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Baseball Pitching Lesson

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How to organize a team and to select the players ”The various positions” Curve pitching

Baseball is called the National Game of America just as cricket is regarded as the national game in England. The game received its wide popularity directly after the Civil War by the soldiers who returned to all parts of the country and introduced the game that they had learned in camp. Almost every village and town has its ball team, in which the interest is general. It is not a game for middle-aged men to play, like golf, but if one has been a ball player in youth the chances are that he will keep his interest in the game through life. Baseball is largely a game of skill. It does not afford nearly as much opportunity for physical exercise as tennis or football, and because of the professional games it is not always conducted with as high a regard for sportsmanlike conduct, but it has a firm hold on the American public, and the winning of a championship series in the professional leagues is almost a national event.

Every boy knows that a baseball team consists of nine players, the positions being pitcher, catcher, first base, second base, third base, and shortstop, which are called the in-field, and right-field, centre-field, and left-field, which positions are called the out-field. The umpire has a very important position in baseball, as his decisions in a close game may result either in defeat or victory for a team. An umpire should always be some one who knows the rules thoroughly and who is not too greatly interested in either team. He should always try to be fair, and having once made a decision be sure enough of himself to hold to it even if the whole opposing team may try by "kicking" to cause him to change. Much of the rowdyism in baseball can be attributed to this cause. A good ball player is first of all a boy or man who shows himself to be a gentleman under, all circumstances.

In baseball, like many games where winning is sometimes the important thing rather than fair play, the real benefits of the game are lost sight of in the desire to have a higher score than one's opponents. Probably the most clean-cut games are played by school and college teams, which should always be strictly amateur.

The in-curve The in-curve
The out-curve The out-curve

The pitcher has the most important position on the team. If by his skill he is able to deceive the opposing batsmen and cause them to strike out or to make feeble hits, the rest of the team will have but little to do except of course to bat when their turn comes and try to score runs. Baseball has become a very scientific game in recent years and the sustained interest in it year after year is largely due to the fact that the regular attendants at a game have learned to understand and to appreciate the finer points of the game almost as well as the players themselves. While it might appear to a beginner that the battery does all the work in a game, as a matter of fact every man on the nine is supposed to do his part in backing up every play and to be in the right place at the right time.

A good pitcher must be able to pitch a curved ball. This art will only come with constant practice. Until about forty years ago a curve was unknown. In the old days the number of runs scored in a game was very high, it being a common thing for a winning team to make twenty to thirty runs. The rules of baseball are changed frequently and almost every change has been made with a view to restricting the batsman. As a consequence, in modern games the scores are very low and sometimes neither side will score a single run in a tie game of ten or twelve innings.

In modern baseball a team that plays together frequently has a prearranged code of signals that are understood by each member of the team. It is very important for every player on a side to know whether the pitcher intends to deliver a high or a low ball or one that may either be batted well into the out-field or probably be a grounder that will be taken care of by some one on the in-field. Of course these things do not always work out as is planned. The pitcher may not have good control of the ball or pitch wild, the catcher may make a bad "muff" and let the ball get by him, or what we expect to be a bunted ball may be a home run, but all of this is part of the sport and helps to make baseball one of the most interesting and exciting of games. In any case there is no question that nine boys who are accustomed to play together and who understand each other's methods of play and signals will have a better chance of winning a close game than nine other players who may have a shade the better of it in individual work but who do not play together.

The drop The drop
The out-drop The out-drop

Most games are won or lost in a single instant at a crucial moment when some one fails to make good, or who, usually in the case of a pitcher, lets up on his speed or accuracy just at the critical time. The National Championship of 1908 was decided in favour of Chicago because one of New York's players in the deciding game of the season failed to touch second base when the last man was out. The game had been won by New York except for this mistake, and the result was that another game was played, which Chicago won before the largest crowd that probably ever assembled to witness a game of baseball.

When a baseball team is organized, the first thing to do is to elect a captain from one of the players, and after this is decided every boy on the team should give him absolute support and obedience. A team should also have a manager whose duties are to arrange games with other teams of the same class, to arrange for the transportation of players and, in fact, to attend to all the business duties of games that come outside of actual playing. Usually a boy is chosen for manager who is not a ball player himself, but who has shown an interest in the team. The captain should be a boy who first of all knows the game and who has the respect and cooperation of the other players. The position that he may play on the team is not so important, but usually it is better to have some one from the in-field as captain, as he will be in a better position to keep close watch on the progress of the game and to give directions to the other players.

In case of a disputed point it is better to allow your captain to make a protest if such is necessary. Observance of this rule will prevent much of the rowdyism that has characterized the game of baseball. No boy should ever attempt to win games by unfair tactics. The day of tripping, spiking, and holding is gone. If you are not able by your playing to hold up your end on a ball team you had better give up the game and devote your attention to something that you can do without being guilty of rowdyism.

Strict rules of training are not as necessary for baseball players as for some other branches of sport, because the game is not so strenuous nor does it involve such sustained physical exertion, but any boy will make a better ball player as well as a better man if he observes the rules of training, such as early hours for retiring, simple food, and regular systematic exercise.

The battery of a team is an exception to the rule regarding strict training. Both the pitcher and catcher should be in the best physical condition. A pitcher who stands up for nine innings is obliged to do a tremendous amount of work and if he becomes tired or stiff toward the end of the game he will probably be at the mercy of the opposing batsmen.

Usually the pitcher of a team is a boy who is physically strong and who can stand hard work. The other positions, however, are usually assigned because of the build of the individual player. The pitcher, however, may be tall or short, fat or thin, so long as he can pitch.

The pitcher is the most important member of a ball team. Most of the work falls to him, and a good pitcher, even with a comparatively weak team behind him, can sometimes win games where a good team with a weak pitcher would lose. A good pitcher must first of all have a cool head and keep his nerve even under the most trying circumstances. He must also have good control of the ball and be able to pitch it where he wants it to go. After that he must have a knowledge of curves and know how by causing the ball to spin in a certain way to cause it to change its course and thus to deceive the batsman. The art of curving a ball was discovered in 1867. Before that time all that a pitcher needed was a straight, swift delivery. The three general classes of curved balls used to-day are the out-curve, the in-curve, and the drop. There are also other modifications called "the fade away," "the spitball," and others. Curve pitching will only come with the hardest kind of practice.

In general the spin is given to the ball by a certain use of the fingers and the method of releasing it. It is necessary to conceal your intentions from the batsman in preparing to deliver a curve or he will divine your intention and the effort may be wasted. All curves are produced by a snap of the wrist at the instant of releasing the ball. Excellent practice may be had in curving by pitching at a post from a sixty-foot mark and watching to see the effect of various twists and snaps. Pitching is extremely hard on the arm and practice should be very light at first until the muscles become hardened. Even the best professional pitchers are not worked as a rule oftener than two or three games a week.

A good baseball captain always tries to develop several pitchers from his team. It is of course very desirable to have a "star pitcher" who can be depended on, but if the star should happen to be ill or to injure his fingers on a hot liner or for some reason cannot play, unless there is a substitute, the effect of his absence on his team will be to demoralize it. For that reason every encouragement should be given to any boy who wants to try his hand at pitching. If a game is well in hand it is usually safe to put in a substitute pitcher to finish it. This is done in college teams for the reason that no amount of practice is quite like playing in an actual game.

It may be said to guide the beginner that the method of producing curves varies greatly with different pitchers, but that in general the out-curve is produced by grasping the ball with the first and second fingers and the thumb. The grip for this curve should be tight and the back of the hand turned downward. The out-curve can be produced either with a fast ball or a slow one.

For the in-curve a swinging sidearm motion is used, the ball being released over the tips of the first two fingers with a snap to set it spinning. It may also be produced by releasing the ball over all four fingers.

The grip of the ball for the drop is very similar to the out-curve, but in delivery the hand is brought almost directly over the shoulder. In all curves the pitcher must have extremely sensitive fingers and be able to control them with almost as much skill as one requires in playing a piano. We must keep in mind which way we desire the ball to spin to produce the required curve and then to give it just as much of this spin as we can without interfering with our accuracy.

No two pitchers will have the same form or manner of delivery. In learning to pitch, the main thing is to adopt the delivery that seems most natural to you without especial regard to form, and with no unnecessary motions.

A pitcher must always be on the alert and keep a close watch on the bases when they are occupied. He must not, however, allow the remarks of coacher or spectators to cause him to become rattled or confused. Baseball at best is a noisy game, and a pitcher who is sensitive to outside remarks or joshing will never be a real success.

The catcher is usually a short, stocky player with a good reach and a quick, accurate throw. He is usually the acting general in a game and signals to the whole team. The principal test of a good catcher is to be able to make a quick, swift throw to second base without being obliged to draw his arm fully back. Such a ball is snapped from the wrist and should be aimed to catch the base runner who is attempting to steal the base. This play is very common in ball games, and as there is only a difference of an instant in the time that it takes a runner to go from first base to second, who starts just as the pitcher delivers the ball, and the time it takes a pitched ball to be caught by the catcher and snapped to second, a game may be won or lost just on this play alone. If the opposing team finds that it can make second in safety by going down with the pitcher's arm, it will surely take full advantage of the knowledge. To have a man on second is disconcerting to the pitcher as well as a difficult man to handle. It therefore follows that a catcher who cannot throw accurately to the bases becomes a serious disadvantage to his team. In the old days a catcher had to be able to catch either with bare hand or with a light glove, but the modern catcher's mitt, mask, chest-protector, and shin-guards make the position far safer, and almost any boy who is quick and has nerve can be trained to become a fairly good catcher so long as he has a good throw and is a good general.

The first baseman is usually a tall boy who is active and who can cover his position both in reaching for high balls and in picking up grounders. Of course in a baseball score the first baseman will score the largest number of "put outs," because practically all he is obliged to do is to cover the base and to catch the ball before the runner gets there. It is in fielding his position and in pulling down balls that are thrown wildly that the first baseman can show his chief skill.

The positions of second base and shortstop are practically the same, and these two players should understand each other perfectly and know just when to cover the base and when to back up the other. Neglect of this precaution often results in the most stupid errors, which are discouraging alike to the team and the spectators. Both players should be quick and active, with an ability to throw both over and under handed as well as to toss the ball after picking it up on the run. The shortstop is often the smallest man on a team, due no doubt to the theory that his work is largely in picking up grounders.

The shortstop is often led into habits which are commonly known as "grand-stand plays"; that is, he attempts to make difficult plays or one-handed stops with an unnecessary display of motions, to bring the applause of the spectators. No ball player was ever made by playing to the audience. Good form is not only very desirable but very necessary, but the main thing in ball playing is to play your part and to forget that there is such a thing as an audience or applause. If your form is good so much the better, but if by paying too much attention to it you miss the ball and score an error, your team may suffer defeat on account of your pride. The main thing is to get the ball and after that to to do it as gracefully as possible. One-handed stops are well enough when you cannot get both hands on the ball, but an error made in this way is not only the most humiliating kind but also the most inexcusable.

It must not be inferred that grand-stand playing is confined to the shortstop. Any member of the team can be guilty of it. No player, no matter how good he may be, should be allowed to hold his position on a team unless he is willing to do his best at all times and unless he feels that the game is not lost nor won until the last man is out.

Many experienced players consider that the most difficult position to play well is third base. This player has to be ready for slow bunts as well as hard drives; he must cover a lot of ground and try to get every ball that comes near him. At the same time he must cover his base to stop the base runner from advancing home. He will be obliged to stop hot liners with one hand and often while on the run to make an accurate throw to first base.

Out-fielders are usually chosen because of their ability to bat as well as to be quick on their feet and catch fly balls on the run. Fielders should practise if possible to catch the ball in a throwing position, so that no unnecessary time may be lost in getting the ball back to the in-field. Of the three fielding positions, right-field is by far the most important. He must be sure of ground balls as well as flies and also, in common with all the fielders, be a good judge of the batsmen and try to be where the batted ball is going. The centre-fielder must be especially quick on his feet, as he is expected to back up both shortstop and second base as well as to run in for line hits that just go over the in-fielders' heads. The ability to start quickly when running for a ball can be greatly developed by practice and will greatly improve the player's game.

Very often a fly ball will fall in such a position that the out-fielders will be in doubt who is to take it. The result is usually a collision, a missed ball and a chorus of groans from the spectators. The remedy for this is to arrange beforehand for the second baseman to call out who in the case of a doubtful ball is to take it. All of these things are part of the finer points of the game and will only come from practice. A boy who really desires to become proficient in his position will try to avoid changing from one position to another, but decide which position he likes to play best or is best fitted for and try to get all the practice possible. An excellent opportunity will come from studying the methods of a good player in the same position, noting carefully what he does on each play, how he backs up the other players and how he fits in the general plan of team work.

It is a great advantage to any player to learn as much as he can about the skill and methods of his opponents. Some men cannot hit a low ball or a high one, some will flinch when the ball comes close to them, giving the pitcher a chance to deliver a straight, swift ball over the inside of the plate, which the umpire will call a strike even though the batsman devotes all of his energy to getting out of the way.

A left-handed thrower will seldom make a success as a ball player except as pitcher or on first base. Left-handed batsmen, however, are a distinct advantage to a team, as nothing will so disconcert a green pitcher as to have batsmen standing first on one side of the plate and then on the other.

Every boy who plays baseball must know the rules thoroughly to be a success. It is in this way that advantage of every fair opportunity can be taken. Nothing is so disheartening to a team as to lose a closely contested game on a technicality of rules.

Batting and base running are two departments of the game where one member of the team is as important as another. A good batsman must have a quick eye and a quick brain. When he decides to strike at a ball he must not change his mind and simply swing at it feebly after it is in the catcher's hands. The best batters are not those who hit the ball the hardest. Judgment in placing hits is far more important than trying to knock out a home run every time you are at the bat. You must remember that the pitcher is studying your batting methods and you must try just as hard to deceive him as he is trying to deceive you. Many a game has been won by a man who knew how to wait at the bat instead of swinging wildly at everything just for fear of having strikes called.

When you hit the ball there is only one rule—run. You will very soon find out whether the ball is fair or foul or whether there is any chance of making first base. A base runner should never stop trying to make a base until the ball is in the hands of the baseman. One never can tell when a ball may be fumbled or muffed.

A baseball diamond should be a part of a town just as is the public square or a town hall. The distance between the bases should be ninety feet and the four base-lines should form a square and all the angles should be right angles. The three bases should be canvas bags filled with sawdust and fastened to their positions by pegs that are driven into the ground. The home plate should if possible be a piece of whitened rubber. A board securely fastened will do.

How to lay out a baseball field How to lay out a baseball field

The pitcher's box should be denoted by a strip of wood or rubber 24 inches long and 6 inches wide. This and home plate should be buried so that they are flush with the surface of the field. The pitcher's box on a full-sized field is exactly 60 1/2 feet from home plate.

The standard baseball is the kind used by professional players. It is covered with horsehide, and is warranted to last an entire game without ripping or getting out of shape. Baseball bats are made of a variety of woods, the common materials being ash, willow, and hickory. A bat must not exceed 2 3/4 inches in thickness at its thickest part. There are a great many shapes and models named after the professional players who use them. The shape of a bat does not make as much difference as some poor batters are inclined to think. The manufacturers of sporting goods make all the accessories for playing baseball both in men's and boys' sizes. Every ball player should own his own mitt or glove and become accustomed to it. The same is true of his bat.

The art of becoming a good ball player depends largely on the boy himself. No one plays ball naturally. It all comes with practice, and it follows that the more practice we can get the better ball players we shall become. It is a game where a loss of nerve is absolutely fatal to good work. A player must keep his head no matter how trying the circumstances may be. Cool-headedness is especially important and the surest way to develop it is to be just as indifferent to the criticism of the crowd or your fellow-players, so long as you know that you have done your best, as you should be to their applause. Just play the game for all there is in it, and you will be sure to become a moderately good player even though you may not be a star. In field practice, when some one is batting out balls to you, try just as hard to stop and field each ball that comes within reach as you would if the result of the game depended on it. It is only by this means that you can hope to become a finished ball player. You can never learn by lying around in the shade and telling your friends how good you are going to be in the coming match game.

A regularly organized ball team should always adopt some club colours and be provided with uniforms. Very good ones complete with shirt, pants, stockings, belt, and cap can be purchased of sporting goods outfitters for two or three dollars a suit (when ordered in lots of nine or more). They can also sometimes be made more cheaply at home if mothers and sisters are willing. The shirt should always be lettered with the name or initials of the team. Baseball shoes are usually provided with steel plates or leather knobs. Spikes are very dangerous and should not be permitted. The regulation baseball shoe reaches just under the instep.

The rules of baseball are too long and complicated to be published here. Almost every year many important changes are made to improve the sport and to make it harder for the batsmen to make runs. All of this tends to make the game more interesting and to develop it from a scientific side.

When a team is playing away from its home grounds the choice of innings—i.e., who is to bat first—goes to the home team.

A game consists of nine full innings unless called by rain, darkness or for some other cause. If five complete innings have been played when the game stops, the score always stands and the team ahead is declared the winner. In case of a tie at the end of the game the play continues until at the completion of a full inning one team is ahead. That ends the game and the team ahead is the winner.

In arranging games with visiting teams it is customary to make some arrangement as to expenses, share of gate receipts or other guarantee. It is very important in order to avoid unpleasant disputes to have this matter fully understood and agreed upon by the managers of each team before the game starts.

On account of fences, houses, and other obstacles that some baseball fields have it is customary for the umpire to decide what are called "ground rules" before the game starts. The principal thing that mars a good game of ball next to kicking and wrangling is the tendency of the crowd to get on the field and to interfere with the players. An easy remedy for this is simply to call the game until the spectators take their proper places.

Baseball is a good game if it is properly played. It is unfortunate that so many amateur games are spoiled because some of the players lose their tempers in their anxiety to have their wrongs righted. No matter how good a ball player a boy is he will never get the real benefit of the game unless he remembers that it is not the one who loses his temper but "he who ruleth his spirit" that is really entitled to the respect of his fellows. Make up your mind to abide by the decision of the umpire just as a soldier obeys the orders of his superior officer. It is the easiest thing in the world for an umpire to make a mistake, but he will be far less likely to correct his errors if nine angry boys are all talking to him at once than if your captain quietly goes to him with the rules or the facts behind him and states the case. It is an old saying but none the less true that "oil catches more flies than vinegar."

A boy who has developed a healthy interest in baseball while young will probably never lose it in after life even though his opportunities to play or even to see a game are few. I once met a mining man in the interior of Mexico, a hundred miles from a railroad and in a town where only three people spoke the English language, and this man had not been to his home town in ten years, but he had followed his baseball team through the papers all those years and could tell you more about the players than many a man living in the town where the team played.

Such a man is what the newspapers call a "fan," which is an abbreviation of the word "fanatic." There is no harm in being a baseball enthusiast, provided that we do not allow it to interfere with our work or allow our desire to witness games to take the place of systematic exercise for ourselves.


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