would struggle.   Keep them in the 60 for an extended period of time and I suspect they'll learn to do well.   High school pitching is a fairly broad spectrum but at the better levels, I think it tends to be around 55-60 with some faster than 60 and most at or above 55.   Girls seem to do reasonably well against 60 mph pitching if they face it routinely.   But play them against a very slow pitcher one day, a fast one the next, then a slow one the next, and they will struggle against each - not just against the fast pitcher.

To go a bit further, it seems like most softball hitters have greater difficulty adjusting to slower stuff than they do faster.   That's not always true but many times I have seen teams use a very slow pitcher for 3 or more innings to slow down a strong offensive team.   The best teams almost never seem to struggle against a fast pitcher unless she also has great command and movement too.

I realize this can get rather circular.   It also offers the opportunity to contradict oneself.   Do I think hitters will do better against pitching from 43 feet?   Yes.   Do I think pitchers will be protected?   Probably not, but maybe I'm wrong.   Ultimately, I think I have to make my decision to be in favor or against a change to 43 feet based upon whether I think it is better for the game or not.   I think it will produce more offense in a game which needs more offense.   I think it will give the pitchers a hair more time in which to react and at the same time diminish the benefit of that as hitters get better looks.   I think pitchers should practice at one distance rather than shift back and forth.   I think it is time the almost fully developed girls at all ages pitch at the same distance the same way the boys have done for decades on end.

Do you have an opinion?   If so, send it to me and I may decide to include it in this piece.

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Permanent Link:  At Long Last ... 43


Put The Rules Online, Now!!

by Dave
Monday, June 15, 2009

There are a couple rule changes which have come to my attention.   Here they are with the reasons I was interested in them.

I) Pitching Arm Rotations

A reader wrote in to ask about a pitching rule change which effected a girl she saw pitching in a Pony qualifier.   The rule at issue involves limiting a pitcher to, as she said, "a maximum of one and a half clockwise revolutions."   She noted that the motion was picked up by the umps who explained it to the pitcher and coach but allowed her to finish the inning.

I had not read or otherwise heard about this change so I went online to look.   I was able to find reference to the new one and a half circle rule with respect to the National Federation of High Schools (NFHS) but, while Pony publishes its rule changes online, I do not have a current Pony rulebook so I cannot verify what the rule is.   My understanding is the Pony rule prohibits "two revolutions."

I have to tell you that I find it annoying that all the large sanctioning bodies do not simply publish their rulebooks online.   I've said it before and I know I will say it again but this is absurd.   The year is 2009.   Almost anything important can be found online.   But Pony and most other organizations still do not publish their rules on their web sites.

Someone once suggested that perhaps sales of rulebooks are a money raiser for some organizations.   OK.   Pony charges $1.50 for a copy of its rules.   Just how much could they possibly raise after costs of printing, packaging, etc.?   They could hold a one day bake sale at one of their national tournaments and make the same amount.   Some organizations charge more but I cannot imagine anyone is getting rich off the rulebook business.

Maybe it would cost too much to convert the book to an online version and then to keep it on a server.   Anyone who tells you that does not know how modern books are published.   They also do not understand how little web server space actually costs.   The fact is there is no reason any organization would keep its rulebook offline unless it affirmateively wanted to keep the rulebook out of the hands of others.   That's not a very good reason since anyone could have, for example, Pony's rulebook for a buck fifty.   There is no good reason why all these organizations, Little League, Babe Ruth, Pony, FAST, USSSA, NSA, ASA don't all have their rulebooks available online.   Lest I confuse anyone, of course, some groups, like NSA, actually do put their rulebook online.

In any event, I was not able to locate any Pony rule change for 2009 which referred to the NFHS change language.   I don't recall such a change for 2008.   So I have to assume the older rules are still valid.   My 2007 Pony rulebook contains a prohibition against "two revolutions."

The high school rule change is here.   It reads in relevant part:

"Change the pitching windup requirement to a maximum of one and a half clockwise
revolutions.

ART. 4 The pitcher may use any windup desired provided:

d. the pitcher does not make more than one and a half clockwise revolutions of the arm in the windmill pitch.

...

The ball does not have to be released the first time past the hip.

...

Rationale: More and more pitchers are pushing the rule to the limit in an attempt to gain an advantage by deceiving the batter.   The change will make an illegal pitch easier to identify and enforcement more consistent."

Making enforcement consistent is a nice objective.   Yet it almost never happens.   We have seen some blatant sorts of illegalities committed by pitchers in high school for several years.   Possibly the most common one occurs when the pitcher takes a little teeny-tiny step forward with her pivot foot, off the rubber, just like you-know-who does in international play.   Another common prohibited pitching motion involves the archetypical crow-hop where a leap is followed by obtaining a new point of impetus.   Leaps are less frequently seen but do happen.   The leap, where the pivot foot becomes airborn before ball release rather than dragging away from the rubber is not my favorite call.   The reason I don't like it is it is often precipitated by poor pitching area conditions.   It's not the pitcher's fault.

This brings me to a story I want to tell but wasn't sure where or how to bring it up.   This year a coach was awarded conference coach of the year by a local newspaper.   That paper, of course, published an article explaining its choice.   The sited a game in the earlier rounds of the conference tournament.   I have a problem with that because I saw the game.

Due to rainy weather, the game had to be played at night.   The host team, the higher seed, had it moved to a local recreational complex.   The field on which it was played was a LL baseball field, complete with grass infield and a smallish mound.   The pitching rubber was up on a hill and the conditions around it were poor.   To me the game should not have been played on a baseball field.   To me, the pitching circle conditions were illegal and unacceptable.   yet I suspect that the coach of the year picked the field not merely because it had lights, if you know what I mean.

During the course of the game, the coach of the year twisted up the umps and complained about illegal pitches.   The opposing pitcher was obviously struggling with the subpar pitching area.   Finally the umps called an illegal pitch on her.   That was with the first runner to reach third base.   That as all the offensive "production" the coach of the year's team needed.   The winning run scored on an illegal pitch called with a runner on third, such pitch being caused by the winning coach's choice of illegal pitching area on a baseball diamond, a field unsuitable for softball play, not to mention his badgering of the umps for the pitcher's difficulty acclimating to the illegal pitching area.   ABSURD!

To go a little further, it is interesting to me that the person who wrote to me also included photographs of the motion which was called illegal.   After reviewing the rule change as well as the motivation behind it, it is clear to me that this girl's motion offended neither the spirit nor the letter of the rule.   The umps were quite wrong.   Further, they were enforcing an NFHS rule in a Pony game.   I understand that this can happen but it is a bit ridiculous.

But that's enough of that.

II) Pitcher's glove

My daughter got a little annoyed because her coach took a permanet marker and colored in the insignia on her glove.   The coach told me he had done this because the ump had complained to him and I pretty much ignored it.   The problem was the insignia, a very small item, was "optical" yellow in color.

I understand that umps can sometimes make up rules and require them to be adhered to.   I've seen this done many times before.   I figured that's what happened and who cares anyway.   I'm not big on things like this.   My daughter would just have to learn to live with it.

I was a little annoyed since this glove was purchased fairly recently and I had no idea why the ump had complained.   But in researching other potentially bigger changes, I discovered something on Pony's site.   For 2009, they made one rule change which would necessitate the umpire's action.   That change reads:

"Page 24 Gloves/Mitts

Rule 3 Add: Optic yellow to the circle colors not allowed on gloves"

Another change I noted was:

"Rule 3 Added: A pitcher shall not wear any item on the pitching hand,

Sec 11 wrist, arm or thigh, which may be distracting to the batter."

I get both of these but had heard nothing of them just as I had not heard of the NFHS pitching revolutions change.   I am most likely to blame for not keeping abreast.   I'm usually pretty good about these sorts of things.   But it does strike me that these organizations are not doing a great job of getting the word out to the softball public.

One of the leading principles of our system of government in this coountry is a concept which has been with us since the beginning.   It says ignorance of the law is no excuse.   That's rich!   In this day and age, almost everyone is ignorant of some laws.

Recently I heard someone talking about a change to the booster seat requirement in my state.   I went hunting for it but found nothing.   I did find one interesting item however.   A police department had this to say about the state's existing law:

Boosters are required for "passengers who are younger than 8 and weigh less than 80 pounds."   The only problem is, that's not how the law reads!

The law says "passengers who are younger than 8 or weigh less than 80 pounds."   (emphasis my own)   There's quite a difference between the two.   In one case, the actual laws tells you that if your child is very small for his or her age, say 75 pounds at age 16, she has to be seated in a booster seat!   Try to enforce that one with your 16U slap hitting speedster!!   But no worries mate, the cops won't enforce it either since they apparently have it wrong!!!

Ignorance of the law is no excuse!

We are coming perilously close to anarchy in this society.   It matters not how many laws there are, nor how specific those laws are, when the body of knowledge is too large for anyone to possibly retain, let alone understand, let alone keep up with changes to.   We all need a little help and the news outlets, well the news outlets do a poor job of reporting actual facts.   They are far too interested in pushing their own agendas.   But enough of reality, let's get back to softball.

Softball rules are not all that difficult to understand, I guess.   But you really need to study them to have a full understanding.   For instance, a few weeks ago, I pointed out that a batter-baserunner who stops while running to first in order to prevent or delay a tag can be called out if she takes a step backwards to slow or impede the fielder from tagging her.   This is very impotant since, the ball is dead and runners must return to the last base occupied before the pitch.   If you hit a ball to the 1B while your baserunner races home from third, the last thing you want to see is the batter-baserunner stop and take a step backwards.   If that happens, all runners return to their previous base, before the pitch.

That's simple enough.   I checked out the rule, digested it, let you know what's going on and went on my merry way.   I haven't seen that play since, nor any discussion of it except the next night in the WCWS when it was briefly mentioned.   But in my kids' games we had a somewhat similar play develop with a runner who was already at first and a grounder hit to the 2B.

I told the team coaches about the rule but I had not thought the whole thing through.   I got it wrong.   It only applies to a batter-baserunner and the commentary speficially talks about running towards first.   The same is not true of a runner at first heading for second, and for good cause.   If the fielder were to throw to first, the baserunner would no longer be forced and could return to first (with liability to be put out along the way).   The same is not true of a batter baserunner who, quite obviously, cannot return to home.

This just goes to show you that a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing.   I misinterpreted the rule to include a prohibition of backward steop by any forced runner.   That is, of course, not the case.   You have to be careful in understanding the rules of the game.

My point is really only that in a world as filled with rules as ours is, it becomes more imperative for organizations such as NFHS, Pony, ASA, Little League, etc. to make a greater effort to let us all know what the rules and rule changes are.   We shouldn't find out via casual conversations with umpires or in pregame meetings.   It should be patently obvious to anyone who plays the game that "optic" insignia are no longer allowed, that pitchers cannot make two and a half circles, that smallish 17 year old sons do not have to be placed in car seats on the way to be dropped off at the Marine Corps recruiting station.

We nbeed the rules online now.   We need to have all rule changes distributed out to the playing public as well as umpires.   Umpires should know that they must apply the rules for the type of game they are calling, not cross apply rules from one body to another's game.   Cops should double check their written work, particularly interpretations of laws, before they send it out to the public or put something online!

To all you softball sanctioning bodies, put the darn rules, the actual darn rules, online!

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Permanent Link:  Put The Rules Online, Now!!


Backwards Batter-Baserunner

by Dave
Friday, May 29, 2009

A reader writes in to ask the following question while specifically stating the context as women's college softball.

"Runners on 2nd and 3rd, batter hits a slow roller toward 1st baseman; she fields the ball and runs towards batter-runner coming from home; and batter-runner starts back towards home.   What happens to the 2 baserunners?"

Before we get to the baserunners, let's get past the batter.   According to rule 12.4.11, the batter is out if "she steps back towards home plate to avoid or delay a tag by a fielder."   I think that is a pretty obvious call for any umpire.

Secondly, the ball becomes dead at this moment.   And the effect mandated by the NCAA rulebook is "each runner must return to the last base legally touched at the time of the pitch." (emphasis added by me)

The reason I chose to post this very simple rule is because it is a critical part of the game.   If you are batting and you've got runners on 2nd and 3rd with one or no outs, you've just got to do anything in your power (anything legal) to get at least one run home.   As I implied the other day, we should train girls to hit the ball into play in these situations.   We should also train baserunners to look for any bat and ball contact, angle down, that is not hit directly to the pitcher, and go immediately from third on such contact.

From a defensive point of view, the related play I like which I have seen top 20 Gold teams perform involves the first baseman coming down the line to take a throw from another infielder in order to apply a tag before the batter-runner reaches first and, thereby, put her closer to home to throw out the runner from third.   This play is used on any infield grounder on which the runner at third does not immediately break for the plate.   That shouldn't happen except on balls hit right to third or the pitcher but we have all seen runners at third freeze on infield grounders hit directly at any infielder from time to time.

When infielders field a grounder and the runner at third is frozen, the first baseman is well advised to position herself somewhat down the line to take the throw, apply a tag and make a shorter throw home.   This is very useful on balls hit back to the pitcher or 3B when the offensive team has a quick runner at third.   Most of the time, the runner from third can be nailed.

Obviously, first basemen who field a grounder directly at them, should, after fielding the ball, sprint towards the batter-runner with both hands on the ball, apply a tag and, if the runner from third breaks, throw home.   Also, pretty obviously, the runner from third is the important out most of the time and that has to take precedence unless you are already up by a large number of runs.   In those relatively infrequent cases, getting the batter-runner out would take precedence unless your pitcher is going for some sort of shutout record!

Another reason this rule is important is because sometimes we find ourselves in a first and third situation in which a hit and run or run and hit play is called.   On those, the runner at first either goes immediately or gets a larger than normal lead and goes on contact.   if the ball is hit right to the first baseman, she attempts a tag, and the batter-runner retreats to avoid or delay the tag, not only is the runner from third prohibited from attempting to score due to the dead ball condition, but also the runner from first heading to second must return to first.

As with all rules, it is critical that our players understand them in order to avoid unintended consequences.   Everyone on your team should be instructed to not back away from a tag when becoming a batter-runner headed to first on a fair batted ball.   If a runner merely proceeds slowly, there is a decent chance she can delay the tag and thereby allow the runner from third to score.   If she simply stops or goes very slowly, the rules do not address this.   But take a step back and all bets are off.

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2 Strikes, Time To Bunt!

by Dave
Wednesday, May 27, 2009

How many times have you seen this: a girl tries to bunt but fails twice.   Now she's down 0-2, 1-2 or something like that and she swings away.   Why?   Why not try to get one down with 2 strikes?

There is an obvious answer to my question.   It is the one which always comes immediately to mind.   The reason many coaches and players do not bunt with two strikes is, if the ball is hit foul, that results in a strikeout.   We want to avoid the K, so we stop trying to bunt.   Makes sense, no?   No, not necessarily.

Before we move on and address my strategic suggestion, let's define a few terms and discuss the rules a bit.   The term "bunt" is not necessarily a very well understood one.   The 2009 NCAA rulebook defines the term as "a legally batted ball not swung at but intentionally tapped with the bat."   That is an inadequate definition since "slapping" pretty much fits within this definition unless a relatively full swing is taken.   In another definition, the term "bunt attempt" contains a further elaboration which reads, "holding the bat in the strike zone is considered a bunt attempt.   In order to take a pitch, the bat must be withdrawn — pulled backward and away from the ball."

So a bunt attempt really consists of holding the bat in the strike zone as the ball enters the hitting area.   This definition distinguishes between a true slap in which the bat should at least theoretically be run through the strike zone, not merely held like a swing and placed into the zone to tap the ball.   In other words, the archetypical beginner youth or high school slapper who merely puts the bat into the zone, though not in the classic bunting mode, is actually bunting rather than slapping.

One's hand placement on the bat does not determine whether a bunt attept has been made.   We know that there is a style of hitting which involves splitting the hands rather than having them in contact with one another.   We also know that there are bunting styles which do not require the hands to be split.   The determining factor over whether a "swing" is a bunt attempt or not is whether the bat is held in the strike zone or not.   And this becomes rather important with two strikes when a foul ball is hit.

Another NCAA rule notes, "A strike is charged to the batter ... when the batter bunts foul after the second strike."   In other words, if you have two strikes and bunt the ball foul, you're out on a strike out.

I have seen a number of instances in which a self-described "slapper" has been called out for a fouled third strike.   This almost always precipitates a discussion between coach and umpire as well as catcalls from the batter's father and mother claiming the umpire doesn't know the rules.   Generally, the umpire has ruled the "swing" a bunt attempt and, therefore, the foul is a third strike.   The ump is right.   The coach and parents are wrong.

OK, so a bunted foul with two strikes is an out.   Sometimes, that thing some people call a slap is actually a bunt, not a true slap.   A slap really involves more movement of the bat than a bunt.   The NCAA rulebook says a slap is a "short, chopping motion rather than with a full swing."   If you leave the bat in the strike zone as the ball travels through it, I think what you have is a bunt.   If you swing the bat through the zone in a short, chopping motion, what you have is a slap.   And, importantly, "A ball that is slapped foul is treated like any other foul ball and shall not result in an out unless caught in flight."

But enough of the rules, I think you get it.   Let's get back to the strategy.

I do not believe I know of more than a handful of people - players, coaches, and parents - who think bunting with two strikes is a viable strategy.   It is almost never called for by the typical coach.   I do know some high school coaches and a few in travel who will do it as a strategy.   I also know of some including me who would call for it as a sort of punishment for girls who deliberately bunt the ball foul, sometimes because their fathers who don't understand softball have suggested it as a strategy to get a "real" at-bat.   But, for the most part, bunting with two strikes is avoided like the plague.

Without looking at any cold and hard facts, let's instead talk about this anecdotally.   How many times have you seen this: bunter fouls off a couple and has two strikes after which the defensive coach instructs the corner infielders to move back because there are two strikes.   That is common, probably to a 95% rate.   And it is a safe approach since 95% of all coaches won't call for a bunt in this situation.   But the good and aggressive ones will!

OK, so how about this, how many times have you seen a former bunter, now with two strikes, finish herself off with a third strike.   Let's face it, softball is filled with strikeouts.   Now that is a legitimate plague in our sport.   If the pitcher is a contact pitcher, then you don't see so many Ks but, ordinarily, there are a ton of them in the typical, well-pitched game.   And if the former bunter has put herself into an 0-2 hole, the strikeout is an all too common event.   The high percentage event on an 0-2 pitch, or at least shortly thereafter, is a K.   And yet, we do not even attempt a bunt because we are trying to avoid a strikeout!   It makes sense to at least consider bunting a kid with two strikes since what we are trying to avoid when we don't is probably going to happen anyways.

Therre are advantages to bunting with two strikes, if you can get it down.   The field situation for an 0-2 bunt is often a lot better than it was prior to this point.   The corners are back.   Just about everyone on the field will be surprised if the batter bunts.   If she can get one down in fair ground, it is almost always successful.   So in a tight game, why not give it a try?

As a corollary to the two strike bunt, I have another suggestion which is probably only applicable to youth games, though sometimes presents itself in higher levels.   At the youth level, it is fairly common to encounter a "slapper" who is just learning.   She steps over to the left side for the first couple of pitches but if she fails to execute a slap into fair ground, she moves back over to the right side for the next couple of pitches.   This is fairly common in youth play but I have seen it as late as high school, where often a coach identifies a fast kid and tries to teach her to slap for the first time.

(I want to add one rule element here because I have seen it called.   When the batter steps across the plate while the pitcher is holding the ball inside the circle, perhaps while in contact with the rubber, some umps will call her out.   Before a batter crosses the plate, she should call time out to avoid this.   You are allowed to cross the plate when time is out.   You're not supposed to do this while the pitcher is on the rubber.)

I understand that a girl may want to try out the new skill she is working on but, after failing a few times, wants to go back over and take some real swings.   I'm not going to criticize this approach.   It's a learning tool.   But what I want to suggest is a strategy which may catch the defense off guard.

When a kid who throws righty steps to the left handed batter's box, not very many people are fooled into believing she is a natural left-handed batter.   The defense expects a slap or a drag bunt.   Either the corners move in or the defense takes up one of the defensive positionings we refer to as slapper-D.   After those first couple of pitches, after which the batter decides to go back over to the right-handed box, they move back into standard positioning.   This is the perfect time for a right handed drag bunt!

As a final strategic point, I want to bring up the situation in which it is far more prefereable to tap a grounder to one of the middle infielders than it is to take a full cut and strike out or otherwise accomplish an unproductive out.   We've been over the offensive perspective when you have a runner on third with one or no outs.   In that circumstance, we want our girls to be conditioned to run home if the ball comes off the bat angle down and not directly back to the pitcher.   This is more true when we have runners on second and third but anytime there is a runner on third, we want the batter to hit the ball into play rather than try to drive in the run with a hit.

There is a technique I have seen many well-experienced batters use.   I refer to it as a "two strike swing."   the batter starts out looking as if she might be thinking of bunting, with the bat out in front of her in the strike zone.   Then, as the pitcher begins her motion, the batter draws the bat back but not to a full cocked, loaded position.   Basically, she pulls back to perhaps the halfway point, possibly as far back as three quarters.   Then she attempts to hit the ball into play with less force than she might have during other pitches.   What she is trying to do is reduce the liklihood of a K and increase the probability of hitting the ball into play, preferably on the ground.   The reduced swing provides the batter better bat control.   This is an effective technique which when well practiced very often produces the desired result.

My strategic suggestion for this technique is, why wait for two strikes?   Anytime you have a runner on third, I think the situation dictates a "two strike swing."

I think we often get caught up in the illusion that baseball and softball are essentially the same game.   We do many of the same things in one that we learned in the other despite the fact that there are pronounced differences between the games.   Not bunting with two strikes is something which I learned in baseball - though even there, it can be effective.   In softball, with its relatively lower scoring, bunting is a more important tool.   And in softball, with its higher rate of strikeouts, I think attempting a bunt with two strikes makes more sense than it does in baseball.

In softball, the difference between the winner and loser, especially in championship games, often involves the winner catching the loser off guard.   Aside from two strike bunting, moving from the left to the right and yet still attempting a drag bunt can be an effective strategy.   Aside from these, practicing so-called "two strike hitting" can be an effedctive way to push a run across.   And it works even when the batter does not have two strikes.

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