The Forgotten Man

The catcher is the most important position on the field hands down. Some might argue the common saying that pitching wins championships, but a good pitcher is merely that, a good pitcher. A good catcher on the other hand turns average pitchers into good pitchers and good pitchers into great pitchers. Not only does a catcher handle the pitching staff, but they handle the rest of the team too. They are the on field general, they see every play developing in front of them and know what to do in every situation. This is why catchers often make the best managers for example, Joe Torre, Joe Girardi, Mike Matheny, Mike Sciosia, the list goes on and on.

My question is if catching is the most important position in baseball why is it the one that is ignored the most? Growing up as a catcher your main practice duties are catching bullpens, so many that you often miss out on swings in batting practice. Additionally there is never any skill work done with the catchers. The infielders get extra ground balls, the outfielders get their fly balls, you never see catchers doing blocking drills off to the side at a high school practice, it just doesn’t happen. But why?

The answer is that coaches just don’t know enough about it. Most youth baseball coaches and high school coaches don’t know enough about the position to effectively better their players and its a shame. It really isn’t that hard either to better the catchers. A coach can teach the catchers a very short list of drills and send them off on their own, here are just a few as an example. Have them pair up with a tennis ball being held in their hand with their pinky and ring finger and just have them lightly toss a ball back and forth to develop the proper catching technique. Have two people stand down the lines and spike fastballs in the ground to a catcher to have him work on blocking balls to his left and right. My favorite drills are simple receiving drills off a machine. Some machines can be cranked up to almost 100 and throw filthy breaking pitches, every high school program should invest in a machine like this it really is priceless. It can be used not only as a pitching machine, but for ground balls and flyballs as well. We all know that one coach who can’t hit a fungo to save his life and this machine is for him.

The missed batting practice is just something you are going to have to handle on your own time. Unfortunately catching bullpens is almost always going to trump you getting your swings in. When I was in high school I decided to build a batting cage in my backyard. Boy was that a headache, looking back it would have been easier and cheaper to just buy one. This batting cage will do the job. It’s big enough for front toss and tee work and will fit in most residential back yards. Just make sure not to hit too early or late to wake the neighbors.

As a catcher we are often left to ourselves to hone and perfect our craft. What you put into it is what you will take away. Catchers are born, not bred, it takes a certain set of skills and instincts that are very hard to teach. But if you are one of the lucky ones born with them it is up to you to polish them and perfect them for we are the forgotten men.

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