It has often been said a baseball season is a grind. There are certain days when getting through a single game or even an inning can be a grind. Mental toughness and the ability to focus is often the difference between success and failure as a player moves up each level in baseball and the disparity in talent is reduced. The ability to play in the moment and to process and anticipate what’s next in the game of people for my teams is called “this pitch.”
“This Pitch” essentially means our team is focused on the play right in front of us. It is impossible to go back and change what has already occurred in a game or an at bat, so we learn from it and move on. By the same token we do not want to be in the field thinking about our next at bat in the future. We only control what happens on the pitch in front of us. Can we play this pitch? Can we win this pitch? By winning the pitch, I mean did we execute everything we were supposed to do whether we were in the field, on the mound, at the plate or on the bases? In my experience when teams play together and are focused on playing only the next pitch, they are generally successful.
“This pitch” is more than just a phrase. It is an acknowledgement of everything going on in the game. You can’t play “This Pitch” baseball without understanding the many layers involved in a game. Inning, outs, and score are just a few factors that a player must process to play in the moment. There are myriad other factors (number and position of the baserunners, the count etc.) that determine what each player on the field must do in order for his team to succeed. When one player fails to do his job there are often consequences for the entire team. For example no one notices that right fielder backing up first base until he does not back the base up and there is an overthrow. When going through chalk talk one practice this spring, my players came up with 14 different responsibilities for the shortstop based on a single scenario depending on where the ball was hit. It is virtually impossible to “react” to the play and move into position if a player has not considered what could happen on any given play before the pitch is ever thrown.
So the question that often arises is how do you practice “This Pitch” baseball? In addition to spending a lot of time on the field working on situations, I try to inject scenarios into most aspects of a general practice. For example after a warm up round of BP, we may have a contest in round two on moving the runner over to third with a ball to the right side or scoring a runner from third with the infield back and less than 2 outs. We do these drills to keep the players focused on the drills. Players often have a tendency to want to get through a drill instead of taking the time to work on the specific skill intended. By using contests as a practice tool, it helps players stay mentally focused and hopefully gets them used to working under scenarios and pressure similar to what will be faced during a game.
The mental portion of a game is incredibly important as a player and team get older. Focusing on the details and executing a “one pitch at a time” mentality is a common denominator I have found in fundamentally sound and successful teams.