Those of you who are like me are no doubt excited for the start of Spring Training. Baseball teaches us to swing for the fences. Though home run hitters get a lot of attention, the real stars of every game are the pitchers. The pitcher and catcher are in every play. You can play right field and not have a ball hit your way all day. I should know. I started off watching the dandelions grow before I got into pitching. I was never very good, but I loved hurling the ball right down the plate and seeing the batter swing and miss.
One of my favorite memories from Little League comes back to me this time every year. I was 10 years old, and at the beginning of the season when teams were still being decided the League brought in a baseball training camp for a day to give us some pointers and identify the standout players. The pitching machines for batting practice and fielding drills were cool, but the highlight of the day was no doubt the radar gun. Every kid, regardless if he had ever pitched before, had to try his luck and see if he could get the highest reading on the speed gun. There was a long line, and my older brother Mike was in front of me. He was a pretty good pitcher, and as he was two years older, he was also bigger and stronger. I figured he had a good chance to throw the fastest pitch of the day, as 12 was the cutoff age for that day’s training camp, and he was one of the oldest kids.
One kid stood in his way though. His name was Jimmy. He was big. Most of us thought he was 12 going on 30. And he went to private camps to play all year long. He was the favorite, and when he got on the mound he didn’t disappoint. I’m pretty sure (it’s been 17 years so my memory is a bit hazy) Jimmy threw his fastest pitch at 72 miles per hour. The next closest was 49. His form was good, but he threw a little high. I think every kid in line groaned a little when we heard his speed.
Other kids tried their luck, and no one came even close. Then my big brother’s turn came. You got to throw a few pitches to warm up your arm and try to throw your hardest. Mike got on the mound and his first throw came in at 53 miles per hour. That put him at second for the day, but still way behind Jimmy. His next few pitches crept further up until he had one throw left. He hadn’t hit 60 yet, but he’d come close at 59. Mike wound up and hurled the ball as hard as he could, but like my dad taught him, he kept his form correct and made sure the ball was right over the plate. He threw a perfect strike, and his speed was at his highest yet: 63 miles per hour.
9 miles per hour under Jimmy. Nuts. It was a better pitch though, because it was right through the strike zone. Jimmy’s 72 mile per hour throw would’ve been a ball on pretty much every kid in the league.
Then came my turn. I knew I didn’t stand a chance, but I hoped I would be one of the best 10 year olds and get to pitch during the season a bit. I didn’t want to go back to watching the dandelions grow in right field. My first pitch didn’t break 40. That was kinda embarrassing. Some of the older kids were standing behind the backstop, and while they weren’t allowed to outright mock me, I could hear them snicker. My second pitch was about 42. Not bad. Better than some of the other kids. Unfortunately, my next few pitches were slower and slower. I’d given it my all to hit 42, and my arm was getting tired. My control was pretty bad, but I was generally near the strike zone, which was good considering how hard I was throwing.
My last attempt came. I was feeling really nervous. But the one thing about baseball, and what sets it apart from any other sport, is magic. You never know when something amazing is going to happen. From Babe Ruth calling his shot to Willie Mays catching a deep fly without looking, there’s always the chance that the bat will hit the ball just right, or your arm will unleash power in a way it never has before. Every time you step out on the field there’s a chance you can be magical.
I was up on the mount, looking at how my feet were placed on the pitcher’s plate. I’d been taught that you can’t control the outcome of a pitch so you shouldn’t worry about it. Just control the things you can. Make sure your stance is good, your grip is sure, and you throw when you’re ready. I did everything right. My foot came up to a perfect 90 degrees and my arm came back just right. My left arm pointed at the catcher’s mitt. I pushed off with my back foot and threw with all my might.
I came within three feet of hitting a car in the parking lot. My throw must’ve been a good thirty feet over the plate. It was so far off the radar gun didn’t even get a reading.
Not every pitch is going to go where you intend, but that’s okay. We practice so as many of them are as possible are good. With spring training starting and opening day of baseball coming up on April 4, you need to get started on your training now. Whether you’re in Little League hoping to compete with the big kids or the starting pitcher for the Cubs (GO CUBS!!!) this year, you need to practice. A radar gun is a great tool for helping you improve your velocity. One of our favorites is the Stalker Radar Sport 2 Speed Gun. It is one of the most accurate and reliable speed radar guns on the market today, and it’s perfect for baseball and softball. If you stand behind the pitcher or home plate you can get a direct reading on the ball for unparalleled accuracy.
Another thing that’s really great about the Stalker Sport 2 is its range. Unlike many radar guns, you don’t have to be right behind home to get a reading. You can get the speed on a baseball up to 300 feet away! This is great for everyone from baseball scouts, who tend to be in the stands rather than right behind home plate, to little league coaches. It’s tripod mountable too, which is really helpful for pitching coaches who need to be working with the pitcher rather than holding a radar gun. The Stalker 2 Radar Gun also keeps track of the last five pitches, so you can set it, see a few pitches and give tips on form and control, then go back and check the speeds.
If you put in the time to practice, I have no doubt you’ll find a little magic on the diamond this year. Enjoy the upcoming baseball season. No doubt it’ll be one to remember!
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