Gloucester Little League: Baseball Tips From the Pro's

Mark Grudzielanek: Minimize DP risk
As a second baseman trying to turn a double play, you can avoid problems -- like getting blind-sided by the runner -- by getting yourself in good position to make the play.
It isn't always possible. Sometimes you're going to be hurried or left in an awkward position just because of the way the play develops. But whenever you have a chance it's important that you try to square yourself up to whoever fields the ball with your left foot on the base. Then you step to the thrown ball with your right foot and try to make sure you use that base for protection. You want the runner to have to slide over the base to get to you.

Depending on where the throw is -- behind you, ahead of you, low or high -- you also want to try and push off that base, which provides leverage for your throw to first.

And, finally, try to avoid being flat-footed, if possible. Ideally, you want to be coming across the base as the throw arrives and flow through the play. Your body motion will help you avoid the runner and provide some momentum for your throw.

Mark Grudzielanek, an eight-year veteran who began his career as a shortstop, was traded from the Dodgers to the Cubs during the offseason and has helped Chicago take the early lead in the NL Central race.


Esteban Loaiza: Build arm strength
Esteban Loaiza: Build arm strength

By ESTEBAN LOAIZA


Esteban Loaiza stresses the importance of throwing a fastball to build arm strength. (Getty Images)

Establishing a good fastball with proper mechanics at an early age is probably the best way for a young pitcher to put himself in a position to succeed in this game.
Most important, throwing the fastball over a period of time is going to help you develop your arm and shoulder strength as well your velocity. Thrown properly, it isn't going to put as much strain on your rotator cuff and elbow.

Once you've developed that fastball and built your arm strength, you've established a good base. From there you want to improve your command of the pitch, the ability to throw it to spots -- up, down, in and out -- whenever you want.

When you've built up that arm strength over a period of time, then you may want to begin working on other pitches. The ones I'd recommend, to start, are a sinker and a change-up because both are thrown with basically the same arm motion as a fastball.

At that point, you have three pitches that you can throw to different locations and at various speeds. You've also got a strong, healthy arm.

Esteban Loaiza, an eight-year veteran from Tijuana, Mexico, got off to the best start of his career this season after earning a spot in the White Sox rotation as a non-roster invitee. Entering Memorial Day weekend, he had a 7-1 record and led the AL with a 1.99 ERA.





Rafael Palmeiro: Keep your front shoulder in
Rafael Palmeiro: Keep your front shoulder in

By RAFAEL PALMEIRO


The key to Rafael Palmeiro's picturesque swing is keeping his front shoulder in (Getty Images)

As a young hitter, the main thing to concentrate on is making sure your front side stays in. A lot of kids tend to open up too soon. Their front shoulders fly out, or maybe they're jumping at the ball too much. I use the front shoulder as a key. If the front shoulder can stay on the ball, then the rest of your torso -- from your hips down to your feet -- will stay in line, too. If the front shoulder flies out, your waist goes with it and you're not going to have very much success.
Even major league hitters, myself included, sometimes find themselves flying open at the plate. When you get into a rut like this, the batting tee can work wonders. If you pull off the ball when you're hitting off a tee, you'll usually hit either the top of the ball or the rubber underneath it.

You'll know you're doing it right when you're hitting the ball solid into the net. That positive feedback tells you that your front shoulder is staying in. You'll also find that keeping your shoulder in enables you to see the ball better and drive the ball better, because your head and your hips will be staying in, too.

The tee is an especially good way for young hitters who are beginning to develop a solid swing because the repetitions help you form good habits.

On Aug. 30, Rafael Palmeiro became the only player in major league history to hit at least 38 homers in eight consecutive seasons.




Luis Gonzalez: Relax and let your hands react
Luis Gonzalez tries to relax, pick up the ball from the pitcher's hand and let his hands react to the pitch. (Getty Images)

You would think that being a professional hitter I would try to analyze everything and have all sorts of scientific theories about the mechanics and fundamentals of striking a baseball. That's not the case with me. I try to keep things as simple as possible. I try to pick up the ball right out of the pitcher's hand and hit it through the middle of the field -- right back at the pitcher.
As time goes by and you build up more experience through batting practice and live game at-bats, you'll find that your hands begin to react to the baseball. If the ball's inside, you're going to end up turning on it and hitting it down the line or, if the pitch is outside, you'll hit it the other way. It just depends where the ball is pitched.

You definitely don't want to try to do too much with a pitch, either, because most times the pitch is going to dictate where you hit it. In fact, it's usually counterproductive to be thinking about how or where you're going to hit the ball. First, pitchers are not known to cooperate very much. Unless it's a home run derby, they try their best to throw the ball where you can't do anything with it. Plus, the more you tense up out there, the longer your swing's going to be, and the tougher it is to hit the ball.

So, again, just try to see the ball and hit it. Relax and let your hands react to the pitch.

Luis Gonzalez had a career year in 2001 (.325, 57 HR, 142 RBIs) and came back to bat .288 with 28 homers and 103 RBIs for the D'Backs this season before separating his left shoulder in a collision on Sept 23. He underwent successful surgery on Sept. 30 to repair the shoulder but will miss the playoffs.


Matt Williams: Catch it if you can
Matt Williams tries to get every ball he can reach at third base. (Getty Images)

A third baseman simply must get every ball he can reach. You know that the shortstop is going to be behind you, but very seldom will he have a better chance to make the play than the third baseman. If the third baseman fields the ball, it usually cuts down the amount of time the runner has to get from home to first and beat the play.
The objective is always to catch it if you can. Your first choice, obviously, is to stay on your feet, but even if you have to dive you're usually going to have more time to get the runner than the shortstop who is in the hole behind you.

One time I think it's better to let the shortstop take the ball is when it's a slow roller that the third baseman would have to dive to catch. In that case, the third baseman won't have time to dive, get up and throw, but the shortstop will be charging and have some momentum towards first base.

When I stretch out and catch a ball off balance, I like to spin around and throw. I find that to be more effective than than trying to stop, get my balance and then throw from a standstill. When you spin, you create momentum, which usually results in a stronger throw to first.

I let the play dictate the way I throw the ball. If I'm going to my right on a ball hit down the line, I'll throw overhand 99 percent of the time because I'll have my right foot planted and be able to get more on it. Going to my left, however, I'll throw sidearm more often because I'm already moving toward first and I wouldn't be able to get anything behind an overhand throw.

Matt Williams is known primarily for his power-hitting capabilities, but he's also won four Gold Glove Awards over his 16-plus season in Major League Baseball.