Pitching Practice

For his last birthday, I bought William a multi-purpose net. The main driver was that we had destroyed a soccer ball by kicking it against the concrete porch too much. Why were we kicking it at the porch? Well, at that point we used a couple of the porch columns as goal markers and between them was, well, a raised porch! So, if you kicked a goal, or even if you missed except wide left, chances are the ball would slam against a brick or concrete surface. We bought a new ball, but refrained from kicking goals. The good news is I had been trying to come up with a good gift for William’s birthday and now had a plan.

 After putting it off for a while, I finally made it to a sporting goods store in search of a couple of those small nets that you see used in 3-on-3 soccer tournaments. One of the “official” ones turned out to cost about as much as I had budgeted for a gift, but I found a less expensive pop-up practice net so I could get two. Mission accomplished! Except on the way to the checkout I came across a big, pop-up multi-purpose net. The pictures on the front had kids playing soccer, street hockey, hitting baseballs, and pitching into it. (For the pitching, it had a clip-on piece that stretched across the net with a hole in the middle and a mesh bag for catching balls that made it through the opening.) Although I couldn’t get two and stay within the budget, I thought one was perfect for William and it left me a little left over for a decent LEGO set.

 William loved the net and we all had fun using it for soccer—we still haven’t gotten to the LEGO set. His attention shifted to football for a bit, (being football season), so the net hung out in the garage until recently when baseball season began and William started playing on a baseball team.

 For his first game he was selected to start at pitcher—something he said he didn’t want before-hand, but loved afterward. The next game he was mostly in outfield with an inning at first base. Then he got sick and missed a game, (with much objection on his part), but seemed better enough for the next that we went. He was put in as the third pitcher near the end—something he wanted well before the game started. However, before that inning he had to pay his dues at left center and shortstop.

 As pitcher in this game he finished the inning without it being a mercy, (in this league, an inning is over after three outs or five runs and there were a couple mercy-ending innings in this game). However, he was not happy with the number of walks and four runs he had against him. When we got home, he said he wasn’t feeling well and turned out to have a temperature of 101.3. How did I not see that earlier? Maybe the fever didn’t set in until after the game and instead during the 20 minute drive home, but I find that hard to believe; I missed something.

 The next day William’s fever was better, but I didn’t allow him to go to school as they want a fever to be gone for 24 hours first. He settled on the couch and watched a recorded Tiger’s game while I used a laptop in the kitchen to telecommute to work. (OK, I pretty much always telecommute, so nothing new there.) At lunch time he ate well and wanted to practice pitching outside a little. However, I asked him to come in about ten feet this time. Why? Well, after his first game, William wanted to practice pitching and we decided to try out the net. We measured out the distance to the mound, (now I know it’s 16 paces for me—much easier than breaking out the tape measure each time), and I stood behind to throw back balls. Unfortunately I spent most of my time chasing stray balls which was odd given how well he did getting in the strike zone during his first game.

 So, that is why I asked William come in about ten feet and concentrate more on accuracy. 46 feet is a long distance for a 9 year old to just throw, (when the catcher tosses the ball back to the pitcher, it rarely makes it to the mound in the air), so my thought was to separate the accuracy and strength skills then slowly add in the latter. Keep in mind that I don’t know much of anything about baseball let alone coaching it, but that was my gut feeling. William was not happy at all about moving closer, though, so I made it into a game—when he got three in a row in the bag, he could go back five feet; rinse and repeat to get to the full length. That sold him: game on!

 He had a good number of single strikes, a couple two-in-a-row scores, but the magical three was elusive. However, he was getting almost all of the balls in the net this time so I didn’t have to chase them. This let me play umpire and see where the ball came in.

 Understand that the league he’s in has a generous strike zone—shoulders to ankles—as this is the first year of “kid pitch”. What I noticed as umpire is that several of William’s pitches would have been strikes even though they didn’t go into the bag. After a while and a really close two-in-a-row pitch, I said that we’d count it as a bagged ball because it would have been a strike. William refused and said they’d only count if they went in. I can totally get that, but wow.

 Today William wanted to practice pitching again. Out with the net and the closer distance, but this time I changed the game. Instead of three-in-a-row we made it an at-bat: get three strikes on a batter before four balls to move back. He liked that idea and we got to work. At this point, I’m pretty much done chasing balls except for a small few that got away from him. Instead my main job now is umpire and ball returner. (William taught me his special “strike” motion, but I guess I never got it right.)

 There were still a number of 4-0 sessions although that would have been different if William allowed his league’s strike zone. A handful of times it was a full count. The remaining ended 4-and-1. Then it happened after about 35 minutes and uncounted throws: 2 balls, 3 strikes. Yeah, move back bud for the next phase.

 When it was time to get ready for bed, William was at full distance after passing the 41 foot test. Although then there were a few more stray balls to chase, it was nothing compared to the initial attempts at that length and I pointed that out to him a couple times. When we wrapped up for the night I asked him if he felt better about his pitching. “Yeah, I guess,” he shrugged.  Seriously dude??

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