Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Why HS teams take infield

HighBeam Research

Title: Taking notes while taking infield Coaches can learn a lot by watching opponents warm up before games.(Sports Extra)

Date: 4/15/2005; Publication: Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL); Author: Bush, Joe
Byline: Joe Bush Daily Herald Correspondent

Terry Sullivan guided Lyons Township to two Elite Eights, including a third-place finish in 1996. Now he's a professional scout for the Boston Red Sox.
Both positions qualify him as an expert on an aspect of baseball that is often overlooked and, by fans, seldom-seen: taking infield.
The term is a misnomer, as outfielders are involved as well. Basically, a team's coaches divide the pregame tasks of hitting to infielders and outfielders for...well, for what? You might guess it is to warm the bodies and arms, and you'd be right. Partially.
Among the tradition's other uses:
"It imposes a little healthy pressure on kids," says Sullivan. "It's not only a bodily warm-up, it's an emotional warm-up."
"We just want to get used to (the field)," says St. Charles East coach Mark Foulkes. "What type of hops are out there? Is it a fast infield? Is it a slow infield?"
Says Batavia coach Matt Holm, "You're trying to show that you're a ball team."
Those comments encompass only what it does for a team when its side takes infield. A serious club hasn't begun when it steps on the field and isn't done when it's had its turn. It can pick up a lot by watching its opponent warm up.
Every coach can cite a game in which a tip picked up from watching pregame activity influenced a game-action decision. Sometimes the scouting makes a difference.
Like many coaches, Holm picks up a stopwatch when he puts down the fungo bat. He says that in a game in the first week of this season, the Bulldogs stole bases early and often on a catcher whose pregame throws to second base were slow.
Sometimes the scouting merely gives a coach enough information with which to gamble.
"We saw before the game all their outfielders gun the ball in here pretty good," Marmion's Jim Reiland said after a loss to Naperville North April 4. "We watched that before the game, so I knew, if that guy's accurate, we've got a close play, because I knew he was gonna get it there. I saw him before the game doing that."
Reiland took the chance that Naperville North center fielder Kyle Clarke wouldn't be strong-armed and on-target, and Clarke threw a strike to nab a Cadet at home in the fifth inning of a close game.
Holm has a similar story: "I thought the right fielder from Jacobs didn't have a particularly strong arm, and we got thrown out at the plate."
Different coaches look for different things.
"How are the outfield arms, is the first thing," Foulkes says. "Who can we run on? On cutoffs, do (the infielders) turn their bodies, or are they straight up?"
Coaches and players aren't the only ones watching. When recruiters and scouts schedule a date to see a position player, they don't want to take the chance that a ball may be hit to their target kid. Observations on speed, fielding, agility, grace, footwork, accuracy and arm strength are all guaranteed in pregame warm-ups.
Occasionally, because of logistical problems, one or neither team takes infield.
"We're very discouraged when there isn't an infield/outfield," Sullivan says. "We feel as though it's an incomplete day. It's almost as important to see infield as an extra at-bat or extra innings. The more veteran coaches are aware of these things."
What Sullivan means is, a scout's favorite coaches will follow these rules: don't hit balls right at the outfielders, so the scouts can gauge judgement, instincts, and footwork; don't have the catcher throw to second from in front of the plate; do have the catcher wear all his gear; do hit slow rollers to the infielders, which is, says Sullivan, a "test of athleticism and body control."
"Some (coaches) know we're there to see infield," says Sullivan, "and some think we're there because we wanted to beat traffic."
There are many different ways to take infield - which throws in what order, which base to throw to, cutoffs or not, double-play turns or not, and so on - but if it's done crisply and skillfully, or not, it can send a message.
"It can be a great way to set a tone before a game," says Foulkes. "To get you to start thinking. A really good (pre-game) can bring your confidence up. If it looks like you know what you're doing, it tells the opposing team you're here to play."
One last item lost in all the strategy and gamesmanship: it's conceivable that taking infield can make a kid a better ballplayer.
In a recent column on ESPN.com, Buster Olney wrote that it was no coincidence that many Major League Baseball executives and scouts agree that former Japanese major leaguers Ichiro Suzuki, of Seattle, and Hideki Matsui, of the Yankees, own, respectively, the consensus strongest outfield arm and quickest release. Both skills could be attributed to a quaint old idea still practiced in the Japanese major leagues but nearly forgotten in the top U.S. ranks.
Gary Denbo, a former Yankees hitting coach now coaching in Japan e-mailed Olney, "The Japanese coaches and players focus more on the footwork prior to the catch and throwing mechanics more than most American clubs. The Japanese teams also take infield every day prior to the game. It's a matter of attention to detail, as far as I'm concerned."

COPYRIGHT 2005 Paddock Publications
This material is published under license from the publisher through the Gale Group, Farmington Hills, Michigan.  All inquiries regarding rights should be directed to the Gale Group.

This document provided by HighBeam Research at http://www.highbeam.com

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