After a long offseason of tee work, front toss, and batting practice, baseball and softball hitters around the country are finally facing live pitching in games. Hours upon hours were spent working on every aspect of the swing—a solid stance, a slow and powerful load, swift rotation of the lower body followed by the upper body, full extension of the arms through impact, and an unencumbered high finish. These mechanics result in a swing that is a thing of beauty.
Unfortunately, beautiful is not always better when it comes to being a successful hitter. Hitting a baseball or a softball should be a violent act. A beautiful swing without the necessary violence is more like ballet than baseball. In keeping with my philosophy of teaching through observation, I have developed a very simple way to help my hitters transform their beautiful swings into controlled acts of violence.
I ask them to tell me (out loud) whether their swing was more like “baseball” or “ballet” after they hit the ball. The first time I ask hitters to play this game, they usually laugh, because the words baseball and ballet are rarely used in the same sentence. Almost always, the first swing after my simple instruction results in a smile and the word “ballet”. Without providing any feedback, I will toss the next pitch and wait for the answer. It usually only takes a few “ballet” swings before hitters realize they are being too cautious and gradually amp up the violence in their swings without any further instruction from me. Before long, they are saying “baseball” after every ball they hit.
This observation technique quickly convinces hitters that it is possible to maintain solid hitting mechanics (a beautiful swing), without sacrificing power. At some point, all great hitters learn to trust the mechanics they worked so hard to perfect. They enter the batter’s box focused ony on being confident and aggressive. One of my favorite hitters is Dustin Pedroia of the Boston Red Sox. Pedroia is a small guy, but he has one of the fastest bats and most violent swings in major league baseball. Here is a link to a video of Pedroia showing off his “baseball” swing:
Not only is hitting with controlled violence the best way to generate more extra base hits, it is more fun. Hitters who step in the batter’s box with an aggressive attitude are more successful than hitters who are passive. I tell my hitters that just because the pitcher starts with the ball, it doesn’t mean that he or she is in control. Pitchers quickly recognize aggressive hitters by the way they set up in the batter’s box, or how they take practice swings. When pitchers see hitters take swings like Dustin Pedroia, it absolutely changes the way they think and the way they pitch. When this happens, the hitter is now in control. That’s “baseball”!