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Command is Mental! (Pretend Like That’s News)

On Jan 16, 2013, at 9:18 PM, Randy Sullivan wrote:


Pitchers with great command are simply better mentally than wild guys.

Lack of command is mental failure.

Too many coaches and Dads look for mechanical flaws to explain lack of command. I have recently concluded that command is almost totally mental. Anecdotally, I’ve seen guys with horrible mechanics throw lots of strike, and I’ve seen mechanical poster boys who couldn’t get the ball over the 17 inch dish to save their lives.

I throw BP to my 15 year old son, Jake, every night. We have a lighted batting in our our back yard–don’t judge me. It was either a pool or a batting cage. I think we made the right choice. Every night when I come home from a day of work at my Physical Therapy practice, followed by an evening of training pitchers at The ARMory, Jake hovers around the kitchen while I settle in and chat with my wife Kathy about the happenings of the day. At the first sign of a break in the conversation, Jake pounces in.

“You ready to hit, Pops?”

Kathy smiles and shakes her head as Jake and I exit to our sanctuary.

Its our time together and I love it.

I have also royally have sucked at it for about 5 nights in a row.

I’m historically a very consistent BP strike thrower, but recently, I appeared to have lost it. I mean, the poor guy would have to stand there and take 3-4 pitches in a row before I got one close enough for him to swing at. Unable to establish any kind of groove, he struggled through some disjointed, non-productive BP sessions, and he was beginning to get frustrated. I’m not sure if my response was a prideful aversion to admitting my failure or not wanting to give him an excuse for a few bad nights of BP. I simply acknowledged his struggles and told him to keep grinding without mentioning how horrible I had been.

Monday night, Dr. Tom Hanson, the author of Heads Up Baseball and Play Big: Mental Toughness Secrets That Take Players To the Next Level stopped by The ARMory and gave me a few of DVDs. One of them was about developing and practicing a “green light” mental plan for when things are going good, and a “yellow light” plan for when they start to unravel. As expected, it was all on point, practical, and highly useful information.

But one thing in particular stuck in my head.

On the DVD, Dr. Hanson was working with a college pitcher and told him to act confident, breathe deeply, connect mentally with the target then, just as he’s pulling his arm back, visualize the last two feet of the pitch as it goes into the glove.

That hit a cord with me.

I was never a big fan of visualization when I played college baseball at The Citadel. Laying around in a dark room picturing the next day’s game never really worked for me. I half heartedly tried it a little. But probably because I really had no idea what I was doing, I had a hard time visualizing in the traditional sense.

What I could do, albeit infrequently, was see flashes or premonitions of some plays just before they happened. I recall seeing a brief glimpse of throwing out a stealing baserunner as the pitcher started to move, then executing the play just as I had envisioned it. I can also remember mentally ripping a pitch just before the pitcher began his windup, then crushing the exact same pitch I had imagined. It didn’t happen all the time, and I certainly couldn’t gin it up on command. But it happened often enough for me to notice and to be fascinated by the phenomenon.

This new idea from Dr. Hanson sounded like something I could use.

So tonight I gave it a try.

Jake likes it better when I don’t talk during BP, so I just locked in on a routine of taking a deep breath, connecting mentally with a line on the catch mat on the back of the cage. Then just as I was pulling my throwing arm back I played a fraction-of-a-second long mental movie of the ball hitting the target. On the breaking balls, the flash included the curve of the ball as it sunk into the target.

I was amazed at how many times the brief mental movie matched the subsequent result. Many times I could see the actual pitch overlaying the residue of the imaginary one I had just created–much like the image we see when one photograph is superimposed on another.

Out of approximately 200 pitches, I think I threw less than 10 balls. And several of the errant tosses occurred when I noticed my short movie being interrupted by internal voices saying things like, “Man, this stuff is really working.”, “I’m dealing tonight.” or, “I gotta tell someone about this.”

Jake was elated to have a strike thrower back in the cage. Because he was confident, aggressive and expecting strikes, he really raked. Typical of the egocentric 15 year old, he didn’t notice the change in me which was probably contributing to his improved results. He just kept saying, “I’m feeling really good tonight. This is fun.” I just kept pumping strikes.

Don’t tell him if you see him. He doesn’t read my posts, so it will remain our secret.

It was a great night. I can’t wait to try it again.

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