The Winning Pitch
by Thomas Alston

Thomas A. Alston coached high school baseball for 15 seasons. His column "The Winning Pitch" appears in every issue of Collegiate Baseball. Alston's third book "Baseball Coaches Survival Guide" was published by a division of Simon & Schuster in March of 1998.


Make The Most Of Every Opportunity

For years I have told my players to "make the most of every opportunity," perform every day at practice, during games, and in off-season play as if "SOMEBODY'S ALWAYS WATCHING." My warnings have included the disclaimer that "all I owe you is honesty." However, yesterday, I came very close to "airing out" a young player for being as ignorant as a single celled amoeba.

After our fourth game of the season (we are 4-0) our backup catcher wanted to know "where he stands." This on the heels of a session a few days earlier with an assistant where he was complaining about the lack of playing time and wanted to quit.

Let me give you some of the facts. This player had decided to not play with his high school team during the summer. He opted to play "Big league" with some of his budies. During fall ball he missed practice, showed up late to games, didn't work on blocking, and missed about fifty percent of the signs. The efficiency of the pitching staff fell dramatically when he was in the game. The tempo slowed to a crawl. Passed balls became an every at bat occurrence. He played a little in the outfield, hit around .250, and usually showed up half dressed. During the winter he ditched most of the conditioning, and in the spring he refused to do his part in the fund raising. Other than that he was a pretty good kid.

Yesterday he began to snivel. We asked him, "where do you think you should be playing?" My young friend said, "I don't know. That's your job coach."

In our four games so far, we have played two five inning games because we had ten run leads. Our pitching has worked "up tempo," and we have dominated the few opponents we have faced. In four games our staff has averaged less than 12 pitches per inning. Our first string catcher is a solid receiver who works hard most of the time, and I am building a young pitching staff who hasn't yet learned how to win at this level. I can't afford to have their performances ruined by a poor receiver. My young friend has played a few innings in the outfield.

When he complained about lack of playing time, I wanted to say:

"You stupid jerk. At each juncture of our relationship you have been honestly informed of your status. We begged you to step up your baseball effort. During the fall you caught nearly fifty percent of the innings. We told all the players, that was the time to win a job. You didn't take us seriously.

You knew at the start of this season the other guy had beaten you out for the job. Yet, after only four games, you have the nerve to complain about playing time. We have always told the entire team that we would play the best nine. Right now we are playing well. Our record couldn't be better.

You know that without you as a backup, this team has no other catcher. If our first string catcher gets hurt it will cost us dearly. But, that doesn't mean you have earned the right to get playing time at the expense of our pitching staff. As coach I will not let you blackmail us into "playing time," that you don't deserve. Where does it end? Do I let everybody play a few innings, just like the "commie ball" rules in recreational baseball?

When you signed up to be part of the team, you agreed to do what it takes to help the team win. In your case because you aren't willing to work at the job, that means you are a just a back up, hoping for a chance to play. You have two choices, hope for blowouts so we can afford to let you behind the plate, or, pray for an injury to the guy ahead of you. It isn't hard to figure out what a selfish brat like you will decide. Because you have no concept about life, other than your own selfish desires, why don't you strip out of your uniform and get the hell off my field."

Unfortunately, we tried to give him a way to overcome his concerns, by playing down the issue. We stressed how little innings have been played. We told him we couldn't promise him anything, but we would try to get him some at bats. He had the nerve to say, that if he only hits once a game it isn't fair because he needs a couple of at bats to get in sync with the pitcher.

This situation is a great example of why the ten run rule in high school baseball makes the game worse, not better. It has hurt the bench players by eliminating their playing time. It puts coaches in the position like the one described above.

Only an idiot thinks up things like this. It was probably the same dork who thinks that single eliminations in the first round of high school baseball is okay. It is the same blind person who misses the fact that baseball players have to take care of their fields without requiring basketball players to sweep a gym floor. It is the same form of discrimination that allows football to practice in the baseball outfield and has never seen fly balls fungoed on the football turf. It is same dunderhead thinking that nurtures the selfish generation that gives birth to the cry babies who think they deserve playing time just because they weren't cut from the roster.

Here's how we deal with it. Through it all, we keep on coaching and take time for a few fantasies where we tell off the brats. However, we keep it to ourselves and make things go right. That's our job.

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The Winning Pitch

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