Rays Diary 6/18/14

Very strange game this afternoon; twice with bases loaded, less than two outs and four or five “professional” hitters can’t seem to put the ball on the ground to score even one run!  I wonder, would any of those “professional” ballplayers be willing to bet against a sixty seven year old guy with decent athletic skills being able to put the ball on the ground to score a run from third.  How about just once in five at bats?  Seems Rays hitters can’t do it in a hundred at bats and in game after game.

After an eventful day in which I finally had the courage to tweet Evan Longoria suggesting that he observe his swing in slow motion because it appears to be getting longer and more circuitous than it used to be- Evan had the class to actually answer me, even though his twitter replies certainly did not express his approval!  The tweets, critical of my questionable credentials, were good natured and witty and probably well deserved under the circumstances.  Frankly, like a little kid, I was excited and even honored to hear from him at all, no matter what he had to say.  Some of the “twits” who somehow felt that that they had to defend Longo, seemed to be quite intellectually and emotionally troubled, however.  I wish them a speedy recovery.

After all the turmoil that my suggestions seem to have caused, ironically, Evan knows that he still has to work on his swing, still has to look at it in slow motion as Ben Zobrist does his or neither of them will reach the enormous potential that I believe they possess as hitters.  In reality that is all I ever wanted for them!

By the way, in answer to Evan’s question of credentials, I never coached much Little League.  In my youth, I was something of a prodigy, a “natural” hitter.  In those days we had no one to teach us anything.  I developed some interesting ways to learn how to pull inside pitches, no matter their speed, rarely missing them, without even thinking about it.  Then I taught myself how to automatically hit outside pitches “the other way” as well.  I taught myself to hit breaking pitches and how to largely avoid strikeouts by crowding the plate slightly and moving up a bit in the batter’s box with two strikes.  My specialty: I never failed to get a runner home from third with less than two outs unless they walked me intentionally.  My goal in life was to play baseball 24/7- that was all!

In junior high school, I received the shocking news that I would never be able to play any varsity athletics because of my health.  In disbelief, fully grown at fourteen years old, I lied about my age and played in a number of adult leagues until I got caught.  Lost in the moment, I ran as fast as I could, beating out a ground ball for a single and proceeded to pass out as I stood on first base.  Thus did my wannabee baseball “career” end, except for a rare pinch hit “appearance” in a pickup game.

I never stopped studying hitting in sixty years.  I studied medicine, anatomy and physiology and something called “The Link System” which deals with the way that muscles and bones work together in sequence to produce things like a baseball swing. Think, for instance, how much power can be generated using the huge muscles of the legs, the hips, the shoulders, and the arms and then adding the little, weaker muscles of the wrists and hands all in sequence like an explosion instead of trying to initiate the swing with the weaker muscles in the hands.  What I can do that Joe and Derek sadly cannot, as hard as they try, bless their hearts (because they were never hitters), is think like a hitter.  In the end, it’s the most valuable credential I have and one that they do not seem to have.


Rays Diary 6/19/14

It’s nice to see some of the Rays hitters perking up a little.  Great to see Evan hit a homerun with an “effortless,” level swing without a “loop” or a “hitch” in it!  Hope to see twenty or thirty more homers from him this year.  Good for Kiermaier too.  It sure puts the pressure on the other team when you can score a few scratch runs early doesn’t it, Rays?

I hope I’m wrong, but this may be one of the laziest coaching staffs that I have ever seen.  After totally wasting the first inning today, with his back against the wall, Joe finally faced the sad truth that everyone else already knew- the Rays can no longer win consistently without playing “smallball.”  Unfortunately, it’s been so long since we have done it that too often neither coaches nor players can seem to remember how to do it.  The question is “why?”  Have Joe and his staff disdained teaching players how to play “smallball” because of their obvious aversion to the hard work involved in the endeavor or was it really due to a misguided philosophy forced on them by aliens from another solar system where baseball is not permitted to be played?

Personally, I believe that they are a little lazy.  Sitting back and watching players trying to learn from fancy but inert machines and substituting childish solutions for batting slumps, all have resulted in worse and worse results every year.  Surely no one can deny it!  “Easy fixes” like the foolish overuse of the hands and wrists, instead of having coaches and players study opposing pitchers’ patterns and adjust to them, as well as improving flawed swings and sloppy batting habits, is certainly the easy way out.  In fact, with the playoffs virtually shot, it seems to be the perfect time for coaches and players to “get their hands dirty,” to watch game film, and address the weaknesses in players’ swings and their approach to “at-bats” with somewhat less pressure on them.

Meanwhile, working the count by taking hittable pitches so you can chase the starter by the sixth or seventh inning won’t help a team that can’t seem to hit anyone’s pitching.  Working the count to force the pitcher to throw a fatter pitch or a “mistake” is a more “effective” reason to do so and eventually will chase the opposition starter early anyway.  With all the recent bullshit aside, with the count “no balls and no strikes,” the batter must consider himself to be ahead in the count!  He has to look for his pitch on that first pitch, for goodness sake, unless he is “superhuman” like the late great Tony Gwynn seemed to be.

In fact, if the pitcher is going to throw the same belt high fastball over the outside part of the plate on almost every first pitch, I would expect certain prima donnas (not Ben) on the Rays to learn how to hit the damned pitch.  Heaven forbid Rays “braintrust” would let Zobrist do it like he used to in 2010 before some moron told him that hitting .300 and winninig games wasn’t good enough for them. No, “Zo” had to hit a few more meaningless homers, even though it meant winning fewer games!   If they do learn to hit the outside strike, as Ted Williams once explained, pitchers will be reluctant to throw it there and the batter will be rewarded with more pitches over the meat of the plate. They will also see more pitches far outside of the strike zone which are easy to lay off of, thus enabling batters to more easily “work the count.”

When I was young, I spent hundreds of hours learning to hit pitches over the inside part of the plate until I almost always made solid contact without thinking about it.  Sometimes I would rocket the pitch fair, sometimes foul, but it certainly seemed to scare pitchers into locating the next pitch on the outside part of the plate.  So, you guessed it- I spent hundreds of hours making sure that I could hit that outside pitch that I knew was about to be thrown next.  Why?  Because I was the one trying to take control of the at-bat, forcing the pitcher to throw where I wanted the ball!  No, it’s not rocket science, but it is the way a hitter is supposed to think.

Note: Even though the team has gone through its worst ever slump, it’s encouraging to see players like Evan, Ben, Dejesus, all the rookies and a number of others still busting it down the line, trying to beat out a base hit or make a great catch.


Rays Diary 6/20/14

Not all losses are “tragic,” I think.  Saw a few good things today, like Escobar “going the other way” on a pitch down the middle because that’s where the hole was.  Most guys were busting it down the line on grounders, sliding hard into second and Evan, whether he wants to admit it or not, seems to be taking a more direct route with his bat to the ball.  Whether he subconsciously followed my advice or not is unimportant.  If he does it that way, there will be no stopping him!  Apparently the Rays have realized that it is time to start taking smallball seriously.  We don’t have to play it all the time like the ‘60’s Dodgers, but it’s important to score a few scratch runs before gambling on the big inning all the time, especially if we have good pitching again.


Rays Diary 6/21/21-6/22/14

I know it’s the Houston Astros, but a series win is a series win.  More important, again the team managed to mix good pitching with small ball, hitting the ball where it was pitched and trying to use our new found speed.  Admittedly we’re really rusty at that.  Again, except for one or two players, everyone is busting it on the bases and even if a few runners are thrown out, it puts other teams on the defensive and eventually causes them to make mistakes.  It’s part of “smallball.”  Hopefully timely hitting will be infectious.

It’s nice to see Evan continuing to take his bat on “short route” to the ball again.  Now we have to get Ben to start using those big muscles in his legs, torso and shoulders, instead of the “itty bitty” muscles in the hands and wrists to initiate his swing.  It was pretty obvious all weekend how the Astros were pitching Ben:  Outside, usually hittable first pitches, inside unhittable second and third pitches…  After a while he started catching on, taking walks.  Yea Ben, despite your four year homerun drought, they’re still afraid to throw it to you over the plate, the real reason for your meager homerun totals.  It’s obviously time to adjust and start whacking that outside pitch to the opposite field if they keep throwing it to the same spot all the time.  Oh, what’s that you say?  You can’t “whack” it the other way simply swinging with your hands and wrists the way lazy Coach Shelton suggested?  Seriously, it’s time to take a look at your swing next to that of Barry Bonds.  They really are very similar except that he kept his hands back until his legs-hips-torso-shoulders-arms had already “exploded.”  He really didn’t employ his hands and wrists until contact was made with the ball.  Heck, it’s on video, probably free!


Al “Never Been a Little league Manager” Finkelstein (O’finky)  Never Say Die Rays Fan