Last game of the championship series, you’re up with two outs, the bases loaded and your team is down by one. You go to step in the box….wait, let’s rewind. Go back to your first day of training before the present season and how you choose to prepare.
Preparation is key
Any great hitter lives for the moments where he can showcase his talent on the biggest stage, in a game changing situation! The willingness to reside in this moment without fear of the outcome is what separates the great hitters from the good hitters. Preparation is the mental skill that great hitters develop which allows them to feel comfortable when the pressure hits.
Your very first cut off the tee should be struck for a purpose. Every swing while preparing for the season should be a building block for the successes to follow. Develop a routine that works and will put you in game-like situations on an everyday basis. Never take a day off! Any great hitter loves to hit, so taking a day off is out of the question. Master situational hitting. Being able to move runners, score runners from 3rd with less than two, execute the hit and run to perfection, muscle the opposite field flare to the backside when fooled, dig the 1-2 curve out of the catcher’s glove up the middle, using the entire field to hit, focus on hitting line drives (well hits) on every swing.
Great hitters grind out at-bats and they don’t give into the temptation of going through the motions during batting practice. Hitters should take pride in their batting practice. A great hitting coach makes batting practice meaningful for his hitters. Batting practice should never be a chore or become monotonous for any great hitter.
Visualization and Execution
When you take your first swing off of the tee during your preparation phase, pretend you are analyzing the field. See 9 guys in the field and prepare for that day’s pitcher. You can face him before the game by envisioning his handedness, arm slot, velocity, movement, breaking pitches, etc. Even if you don’t have access to this information, you can envision yourself against the best pitcher you’ve faced. Think about the soft spots in his arsenal and his likely approach. Begin your practice with this in mind. Visualize the location and how you think he’s likely to approach your at-bat. When you take swings, focus on hitting the ball on the barrel. Master line drives to every part of the field. Remember to address the plate in a consistent way, adhering to your personal routine. When doing tee work, you should move the ball to different locations and heights – not your relationship to the plate. You are getting prepared to hit any and every pitch that you are likely to see. This is a great exercise because it will illustrate both your weaknesses and strengths. Knowing what you don’t handle well is sometimes just as important as what you handle well as a hitter.
Keep your mind and body in-focus and in-shape
During the season, it’s important to maintain a proper and efficient workout program that keeps your strength and bat speed up to par. It’s good to eliminate any and all stress from your life (family problems, financial problems, and, yes, women problems, etc.) keeping a sound mind is also important. Try reading a book each night before bed. It is called a routine and you actually might learn something. Your passion to be great should be manifest in your commitment to daily improvement and growth. Develop a good chemistry among your teammates. It’s important to be respected by your teammates.
Avoid the dreadful nightlife. Many players get sucked into chasing tail and that’s not the only thing you end up chasing, you also become a victim to the 0-2 slider in the dirt.
Maintain a proper diet. You are what you eat. A baseball season can be very long to some players but to the great players, a season can seem awful short. So don’t take anything for granted. Use every at bat and every game to help get you prepared for the game-winning hit.
Dealing with slumps
Inevitably, even great hitters will endure a slump during a season. It’s simply math. What separates the average from the great is how they deal with a tough streak. Average hitters find it difficult to handle this adversity mentally, while great hitters realize it’s just a part of the game – stick to the process.
Slumps begin to snowball when hitters become complacent or exasperated. They quit working as hard. They slack off on their focus. Don’t freak out. Don’t stress. Don’t try to over-practice your way out of a slump. Simply regain your focus and concentration and let nature take its course. Slow things down in your head. Watch things travel through space and air (birds flying, cars driving, insects buzzing) or try listening to relaxing music. Walk slower. All of these small, seemingly trivial habits can help calm you down so that you can stay focused on the process and the big picture. Embrace the season’s hardships and good times. Learn from the many lessons of life that a baseball season can bring.
On your way to the park, it’s time to begin the process of switching to game mode. Its all business at this point. No time to grab-ass, it’s time to get focused and mentally ready for the game. When you get to the park, first things first, check the wind! It’s always good the check and see where the ball is flying. Wind blowing hard out to center was always a good day for me. Go to the dressing room and do your thing (trainer if needed, music, tape, get dressed). Once dressed and ready to go do pre-game, spend a little time with teammates bullshitting. Its always good to bullshit with your teammates. Get a great stretch, warmups etc.. During batting practice, get used to your surroundings. Check out the batters eye or any background interferences. If there is some disturbances, figure out what you can do to make them non-existent. BP should be crisp and accurate. Take smooth strokes to contact with seeing good results. Walk away from BP feeling great and confident. Head back to clubhouse to get dressed. Try and find some time to yourself to reflect on tonight’s game.
Getting ready to hit
When their pitcher throws his first warm up pitch, your attention is all on him. Figure him out quickly. Check out his arm angle. Does he hide the ball? What’s his movement like? Does he throw off-speed for strikes? What’s his out pitch? Any tells? Get your timing mentally in your head. If you are not batting lead-off, watch his patterns of pitching to different hitters. Understand who is the umpire. What is his strike zone? What can you get away with?
Now you’re on deck. Take your practice swings sticking to your usual routine. Preparation breeds confidence and continuing with your routine helps create a sense of calm and consistency, you’ve been here before. Work on timing off pitcher with your hands and stride foot. Concentrate on your breathing. Eliminate the bullshit outside the fence and in the dugout. Focus focus focus….
Return to the present
Back to our original scenario: You’re up with 2 outs and bases loaded and your team is down by 1. You go to step in the box. First, never let the pitcher see any type of fear or doubt on your face. All he should see is confidence oozing out of every orifice of your body. Eye contact with pitcher is huge. You can tell a lot about someone by looking them in the eye. You have studied this guy, you have your timing, you know his approach, you know the strike zone, you know his out pitch, you are ready! As the pitcher comes set, everything goes quiet. It’s just you and him. There is no doubt or sense of failure but only you knowing that you are a great hitter and you’re ready for whatever he has to offer. You are comfortable in this moment, because you’ve prepared for this moment.
Jason Kinchen was an independent league MVP and made a couple of All-Star teams in a 7-year minor league career. He won three minor league home run titles and was once NAIA College Player of the Year.