For many, the baseball offseason is not only long, but dormant. While there are some areas of the USA where baseball is played year-round, the rest of us have been suffering from cabin fever since mid-November, waiting for the snow to melt and/or the weather to warm up.
However, just because you can’t get outside, doesn’t mean you have to go into total hibernation. There are several ways for both players and coaches to continue progressing. Following are a few ideas.
Read Baseball Books
There are many, many worthwhile baseball books that are focused on improving your game as a player or coach. Perhaps the most important reading for anyone involved in the game is the Official Baseball Rule Book. I’m amazed every time I find out a player or coach does not own a rule book, and has never read it. If you are serious about succeeding at anything – be it a driving test, chess match, board game, or an athletic competition – you have an immediate advantage over your opponent by knowing the rules inside and out. Those who don’t believe this statement are people who have never read the rules, because you need only peruse 2-3 pages before you find something that could either win or lose a game for you. It’s also good for your case to actually know a specific rule before arguing it over with an umpire.
Further, if you compete in a league that does not abide by the MLB Official Rules (i.e., Little League, NCAA, Babe Ruth, Stan Musial, men’s leagues, etc.), then by all means get a copy of your league’s rule book ASAP and read it from cover to cover. There will definitely be rules that can adversely affect the outcome of a game — for example, player substitutions, speed-up rules, and bat dimensions are just a few.
After reading your league’s rule book, you can move on to any of a number of books focused on improving your game. The first serious book ever written on hitting a baseball remains fundamental to any batter’s success: The Science of Hitting by Ted Williams. Likewise, Tom Seaver’s The Art of Pitching was one of the first of its kind and remains a classic. However, there have been dozens of valuable books published on both subjects since these timeless titles, written from different perspectives and with varying degrees of detail. Some are packed with full-color photographs demonstrating proper form, and others are more textual, delving more into philosophy than mechanics. All types are worthwhile, in my opinion — in fact any opportunity to learn is valuable toward becoming a better ballplayer or coach.
Watch a Baseball Video
Since not everyone is a bookworm, and you can’t always learn certain things by reading and/or looking at a still photograph, a baseball video is worth passing time in the cold offseason.
Generally, I’d stay away from intensive examination of slo-mo video of MLB hitters and pitchers — an exercise that has become an obsession in the last 5-10 years among some dads and youth league coaches. Though it can be helpful to study the swing of Albert Pujols or the mechanics of Roger Clemens’ windup, for the most part it is an exercise in futility to try and impart a specific professional’s style on an amateur player. Everyone is different, and due to their physical makeup will have their own individual path to success. But more on that in another post.
Rather, try to get your hands on instructional videos from respected sources. Cal Ripken, Jr. and his brother Billy have put together three excellent videos that demonstrate the absolute fundamentals of playing the game. There are plenty of other good videos out there – all you need to do is make a quick Google or Amazon search on baseball videos, check a baseball forum for suggestions, or speak to your friends in baseball for suggestions. You’ll find some hard to locate, or prohibitively expensive, but most are affordable, many can be rented from a video store, and a surprising number can be accessed for free. For example, I watched all the Ripken Way videos on my PC for free via download from the New York Public Library website, and have watched a few other videos through my cable company’s “on-demand” free titles.
In the northern sections of the USA and in Canada, it can be next-to-impossible to get outside for any kind of baseball activity from late November through early March. However, most areas have indoor facilities of some sort — at the very least a basketball gym or fitness center. While it’s true that any available indoor facilities can be difficult to use while other sports (basketball, wrestling, gymnastics, volleyball, etc.) are in season, sometimes you can get access at an unusual hour (early in the morning or late at night) if only you ask. If not, the next best thing (and perhaps most obvious) is to follow a cardio and/or weight training program. Swimming and martial arts are also excellent activities that will keep you in shape. Finally, there is the old “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” option — by joining an in-season sport. Join the wrestling or swim team to build up your core muscles while also enjoying the rush of competition. Many schools have a “winter track” team, which in essence is a daily two-hour license to use the weight room and gym for conditioning.
In addition, the winter is usually the time (in the northeast, anyway) when baseball clinics and indoor camps are in full swing. Though not everyone can afford private lessons with an instructor, most areas have a local facility that holds weekend mini-camps and clinics. At the very least, you’ll get a few swings or throws in, and maybe learn something along the way. Not to be left out, coaches can also attend coaching clinics. If you can travel to it, a number are available at the annual baseball convention, but there are also clinics held by colleges. There are even some available online.
Some places to start looking include:
You will also find camps and clinics by asking friends and coaches, checking your local newspaper, or searching the internet.