Baseball Tips – Catchers – Where’s the Instinct?

Sometimes I’m watching a game and one of the teams has a pretty good receiver. I mean, he’s got a cannon for an arm, good size, quick feet there, blocks really well, and so on.

But little things happen in games with guys like these and I sit there scratching my head thinking, “Why didn’t he do this? Or, why didn’t he do that? Or, he had it there if he’d just thrown.” that!” There may be a short list of these things that this “pretty good” receiver does or doesn’t do. It’s only recently that I think I realize why I’m seeing this sort of thing today.

Think back to when your video game was Pong, folks, or at best, the original Atari. There were no computers (no instant messaging, thank goodness!), no cell phones, no X-Box 360, etc. What did we do, besides having to cut the grass? Well, we play baseball, softball, and sometimes soccer on the same day. We did this day in and day out and still had baseball games at night. We developed a lot of baseball “instincts,” even when we were little kids. Children no longer play pickup games in neighborhoods. Everything is organized now, down to the smallest detail.

Years ago, even though kids didn’t play as many organized games, I think on average kids played more baseball. As they got older, they developed a lot of instincts… things that tell you whether to shoot or not, in a split second. Catchers knew how to read hitters. They knew how to read runners and remember that the #14 always looked down when he started back to first as soon as he saw the catcher’s hand go up and start throwing back at the pitcher. Catchers knew when to go to the mound and say mean, dumb things to get the pitcher to laugh a little, just to relax. Many catchers called their own pitches at age thirteen.

Today, this seems to be less and less. Receivers are more like wind-up dolls. Just go and watch a game today, even the older kids. You’ll see catchers looking toward the dugout after every pitch, looking for the next signal and pitch to call. Many times they have no idea why some of these are called. It’s like a wireless video game for the coaches sitting on the buckets near the on-deck circle. And to top it off, after each release, what do you usually listen to? You hear two or three coaches barking at the catcher, pitcher and infielders with multiple instructions and demands. Sometimes it’s a puppet show… not a baseball game.

Players attempt pickoffs when instructed, or if a play is in progress. If they go it alone and throw the ball, you’ll hear, “Hey! What was that? Did I say that? Let’s go!” So much for instincts. I won’t do that again.

I’m not saying today’s catchers aren’t good. In fact, I think they are much better than in the past in most cases. I will see a lot more trained in throwing and blocking than I did years ago. Hitting, well, I think today’s players are much better hitters than they were in the past. Today’s kids are more exposed to different baseball training methods and different baseball drills. They receive much more instruction and are therefore more skilled than children of years ago.

It’s those little things that they don’t have as much as the players in the past. Those little things are instincts. I guess they eventually get them, but only at an older age.

There are coaches who encourage the catcher to think for himself in different situations. It can always be corrected and taught later. This is commendable as it doesn’t happen very often anymore. Over time, you and he will think alike and you will see him become a smart receiver, not a wind-up dummy looking for the next instruction.

Maybe some of the coaches can let their receivers and other players work on developing some of their own instincts at times. There might be a game where you know you’re going to win or a game where the score indicates that maybe you can let the catcher try to call the pitches, encourage the infielders to talk to each other and try to work things out. some things on your own. Let them take control. Let them be responsible for what happens on the field. They will make mistakes, for sure. But that’s when you, the coach, come back to talk a little or two and then walk away. If things seem to be going the wrong way, take back control.

You will see them become smarter players over time. They will be developing some instincts. They’ll think a little bit more differently and maybe understand why you do some of the things you do.

More importantly, they’ll look forward to that moment in certain games when they win enough for you to say, “Hey! Guys, you got it…don’t screw it up!” They will have fun… just like we did in the barrios years ago.

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