(Photo via the Flickr Creative Commons, thanks to Periodico JIT)
This content can also be found on WorldBaseballExperience.com, founded and operated by this column’s author, Nick Holmes.
Part one of this series, on the general differences between Latin and U.S. players, can be found right here.
Part two of this series, on the differences between Latin and U.S. hitters, can be found right here.
I remember years ago watching an SEC college baseball game with some buddies and noticing that all the pitchers had the exact same delivery. We all noticed and then we couldn’t unsee it. It was quite impressive honestly to see the same mechanics from the starter to the reliever to the closer on both team’s entire staff.
Arm slots varied slightly but the way they reached their balance point with no wind-up, high knee lift, toe pointed straight to the ground, and a quick take away was identical. “Cookie cutter” as a lot of coaches like to say and yet try to avoid. There was a time when that was the way many programs built their system of pitchers and hitters. This is how we do it at “X” University, and this is the way you will do it, or you will be gone for not buying into our formula for success. Old school.
Closer to the equator the pitchers all want to be Pedro Martinez with blistering fastballs and a bugs bunny changeup. The mechanics are raw the ability is limitless, and the ceiling for potential is high. Of course, it is. Why wouldn’t it be? No cookie cutters or formulas for anything.
They are all still growing. Still learning. Still applying.
“If you put ten pitching experts in a room when they come out, they will have agreed on one thing.”
“That one thing is they do not agree on anything.”
I only put that in quotes because I wasn’t the one to say it. No idea where I heard it, but I like it.
With the technology that exists today, we have hours and hours of video analysis footage and more data than ever before on the kinetic chain and its role in throwing a baseball. We have sports scientists, physicists, doctors and mental conditioning coaches. The fact remains that every human body is different and reacts differently to the tremendous amount of stress and pressure that is put on the arm when it is used unnaturally as it is in the overhand throwing motion.
Okay sorry, I am getting off topic; reign it in Holmes. This is not a medical thesis on proper throwing mechanics, and I am not going to open up a debate on anything related to pitching in general or specific.
My apologies; let’s move on.
Latin players continue to let the tools shine in the rest of their game as they do in hitting. Flashy glove work in the field. Acrobatic athleticism displayed on a regular basis. The flare, the pirouettes, the arm strength that makes hard plays look routine and routine plays look hard. It is the fun-loving style that kids grow up practicing on the sandlots while imitating their heroes. Bottlecaps and broomsticks; Milk carton gloves and tape balls.
In the States, players are taught very early on the basic fielding fundamentals in a well planned out orderly progression that gets regurgitated from one coach to another coast to coast. You are probably already thinking about the terminology that you have heard a million times and most likely used yourself. Triangle base, bend at the knees, not the waist, get in front of the ball and use two hands, etcetera. Coaches tell young players don’t do what you see on TV in fear they will pick up bad habits all the while in Latin countries that is EXACTLY what they say. “Do it like him!” (pointing to the TV).
The game of baseball has historically been slow to evolve in comparison to other major sports. I feel with technology and young progressive-minded coaches entering the world of learning and teaching that the evolution of the game is picking up speed and gaining momentum more rapidly than ever. There is more thinking outside of the box. Coaches may not be trying to reinvent the wheel, but they are trying to make it spin faster. They are willing to try “crazy” things to see what else we can learn from practicing that school of thought. Athletes are capable of doing greater things than fifty years ago so why not push them too with our crazy ideas.
As I mentioned in the first two articles on the differences between players of a particular origin, in this case, Latin American and North America. We are starting to see more players relying on their body’s natural movement repeating what has felt natural to them since an early age. More coaches are allowing that to happen within the player’s development and they are less likely to reinvent the player’s intrinsic movements by forcing them to change its natural course. There are still minor mechanical adjustments being made, and the visible red flags that lead to injury are hopefully being addressed. Coaches are making changes in their way of thinking, communicating, and executing the instruction all while learning more about themselves and their players along the way.
I learned something from a coach/friend of mine that we are all guilty of at times when observing or working with players or people for that matter. That is labeling. If you are labeling a player, you are not helping him. It doesn’t matter if you are predicting that he is going to be an All-Star or MVP at the highest level or labeling him to not make it past Rookie ball. You do not know for a fact one way or the other where he will end up or what that player’s final destination will be.
We have to stop labeling. Why?
Simple. We do not have a crystal ball. We are not wizards.
You do not know what that individual is capable of becoming or what his limitations are in the future. Athletes are notorious for proving themselves and others around them wrong, time and time again. We have all been proven wrong at some point with someone we were certain was “this guy” or “that guy.” It can be easy to say “I know how this is going to turn out” based on the amount of baseball you might have experienced in your respective field as a player, coach, scout, GM whatever. The fact remains.
You still do not know with 100% certainty.
No one knows.