Darren Fenster Resources

 So...You Wanna Work in Pro Ball, Huh?
(8/14/2018)
 
   

So...You Want to Work in Pro Ball, Huh?


FUNdamental Skills
By Darren Fenster


Everyone has their own unique journey in the game. Some set out on a life path as a kid, and are able to follow it every step of the way. Others, like myself, set out on one road, only to get sidetracked and re-routed a handful of times on an incredible ride I never envisioned taking. For me, that road of happenstance brought me into the coaching ranks of professional baseball. My experiences in the game have been incredible, from the rewarding to the surreal.

A few years ago, when I was at a crossroads in my professional life, debating between continuing in the game and starting a new career path in the medical device sales field, countless people volunteered their time, offering their insight as to what working in professional baseball is really like. It was their collective experiences in the game that made me believe that there was still a place for me on a baseball field. And I’ve never been happier professionally since choosing that path.

Over the past seven-plus years, many have reached out to me both asking for insight as to what it is like to work in professional baseball, along with help getting into that side of the game, just as I did to others a short time ago. Here is my insight for all those inspired to find a position with a Major League club.

First, allow me to begin by offering some background as to how my career path took shape in the first place.

My playing career as a Minor Leaguer in the Royals system ended abruptly due to a knee injury, and I wasn’t prepared by any means to start a life after baseball, and had no plan B. So when I was released in the spring of 2006, I reached out to Fred Hill, the coach I played for at Rutgers, an ABCA hall of famer who has been like a second father to me, basically asking, “what do I do now?” He asked if I had any interest in coaching (I didn’t), because he thought I would make a good one if I got into it, and would create the Director of Operations position on his staff, specifically for me if I said the word. Well, without any other plans, I agreed, and by sheer good fortune, right place, right time, a position on a Big East Baseball program’s staff was created for me. Coach Hill saw something in me before I was ready to see it in myself. A huge break for me, which I didn’t realize at the time as I’ve since seen how incredibly hard it is to get a coaching position at any school, let alone one with a “big time” athletics department.

At the time, Division I programs could only have four “coaches” on the field, working with players, so, in the Director of Operations position, I was not allowed in uniform or on the field. That was actually a good thing because it enabled me to learn the complete inner workings of a college baseball program, and prepared me to step into an assistant coach/recruiting role when the opportunity presented itself a couple years later. In the meantime, I was able to get on the field, coaching experience, hooking on for one summer as an assistant in St. Cloud in the Northwoods League in 2007 when we won it all, and then the following summer in Orleans in the Cape Cod League.

After a few years on the coaching staff at Rutgers, and after testing the waters looking into a career in medical device sales, I began getting the itch to get back into professional baseball in a more baseball-centric position without having to recruit or worry about the countless off-the-field responsibilities of the college game. Having played for six years professionally myself, combined with the time I spent at RU, I felt like I had an incredibly strong resume that would make me a slam dunk hire for any professional team, well-equipped for a number of different areas in the game, that I would essentially be able to pick. My expectations were far off.

I spent the entire summer of 2011 discussing my desire to return to professional baseball with those who had positions with clubs that I already had relationships with. I went through the Baseball America team directory and highlighted every single name that I knew (or played with or against) and reached out with a call, text, or email. After three full months of conversations, when September rolled around, I got one, yes, just one, phone interview with the Rockies for an open hitting coach job. I didn’t get a second interview. Then I started considering internships in baseball operations, and was up for two: one with the Indians that had an amazing track record with some very big wigs in the game, and the other with the Mets working in baseball operations with a variety of departments. I was ready and willing to leave a full-time position, with benefits, and a mortgage to pay, just to get back into the pro game.

So as the fall of 2011 was progressing, and while going thru the long interview process for those internships, I was preparing for another year at Rutgers. During instructional league in mid-October, I followed up with the Red Sox assistant General Manager at the time, Mike Hazen (now running the Diamondbacks), who I played against when he was at Princeton, and he said there was a possibility of something opening up in a few weeks, but nothing for sure. For the next month and a half, crickets. Figured nothing was open after all, or they filled it with someone else. Then, during Winter Meetings in December, he called me out of the blue to ask if I was still interested in the hitting coach job, as the A-ball job had opened, and later that day I did a phone interview with the Farm Director. A week later I was up at Fenway for a face to face, and the following week they offered me the job. Literally six months-worth of banging doors down with next to no opportunities, and then just like that, within a quick two weeks, I had the job. That transition has been thenbest move of my professional life. Simply getting my foot in the door was also the hardest transition of my professional life.

Having just completed my seventh season with the Red Sox, I can unequivocally say that working in professional baseball is awesome. I absolutely love it, and honestly can’t really see myself doing anything else outside of the game. But rest assure, it is not an easy lifestyle on a number of different fronts. My days are spent teaching the game I love. I have a passion for what I do, and a purpose to my days that go far beyond the field. While much of the world is inside, making a living doing something they may not enjoy, I’m outside throwing BP and hitting ground balls. I’ve been a part of, and have had an impact on, one of the most storied franchises in all of professional sports. I’ve worked in the cage with a future hall-of-famer. I have a World Series ring…with my name on it.

I. HAVE. A. WORLD. SERIES. RING.

But for as rewarding as a career can be to work in professional baseball at the highest levels of the game, there are many challenges that come with doing something that we love.

In Player Development, you will work from one extreme to the other. Yes, our days are spent on the field, making our players better; nights spent competing under the lights. But being a coach in professional baseball means sacrificing any sense of a work-life balance. Days are long, often times arriving at the ballpark before noon for a 7:00 p.m. game and staying as late as midnight or later. Our schedule is one of the extremes, pretty much working just about every day from mid-February thru Labor Day before enjoying an off-season with little to no responsibility. The fall and winter provide me with a ton of flexibility to branch out and do a handful of other things in the game that has literally taken me all over the world and have given me life experiences that most could only dream.

There is a culture and camaraderie in our organization that is very much a family atmosphere full of like-minded people who truly have a passion for the game and helping those in it. I have built relationships with both colleagues and players that I hold as dear as I do my own relatives and people I grew up with. Sustaining a “normal” family life, however, is a huge challenge. I am not married, and don’t have any kids, so it’s very easy for me to up and go where I want when I want, or to go wherever the Red Sox tell me to go. Some guys will go weeks and months without seeing their wives or kids and are able to make it work.

And lastly, there is a big misconception when it comes to compensation in professional baseball. Put simply, you’re either in the Big Leagues, or you’re not. Unless you are a Major League manager or a long-tenured guy on a Major League staff, you will not get rich working in professional baseball. It is in many senses a labor of love. The majority of those working in the game are doing it for the love first, the money, second. But, if you’re financially responsible, you’ll be able to pay your bills, and will have opportunities to make money in the off-season if you find your way in as a coach.

Scouting, both amateur and professional, and baseball operations are other departments that every Major League club employs, and while I don’t have personal experience in either, much of the same premise applies as does in Player Development. No job in baseball is a traditional 9-5, and few will be able to sustain a career in the game without a genuine love for the game.

A life in the game requires many sacrifices. Sacrifices that many don’t want to give up or can’t give up. But those sacrifices come from a place of passion. And that passion is a bond we all share, and one that keeps us enthusiastically coming to work day after day, year after year. We all take a great sense of pride in being a part of something that is so much bigger than any single one of us.


Darren Fenster is a contributor to the USA Baseball Sport Development Blog, and is currently the Manager of the Portland Sea Dogs, the Double-A affiliate of the Boston Red Sox. A former player in the Kansas City Royals minor league system, Fenster joined the Red Sox organization in 2012 after filling various roles on the Rutgers University Baseball staff, where he was a two-time All-American for the Scarlet Knights. Fenster is also Founder and CEO of Coaching Your Kids, LLC, and can be found on Twitter @CoachYourKids.


 What It Means to be a Professional Baseball Player
(8/14/2018)
 
   

What it Means to be a Professional Baseball Player


FUNdamental Skills
By Darren Fenster


So…you think you want to play professional baseball? 

As a Minor League manager, the question “what does it take to play professional baseball” comes up often. While there is a pretty good general understanding amongst the baseball community of the tools and athletic ability that Major League scouts are looking for when it comes to this June’s amateur draft, we wanted to offer a different kind of insight for aspiring big leaguers to take in: 

What does it mean to be a professional baseball player? 

Being a professional baseball player means you are getting out of the kiddie pool and jumping into the ocean. 

Just about every single player that signs a professional contract is a stud, the best of the best. They have grown accustomed to being the man, and constantly being the center of attention. Often times, coaches allow their superior talent to portray an aura of being bigger than the team, or even worse, bigger than the game itself. By far, the biggest adjustment a player must make upon joining the minor league ranks is to understand the fact that they are no longer the man, and will no longer be the guy who everyone’s eyes are on. The sooner this sets in, the sooner our next meaning can take over, and enable a career to be in the best position to take off. 

Being a professional baseball player means you are going to learn what hard work truly is. 

Any player who gets drafted will tell you they work hard. Shoot, any athlete, in general, will probably say the same. Truth be told, they don’t know what that term really means, and will soon be exposed to real, live, hard work. For a 7:05 game, professional players start their workday by 2:00, or even earlier. That’s right, FIVE-plus hours before 1st pitch… and that’s if it’s not a strength and conditioning day, which you can backtrack to 11:00 in the morning. At the lower professional levels, the biggest challenge is getting extremely talented kids to work right, meaning they have a purpose with every single thing they do, every single day. Think for a second what that means. It’s not about taking 1,000 swings or throwing 200 pitches in the bullpen, but rather it’s about the old saying; quality over quantity. No wasted swings in the cage, every ground ball taken with perfect mechanics, and each ball thrown with a repeatable delivery, arm action, and release point. This adjustment is as much mental as it is physical, and when accomplished, the player cannot help but improve, and eventually, move up. But as players work to move up, they are bound to hit a bump or two… or ten in the road. 

Being a professional baseball player means you are going to fail…probably a lot. 

Just about every player who is fortunate enough to sign a professional contract has a resume of performance. Success as an amateur often sets the stage for a career to take off. Rarely does a player without tangible success between the lines get the opportunity to play at the next level unless there is an off-the-charts tool that scouts just don’t see, like a mid-90s fastball (even though they may have no idea where it’s going), or absurdly fast running speed (where the hope is that coaches in a club’s player development can teach them the basic skills of the game). Part of that accomplished history on the field includes consistent and sustained success. High school draftees often hit well over .500, or pitch with video-game-like numbers, averaging sometimes more than two strikeouts per inning. Bottom line, they are used to being very good most, if not all of the time. As mentioned above, everyone playing pro ball is good, and the vast talent in the game brings upon something that many have never dealt with: failure.  

As an amateur, a slump may be going hitless for a single game. As a pro, a slump will mean going a week without making hard contact, or a handful of outings on the mound where outs are hard to come by. For most, professional baseball players are experiencing true failure for the first time in their lives, and it’s how quickly they are able to handle the failure that will separate one from the other. The ones who look at failure as an opportunity to get better are the ones who progress throughout the game. Those who use failure as a means to hold a pity party or temper tantrum are the ones who will be out of the game before you know it. 

Being a professional baseball player means you must get consumed by the process, and NOT by the box score. 

We are a results-oriented society, on top of living in a time of instant gratification. Baseball as an entity is the complete antithesis to this. Baseball is the only sport of the major four where the very best amateur player usually needs a handful of years in the minor leagues before making it big. The argument can be made for that reason alone that our sport is, in fact, the toughest out there, but that’s another conversation for another day. Chances are as amateurs, players are used to video-game type statistical success, simply because they are athletically far better than their competition. High school pitchers routinely will strike out double-digit batters in seven-inning games, while a relatively big number college hitters finish the season hitting well over .400- a sacred, near-impossible number in the pro ranks. As the talent improves, the numbers will drop, sometimes drastically. A slump was a foreign word prior to getting drafted, but now, it is a reality. 

Like we said, the first slump of a player’s career comes in professional baseball and having never truly failed before, most don’t know how to deal with it. They become fixated on the what, without realizing the why. Well hit balls and quality at-bats are a staple of minor league daily reports that go to Major League front offices about hitters, as is command of the strike zone, game plan against the opposing hitters, and consistent delivery for pitchers. Base hits and strikeouts are a byproduct of the former, which is always a focus with players. The sooner a hitter can understand why he continuously is rolling over the ball, the sooner he can become consumed with working to not, and progress may be seen in baby steps, like a jam shot ground out to second, or even foul balls into the opposite field stands. It is about controlling what you can control, which will allow the results- that everyone wants- to take care of themselves. 

Being a professional baseball player means you are an employee. 

We grow up playing the game. Our love for it is born on youth league fields and only builds as we get older. While there is obviously a kid-like enthusiasm held by many of today’s biggest stars (see Mike Trout) that brings us back to our younger years, rest assured, being a professional baseball player is every bit of a legitimate job and must be approached as such with the same type of responsibility that a real-world nine-to-five employee carries to their work. Players are expected to be at the ballpark earlier than they have ever been before. No longer are players just representing themselves, they are representing a Major League Baseball team, and will have their standard to live up to, on and off the field, each and every day. They are expected to embrace non-baseball parts of the job, like strength and conditioning or mental preparation in a similar manner they would towards perfecting the swing or delivery. There is an accountability that comes with being a professional, just as there is in business. Perform well and exceed expectations, then a promotion is likely to come in the future. Fail to meet the responsibilities set forth, and there’s someone else waiting eagerly in the wings to take a job. Everyone does not get a trophy in the real world, and the same holds true in professional baseball. The very best are the ones who still play it like a game, but approach it like a job. 

Playing professional baseball is without a doubt, one of the most rewarding things anyone can accomplish in life. It is a privilege to wear the uniform and to get paid to play our great game. By no means is it anyone’s right.  

Professional baseball is not for everyone, but we ask you this, after now knowing what it means, do you still think it’s for you?


Darren Fenster is a contributor to the USA Baseball Sport Development Blog, and is currently the Manager of the Portland Sea Dogs, the Double-A affiliate of the Boston Red Sox. A former player in the Kansas City Royals minor league system, Fenster joined the Red Sox organization in 2012 after filling various roles on the Rutgers University Baseball staff, where he was a two-time All-American for the Scarlet Knights. Fenster is also Founder and CEO of Coaching Your Kids, LLC, and can be found on Twitter @CoachYourKids.


 Clutch Starts in the Cage
(8/14/2018)
 
   

Clutch Starts in the Cage


FUNdamental Skills
By Darren Fenster


Spend a long enough time in the game, and you’ll see that some players just have a knack for getting the big hit, or making the big play, or executing the big pitch in the big moment. Sometimes, it’s the superstar player like Madison Bumgarner who put the Giants on his back in 2014 to win World Series MVP or David Ortiz who did the same for the entire city of Boston a year prior. But other times, it’s the less-heralded guy who seemingly comes out of nowhere to carry his team to a title, like David Freese and David Eckstein both did for the Cardinals in 2011 and 2006, respectively.

Many have tried to figure out what makes some guys perform under pressure, as others wilt in the spotlight. The numbers crunchers who analyze every move of every player insist that the idea of clutch doesn’t even exist, simply because it cannot be measured, as it’s not a black and white thing like most statistics in the game are. Rest assured, despite the fact that we cannot see it, clutch is a very real thing, coming from within each individual athlete.

Last winter, in a Twitter survey of 563 baseball and coaching-minded followers of @CoachYourKids, we asked the simple question, “Can you teach clutch?” Was it a simple yes? Was it a distinct no? Or was it not that simple at all? The results were interesting:

15%        YES
50%        NO
35%        IT’S NOT THAT SIMPLE

Given a decent sample size, even with half of the responders believing that clutch was something that cannot be taught, there was a big enough discrepancy which made the question a thought-provoking one to explore even deeper.

In order to answer the question, it’s necessary to define the term.

So what exactly is clutch?

It can be argued, in simple terms, that clutch is the ability to get a job done under pressure.

Now pressure is a relative term, different to each individual as to when and where it hits. Pressure isn’t just a game on the line situation in the 9th inning. For some, pressure may be getting a bunt down in the early innings. For others, it may be getting three outs in a blowout game in a pitcher’s first-ever varsity appearance. But regardless of those circumstances that create the added stress, that pressure requires a calm to be in the best position to overcome it. And it’s that calm which enables the focus and competitiveness required to get that job done.

For something that cannot be seen, how can we get an idea of exactly what clutch looks like?

Clutch looks like David Ortiz.

Having just completed his 20th and final Major League season, David Ortiz not only retired as one of the best hitters of an entire generation but arguably the game’s most clutch hitter of all-time. Consider this: on top of a regular-season resume that is Hall of Fame worthy, in 85 career post-season games, Big Papi was a .289 hitter, with 17 home runs, 61 runs batted in, and 51 runs scored, while reaching base at a .404 clip. To get a sense of how truly impressive those numbers are, just double them to get a general idea of what they would look like over the course of a full 162-game season.

So on the game’s biggest stage, when its greatest stakes are on the line, and pressure is at its peak, David Ortiz found a way to consistently perform at an MVP level. This begs the question of how. How did he do it? How did the same guy, year in and year out come through in the clutch time and time again?

In the spring of 2013, I was privileged to get a glimpse that perhaps could help answer that question. While managing the Gulf Coast League Red Sox at the time, part of my responsibility was not only to organize the days for the minor league players who did not break camp with a full season affiliate, but also to make sure rehabbing players got their baseball work in so we can get them back out and healthy. One of those rehabbing players that spring was David Ortiz.

Coming off of an Achilles tendon injury he suffered late in 2012, that following April, Ortiz gave me the surreal opportunity to watch him tune his craft from a vantage point very few have the privilege of seeing: behind an L-Screen, flipping him soft toss and throwing him BP. To witness the way that he worked made it easy for me to understand how he turned himself into the incredible all-around hitter that he was. To watch the manner by which he went about his business made it easy for me to see how he would retire as one of the game’s best clutch performers of all time.

With never actually having seen Ortiz go through his daily hitting routine, for some reason I had an expectation of a guy who would just swing as hard as he could, pulling just about everything, as we’d seen for two decades now. My expectation was that of an impressive display of cage bomb after cage bomb. My expectation was a show in BP.

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Big Papi’s work in the cage and on the field held three distinct traits:

1) He always worked with a purpose…a specific plan.
2) He mentally put himself into game situations.
3) He made his work competitive. 

WORKING WITH A PURPOSE

David’s workday started in the cage doing front toss- a drill where a protective screen is set up about 15-20 feet from home plate, and the ball is tossed underhand on a line. This is his warm-up of sorts, but not one to get loose, rather one to perfect his swing to the feel that he needs it to be. Out of approximately 60 swings, no joke, I’d bet that 40 of the balls hit either went the entire length of the cage or off the screen, and another 15 or so that went to the back half of the net. No more than five were mishit as weak ground balls to the right or left side. The most impressive thing? Not a single batted ball went off the top of the cage. With every single swing that he took, his focus, in his words, was on two main things: balance, and a short and direct path to the pitch where he stayed inside the baseball.

Imagine having a plan for everything that you do. Imagine taking a purpose behind every minute of every practice. Imagine that not a single rep is wasted over the course of a day…a week…a season…or even a CAREER. It is impossible NOT to get better. The back of David Ortiz’ baseball card is the byproduct of his incredibly focused and purposeful work.  

WORKING WITHIN THE GAME

Baseball is a game in which its best players are able to adapt to the various situations that come up over the course of a season. Offensively, those might include moving runners to third from second, executing the hit and run, getting bunts down, hitting with two strikes or driving in a runner from third with the infield in or the infield back, not to mention to countless others.  

Ortiz’s on-field BP routine consisted of far more situation-specific hitting than it did mindless swings. He’d take rounds to practice the hit and run (even though he probably hadn’t been asked to do it in years), advancing runners, and later driving them in. He’d work on a distinct approach to hit with two strikes, as well as when in an advantage count in his favor. He’d even practice hitting the ball back up the middle or the other way, in addition to solely looking to pull the ball.

Every possible situation, every possible approach, every possible thing that would come up in a game, he’d work on in practice. Not only was his work while hitting on the field done with the same purpose as in the cage, but now he’s prepping for the game by putting himself in the game. Just like with anything in life, in baseball, the more you do something, the more comfortable and confident you become in doing it. And it’s that comfort and confidence that helps breed the calm needed to overcome pressure.

WORKING TO COMPETE


Throughout the course of his work, David managed to add a competitive element to finish his days. He didn’t do this because he was bored with his daily hitting routine; he did this because he absolutely loves to compete. One day, we ended his time in the cage with a simple hard hit game. He would get one point for every pitch hit hard to the back half of the cage, and I would earn one out for every ball that wasn’t. The game ended when I recorded the tenth out…some TWENTY-THREE rockets later.

For Ortiz, the next day brought the next game at the end of the day. This one, I was not prepared nor equipped for.

“I need you to be Mariano,” he said.

Dumbfounded, I reluctantly agreed to throw the ball in the six-inch slot on and off the inside corner of the plate where Mariano Rivera became the greatest closer in the history of baseball, and somehow was able to do so without beaning the would-be World Series MVP. Immediately I noticed that he had a different look to his face, but I couldn’t quite pinpoint what it was until it hit me a few minutes later. In a batting cage in Ft. Myers, Florida, against a no-name minor league manager, with no one watching, David Ortiz was mentally putting himself in the 9th inning of a game against the Yankees facing Mariano Rivera, competing in what was likely a game-on-the-line situation.

Over the course of his 20-year career, Ortiz faced Rivera just 31 times. But how many hundreds of times… thousands of times, perhaps, have they faced off in Big Papi’s mind? Without question, the comfort created by mentally hitting against Rivera during batting practice helped Ortiz become a .310 hitter against a sure-fire Hall of Fame pitcher whose career batting average against was a minuscule .177.

Life is about competing. Those who can, will be successful, and those who can’t, probably won’t. Baseball is no different. There is a stream of talented players who enter the professional ranks every year, but one of the main things that separates one from the next is their ability to compete to win. Countless players find themselves out of the game very quickly not because they weren’t good enough, but rather because the pressure got the best of them.

I don’t doubt for a second that the things I witnessed David Ortiz do over the course of those few days in Fort Myers back in the spring of 2013 were the first time of him doing so…nor were they the last. Rather, his practice routine was exactly what enabled him to develop into the hitter that most were sad to see walk away from the game this past October.  

What David Ortiz taught me in those few days of working together was the value of having a plan behind everything that we do. It showed me how we can, in fact, practice and use those things we will encounter in the game, even when we aren’t in the game. And by practicing those parts of the game over and over and over again, we can build a comfort and a confidence that will produce the calm needed to become clutch and get the job done when the pressure is on.

So…can we teach clutch?

It still is not that simple, but we can assuredly put our players in pressure-filled situations, specifically in practice, that will force their fight or flight skills to develop. We can force them to focus, with specific plans for their work. We can put them in a game-like environment, with an endless list of things that will come up when the lights are on. We can create competition, by playing for something…playing for anything. All of the things needed to become the guy we want with the game on the line, we can provide by the settings we create.  

We can guide them onto the road to clutch, but at the end of the day, it’s going to be up to them to actually take it.


Darren Fenster is a contributor to the USA Baseball Sport Development Blog, and is currently the Manager of the Portland Sea Dogs, the Double-A affiliate of the Boston Red Sox. A former player in the Kansas City Royals minor league system, Fenster joined the Red Sox organization in 2012 after filling various roles on the Rutgers University Baseball staff, where he was a two-time All-American for the Scarlet Knights. Fenster is also Founder and CEO of Coaching Your Kids, LLC, and can be found on Twitter @CoachYourKids.


 What is Spring Training?
(8/14/2018)
 
   

What is Spring Training?


FUNdamental Skills
By Darren Fenster


The sun shining. The smell of the grass. The crack of the bat. The pop of the glove.

Nothing marks the unofficial start of the spring better than professional baseball players around the world making their way out to Arizona or Florida to get ready for the upcoming season. Never before has the sight of a pitcher covering first base been so welcome for most who are still digging out from under the snow. To those outside of the baseball world, it would seem like the best players in the game are simply getting back into the swing of things with every round of batting practice or every pitch in the bullpen.

But what really goes on inside the gates of Spring Training complexes?

Major Leaguers are the very best baseball players in the entire world. They are the top .0001% of what they do. Not only can they play the game better than just about everyone else, but they also know the game far better than most. With that said, one of the most interesting facts about Spring Training is this: coaching staffs teach their players as if they have never played the game before.

Every single pitcher who toes the mound at a Big-League stadium knows that they are responsible to cover first base on ground balls to the right side of the infield. And yet, it is practiced ad nauseam day after day in Spring Training. Every single position player knows how to play catch, but yet, on day one, coaches will walk players through exactly what throwing and catching the ball should look like. Players generally know where they are supposed to be when backing up plays, how to execute a rundown, or the importance of getting an out on a bunt. And yet, each fundamental skill is introduced to professionals in the same step by step process you would see on a youth baseball field.

If they all already know most everything about the game’s fundamental skills, then why is so much time spent on teaching them for the six-plus weeks of Spring Training?

It’s done in this manner by every team so that each one of their players is on the same exact page moving forward into the season. If coaches assume that their players know something, they become susceptible to error when just one member of the team isn’t familiar with a particular skill. In order for a team to work as a cohesive unit, its players need to know the standard by which things are expected to be done. That is established in Spring Training. It takes time to build a culture within a team along with an environment where everyone is genuinely one unit working together, and that foundation is set at Spring Training. It’s also done to review and reinforce the fundamentals of the game that will make those players good individually and successful collectively. It’s those basics that fill up Spring Training fields.

Every October, one team is left standing, crowned as World Series Champions. But it’s every February and March when that championship run really begins, and it gets started with the same approach youth baseball coaches and players take when just learning the game in the first place.


Darren Fenster is a contributor to the USA Baseball Sport Development Blog, and is currently the Manager of the Portland Sea Dogs, the Double-A affiliate of the Boston Red Sox. A former player in the Kansas City Royals minor league system, Fenster joined the Red Sox organization in 2012 after filling various roles on the Rutgers University Baseball staff, where he was a two-time All-American for the Scarlet Knights. Fenster is also Founder and CEO of Coaching Your Kids, LLC, and can be found on Twitter @CoachYourKids.


 Situational Hitting 101
(8/14/2018)
 
   

Situational Hitting 101


FUNdamental Skills
By Darren Fenster


The ability to handle the bat, moving runners along and later driving them in, many times, will be the difference between winning and losing a game. To be a productive situational hitting team, hitters must take a team-first attitude into the box and have an approach. Approach is where it’s known exactly what the job is, and, just as important, what is needed to be done in order to get that job done. Just like with everything else in the game, the mental side of the game must be practiced right along with its physical execution.

HIT & RUN

Why we do it: To create action that moves the defense around and opens up holes on the infield. It’s also an effective way to stay out of the double-play and/or to advance a runner.

The job at hand:

1. Know that you will be swinging at everything except the ball in the dirt.
2. Mentally get into a “read” approach in order to identify the pitch early.
3. Hit the ball where it is pitched- pull the inside pitch, go the other way on the outside pitch.
4. Must get the ball on the ground AND out of the middle.

The hitter’s goal is to get a hard-base hit on the ground, with the worst-case scenario being that the runner has advanced with a ground ball out.

MAN ON 2ND, 0 OUT- ADVANCE THE RUNNER

Why we do it: To get the base-runner to 3rd with 1 out so the next hitter can drive him in with a productive out.

The job at hand:

1. Get a pitch to hit a ball on the ground back up the middle to shortstop’s left or to the right side of the field.

2. Handle the bat head to get the ball back up the middle or to the right side, staying on top.

BUNTING IS ALWAYS AN OPTION IN THIS SITUATION. The hitter does not need a sign. It is far more beneficial to successfully advance the runner with a bunt, then fail with a swing. The job is to move the runner, any way it can be done. The hitter’s goal is to get a hard-base hit through the middle or right side of the infield, with the worst-case scenario being that the runner has advanced to third with a ground ball out.

MAN ON 3RD, < 2 OUTS- DRIVE THE RUNNER IN

Why we do it: To score a run with, at worst, a productive out.

The job at hand:

1. Know where the infield is playing and adjust your approach accordingly.
2. Put the ball in play in line with where the infield is playing, and drive the runner in.

If the Infield is Back- The opponent is giving a run. Take it every time! A ground ball to SS or 2B is a guaranteed run and the easiest RBI in all of baseball.

• Get a pitch to hit a ground ball to SS or 2B
• Handle the bat head and hit the ball where it’s pitched, staying on top, using the middle of the field.

If the Infield is In- The opponent doesn’t want to give up a run, so the hitter must look to drive the ball hard through the drawn in infield.

• Get a pitch to hit hard- remember with the infield in something hard has a chance to get through, even if it’s on the ground.
• Do not change the swing to try to hit a fly ball; rather change what pitch to look for, and seek something up in the zone, because that’s the easiest ball to get into the outfield because it’s already elevated.

In both situations, the hitter’s intention should still be to get a hard-base hit somewhere, with the worst case being that he drives in that runner with a productive out. Every run scored is one more that the opponent needs to win the game, so be sure to take advantage of every opportunity to score runs regardless of the inning or the score.
Teams that execute situational hitting well are the teams that get the most productivity out of each one of their 27 outs. It’s a skill that can and should be developed every single day during batting practice, and it’s a skill that can and will result in winning games.


Darren Fenster is a contributor to the USA Baseball Sport Development Blog, and is currently the Manager of the Portland Sea Dogs, the Double-A affiliate of the Boston Red Sox. A former player in the Kansas City Royals minor league system, Fenster joined the Red Sox organization in 2012 after filling various roles on the Rutgers University Baseball staff, where he was a two-time All-American for the Scarlet Knights. Fenster is also Founder and CEO of Coaching Your Kids, LLC, and can be found on Twitter @CoachYourKids.