This is an excerpt from Practice Perfect Baseball.
Organize Batting Practice
Team batting practice is the most time-consuming and perhaps the most challenging part of practice. Depending on the level of play, there could be anywhere from 12 to 22 hitters to supervise. Unless you plan properly, this could be a logistical nightmare and could be boring or dangerous.
Most college programs have a fully funded staff, volunteer coaches, and even student assistants to help manage a baseball practice with multiple stations. When I was a high school coach, the junior varsity coach assisted me on some days, but many times I was on the field alone. Coaches who may be short-handed should spend their off-season recruiting volunteers from the school or community to help in practices. These volunteers can throw batting practice and hit fungoes. Perhaps you could find a retired coach or a former high school or college player who loves baseball and would enjoy contributing or giving back to the game. You should teach these volunteers how to throw good batting practice and how to properly hit fungoes. If volunteers can’t be found, you will need to teach a student manager or pitcher (one who doesn’t play another position) how to use the fungo bat. And perhaps you can train a backup catcher or outfielder how to throw good batting practice. Throwing good, firm strikes in batting practice is the key to a productive session. Even if you must set aside a few Saturdays to train volunteers or student-athletes, this will reap big dividends throughout the season.
For batting practice, the pitcher should throw from a mound so that hitters see as many pitches as possible from the downward angle. You may move a throw-down plate 4 to 5 feet (122 to 152 cm) in front of the permanent plate, and hitters will still be hitting in the dirt. Many sporting goods equipment companies sell portable mounds that you can move in front of the original mound, or you could build one with plywood. When using the throw-down plate and portable mound, the batting practice pitcher throws from 45 to 50 feet (13.7 to 15.2 m) as opposed to 60 feet (18.3 m). This helps the batting practice pitcher throw more strikes and save his arm. It also firms up the velocity so that a 70- to 75-mile-per-hour fastball appears to the hitter to be a more gamelike 80- to 85-mile-per-hour fastball.
To have an effective multistation batting practice, several pieces of equipment are required:
- Two L-screens, one for the field and one for the batting tunnel
- One portable batting cage for the field
- Two protective screens, one positioned so the first baseman can take throws from infielders and one positioned so the bucket man on the outfield side of second base can retrieve balls from the outfield
- Two throw-down home plates, one for in front of the permanent home plate and one for the batting tunnel
- Two portable mounds, one for in front of the pitching mound on the main field and the other for the batting tunnel
Make sure you use proper protective screens and strong netting with no holes, especially if student-athletes or student managers are helping with batting practice. I almost lost an assistant coach one year during short toss because of a hole in the net portion of the protective L-screen.
During batting practice, each station should be supervised by a coach or at least by a responsible senior leader on the team. The objective of this phase of practice is to get as many good swings as possible in the time allotted. There should be very little standing around. Every player should look at the posted schedule and know his assignment.
Table 2.2 is a sample schedule for a one-hour, four-station batting practice. Groups rotate every 15 or 20 minutes, moving from on-the-field hitting, to the batting tunnel, to baserunning, and then to defense. When coaches are pitching batting practice, the catchers are optional. Infielders are encouraged to spend at least half of their defensive rotation taking live ground balls and the other half taking ground balls from fungo hitters. Outfielders should play shallow and work on live reads off the bat. Pitchers should assist in shagging balls and should stay clear of the outfielders. Pitchers will retrieve balls that get by outfielders and toss the balls to the bucket man. Pitchers alternate between assigned fungo, bucket, or shag stations and conditioning or drill work at the coach’s discretion.
The field station in batting practice could be a competitive station if a student manager keeps execution points on a clipboard. The number of strikes thrown by the batting practice pitcher and the readiness and hustle of the hitters in the group determine the number of rounds a group will be able to fit in.
Every swing in every round should have a purpose. For example, in round 1, hitters hit two sacrifice bunts with a runner on first base, two cuts with a runner on second base and no outs, and four hits hard up the middle. In round 2, hitters hit one sacrifice bunt with a runner on second base, two hit-and-runs, and four hits gap to gap. In round 3, hitters hit two squeeze bunts, one safety squeeze, and three hits gap to gap. Finally, in round 4, hitters hit four balls gap to gap. The emphasis is offensive execution. Before or after practice is a great time to work with individual hitters on their strokes; team batting practice is the time to work on execution.
In live batting practice, base runners react to what is going on by reading bunts, recognizing the hit-and-run, and so on. Fungo hitters must be aware of the live hitters when fungo hitting ground balls. Safety and responsibility are paramount. Outfielders, infielders, and base runners should work just as hard during these stations as they do while hitting.
Put a student manager or volunteer coach in charge of awarding a point for each properly executed swing. Reward the winning group by relieving them of the duty of moving screens, cages, and equipment after practice.
A machine can be used in the batting tunnel so hitters can work on hitting the breaking ball. A short-toss station could also be set up in the tunnel. In the tunnel, hitters could rotate from tee work (hitting into the net) to the machine or soft toss.
A coach or manager should use a watch to keep the rotations on time. Issue a two-minute warning across the field to keep the groups rotating in a timely fashion.
To keep batting practice from becoming too long, too routine, and too boring, you may sometimes have two groups hit before team practice and two groups hit after team practice. This is a good way to have a short, crisp team practice on a day that you also want to emphasize hitting.
This is an excerpt from Practice Perfect Baseball, by American Baseball Coaches Association. Bob Bennett, Editor.