What's Up, Summer Baseball?
If you're watching a Ban Johnson baseball game and you think you're simply seeing a duel between pitcher and batter, there's likely more going on beneath the surface than you realize.
Almost every player on the diamond is using the summer season to develop some aspect of his game. It's practically a ritual for a college head coach to end a spring season in a chat with players heading off to summer ball, citing specific goals for them to improve upon.
Ben Pautler of the Milgram Mustangs, for example, has two specific goals this summer in the batter's box.
"I want to hit earlier in the count and work on my two-strike approach," said Pautler, a graduate of Rockhurst High School who plays at William Jewell College. "I'm really trying to eliminate strikeouts and that requires a lot of visualization and seeing breaking balls down in the dirt and not swinging over them. It's really just getting the confidence in my two-strike approach that I can get the job done and put the ball in play."
A pitcher, meanwhile, such as the Milgram Mustangs' JW McGraw, says he uses the Ban Johnson season to keep his arm strong, keep his off-speed stuff sharp and improve on getting ahead in the count.
"In the spring college season, I mainly worked with three pitches," said McGraw, a Columbia College player who graduated from Odessa High School. "I want to use the Ban Johnson season to incorporate a fourth pitch -- a cut fastball."
BJ players using the summer season as an opportunity to execute specific goals even extends beyond the pitcher's mound and batter's box. Edelman & Thompson's Nick Gavin, a William Jewell College player who attended Lee's Summit North High School, is looking to make progress on the base paths.
"My biggest thing is running the bases intelligently and aggressively," said Gavin, who was a designated hitter in Sunday's 11-9 loss to Regal Plastic at Macken Park. "I need to work on my reads when I'm on base, know where the outfielders are and work on my
Gavin's manager on the Edelman & Thompson team, Cary Lundy, is one of those college coaches talking to players about summer development goals. Lundy has won 376 career games at Park University and has won seven Ban Johnson League championships.
"The main thing I tell my college players is that I want them to play summer baseball," Lundy said. "I tell them there are no guarantees when they come back if they're not playing summer baseball. The only way they are going to get better -- is by playing."
As an example, Lundy said he might tell a pitcher headed off to summer ball to make it a goal to concentrate on strike one, to work on challenging hitters and to cut down on their bases on balls. But Lundy really has one specific big-picture goal in mind.
"What I want them to do is just go out there and compete," said Lundy, a manager in the Ban Johnson League for 30 years. "Today's youth and these youth tournaments, all they do is roll out their gloves, bats and balls and play. There's nothing on the line for them. There's more to the game than that. I don't think they hate losing enough."
The biggest benefit of summer ball such as the Ban Johnson League, the players say, is that it offers them a low-stress environment and relaxed atmosphere to better their skills.
Better yet, players can see actual improvement on their summer goals. Pautler admits that his two-strike approach has been put to the test 60-75 percent of his summer season and he noticed improved results in a 14-8 loss to YBC Baseball on Sunday at Macken Park.
"Of four at-bats on Sunday," Pautler said, "in three of those I got to two strikes. The first time I hit a home run, the second time I flew out to the outfield and the third time I hit a sac-fly that scored someone from third. In my mind, even that fly ball to the outfield was a success because I put the ball in play with two
And how is the progress of McGraw's fourth pitch, the cut fastball, coming?
"It's a work in progress," he said, "but that's what the summer season is for."