Archive for May, 2007

In the blink of an eye…

Wednesday, May 9th, 2007

… life changes!

Thanks to many of you who expressed concern about my back injury.  I wanted to blog about it here and keep everyone up to date about what’s going on.  It’s worse than anticipated.

I’ve had back troubles a lot over the past 15 years.  I’ve had a herniated disk and other issues but, nothing has ever been this painful for this long.  So, I got it checked out.   X-rays turned up negative.   So, an MRI was recommended.   I’m not a big fan of MRI’s.. that tube thing they put you in is like a casket.  Now I know what it’ll feel like when I’m dead and buried.

The MRI turned up something pretty severe and dangerous.   I have a bulging disk in my lower left side that is pinching against my spine.  This is causing severe pain up and down my body, all through my legs and making me very sore/immobile.   The doctor told me the location of the pinch is incredibly close to the place in the spine that controls bodily functions.  Had it gotten any worse, I could’ve lost control of myself in ways I don’t want to imagine.

Physical therapy and treatments are the conservative approach to this.  We’re hoping this will take care of it and keep it in check.  Surgery is the other alternative but, is considered to be more drastic.  Obviously, that is the last resort.

Needless to say, pitching is NOT recommended for me for a while.  A couple weeks at a minimum.  I plan to keep coaching throughout but, my physical demonstrations during the practices will be minimal!

game shape

Wednesday, May 9th, 2007

As I sit with this back injury, which is becoming chronic pain, one thing worries me more than anything.   No, it’s not my win/loss ratio in regard to wrestling Alex…  it’s my ability to go long distances in a tournament.    As I sit here, I’m pretty much unable to train, pitch, and play ball.  So, with each passing day, the summer gets further and further along and I’m not getting into mid season form.

It’s important to remember, there is a HUGE difference between being in “game shape” and “mid season form”.    Game shape means I can go out and throw 7+ innings without much of a worry.   Mid season form means I can do that same thing with pin point accuracy and pitches that move dramatically.    Anyone can get into game shape… getting into mid season form takes a lot of games, repetition, and innings.   None of those things are something I can do right now.

While there’s something to be said for not wanting to “peak too soon”.   Many pitchers throw so much early in the season that when the season is on the line, July/August… they’re already past their peak.   July/August is exactly when someone wants to be peaking and hitting mid season form.   Last year, I timed it perfectly and was in mid season form when the best tournaments in North America rolled around.    It’s going to take a lot more work to get myself there this year,  if my body lets me.


Wednesday, May 9th, 2007

Well, it’s getting to the point in the year where it’s harder and harder to say “it’s still early”. Pitchers should be in game shape, hitters should be fine tuned, and the games should be full blown fun for everyone. But, there are exceptions.

Injuries are something that happen naturally and often times it’s simply out of our control. Currently, I’m hurting pretty bad and I’m only about 10 games into my season. It’s not necessarily a softball related injury although it’s effecting my softball play, that’s for sure.

I’ve struggled with back issues for quite a while but, regular maintainence from my chiropractor has always done the trick. Not right now! I’m having X-rays taken today to see what’s wrong because the pain is becoming chronic. Bones go out of place, then muscles try to pull it back. The combination of these 2 things is painful.

There are exercises I can do to strengthen the effected area and I’ve been doing them. But playing with little Alex and picking him up a lot quickly puts things out of whack in a hurry. He and I spend a lot of our free time wrestling (he wins all the time) and now his victories are coming easier.

The reality is, when a pitcher explodes off the rubber and is driving hard toward the catcher, there are consequences. The force used when she lands on her front leg is equal to 7 times her body weight. This creates knee and back injuries a lot. If you recall in the late 1990’s, Mark McGuire missed a lot of games for “Jumper’s Knee”, which is patella tendonitis. This injury is common for softball pitchers.

So, what’s the answer? Well, preventive exercise is what I’d recommend. If you’re a pitcher who weight lifts, make sure you strengthen muscles around your lower back area and your knees. These areas are neglected a lot by pitchers because it’s not what helps them get more push off the rubber but, it will certainly be effected by that push if it’s not maintained properly.

a different world

Wednesday, May 9th, 2007

As I sit here at 11pm and watch the UCLA-Texas game of the college world series, it occured to me what a different world the men’s game of fastpitch is from the women’s.

Without a doubt, the biggest difference I see is the way the teams cheer on the batters. It’s amazing to me how much time, effort and energy is seemingly put into cheers, chants, hand gestures, and overall noise. While I’m all for a team cheering on their teammate and keeping themselves in tuned to what happening, it just seems to me their time could be better spent.

What I mean is, most anyone who plays the game will tell you that at a young age, players are told and trained to focus and not get distracted by outside noise. The same way basketball players try to focus on free throws and not get distracted by the people waving things behind the backstop. So, I think most will say they try not to hear that noise that everyone is screaming at them because they are concentrating. So, in essense the chanting is falling on deaf ears.
In the men’s game, the players of the batting team are not chanting and making hand gestures. We are trying to read the pitcher. Any subtle movement the pitcher makes to tip his pitches is what we’re looking for. It can be as obvious as the glove being in a different spot on the body for different pitches or as slight as how a forearm muscle flexes for a certain grip the pitcher uses for a pitch. When/if the team is able to “pick” or read the pitcher, a communication is relayed to the batter. It’s the batter’s job to tune out everything except the verbal keys regarding what pitch is coming. Pitchers are usually very good at reading other pitchers. Many of the great hitters will cozy up next to their team’s pitchers so they can help teach him about what to look for.
There are some hitters who do not want to know what pitch is coming. They would rather see it and react. But, the overwhelming majority want to know what the ball is going to do or what speed it’s going to come at. When you know what pitch is coming, that’s 1/2 the battle! In looking at the men’s softball hall of fame members, the majority of hitters enshrined were/are legendary at ‘picking pitchers’. Is that coincidence?
It just seems to me that if Cat Osterman can strike out 18 batters, those hitters were clueless about what was coming and how to hit it. If it were me, I’d like to think I’d take a little extra time to read her and see if she tips any pitches while spending less time dancing in the dugout.
One of the harder things to do is not let the pitcher know you’ve got a read on him/her. Otherwise, he/she could make an adjustment in the motion and you will lose the pick all together. But, the other side of that coin is… it’s EXTREMELY frustrating when a team knows every pitch before it’s thrown! It really weighs on the mind and can effect everything between the pitcher’s ears. There isn’t a better way to get into a pitcher’s head than to start letting her know that they are not fooling you by what they are throwing.

Of course, even knowing what’s coming, you still have to hit it. But, that’s another story.

That time of year!

Wednesday, May 9th, 2007

A friend of mine used to have a novelty Tshirt with a great saying on it.  “We interrupt this marriage for the softball season.”   Of course, this could be modified into just about anything for parents who sacrifice a lot for their kids playing days.    But, it’s that time of year again where everyone gets ultra busy with the softball season and it’s a never ending parade of tournaments, games and practices.

My season officially got underway 3 weeks ago, just outside of Las Vegas.  I had the following weekend off for Mother’s Day, then was right back at it this past weekend.  I won’t have another weekend off until after Labor Day.   So, for those of you who are parents that feel like life has running in fastforward, let me tell you about a typical week for me… maybe then you won’t feel so bad.

Softball will be on the schedule EVERY night of the week.  Mondays/Wednesdays is the women’s fastpitch league where Trine (my wife) will be playing here in Erie.  Tuesday/Thursdays is the nights for the Men’s Fastpitch league where I’ll be playing here in Erie.  Then, every Friday morning/afternoon I will head to the airport where I will board a plane for a weekend tournament.   Fly out Friday, play games over the weekend days and sprint to the airport from the ballpark on Sunday night to catch my flight home. Sometimes, if games run late… I don’t make the Sunday flight home.  This means an extra night in the lovely city that I’m in and a flight first thing Monday morning.   Then, it’s right back to the ballpark on Monday night for games.

I fly out nearly every weekend, sometimes it’s simply across the state to Philadelphia. Sometimes, it’s across the country to Portland Oregon.   Sometimes, it’s across the world to Europe, I’m supposed to pitch in Amsterdam Netherlands over the first weekend of June and fly back 3 days later.   So, as I’m sure you can imagine, with a schedule like this, by July 4th… I’m doing daily raindances in hopes of getting a night off.

All the while, I do softball pitching lessons during the daytime as kids are out of school.  Daytime lessons work well because most of the kids have rec league games or something like that during the evenings.   So, if they want lessons…daytime is it.

Somewhere in all of this, I have to make time for Alex where we play on the swings, go to the zoo and throw peanuts at the elephants, etc.   Then is the whole separate issue of trying to keep life at home stable while constantly at ballparks and in airports.  It’s not always easy.   In fact, it never is.   Whenever possible, my family will travel with me to tournaments, depending on where we’re playing and if there’s anything to do in the area.   If my games are in North Dakota, she won’t go.  If it’s in New York City… she comes.  It’s not about supporting my games, it’s about shopping.

So, just think of me sometime when you’re driving home from a weekend tournament and you KNOW you’re going to sleep in your own bed on Sunday night after a weekend of games… I could be stuck in an airport somewhere trying to make it home for the next night’s games!!

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