Where have the fundamentals gone?
In the league that contains the most talented baseball players in the world, it appears as though the game’s basic fundamentals at some point got put on the back burner.
The first time this notion struck me was in the 2002 World Series between the Giants and Angels. During that series, mental mistakes ” it’s been too long now to pinpoint them ” not only were disgustingly abundant, they were evenly distributed among both teams.
Since that time, particularly in this nascent season, cardinal sins of baseball have become bounteous. It’s as if much of this generation of Major Leaguers bank on sheer physical ability bestowed upon them by the Baseball Gods. They rely on their talent to supplant their fundamental foundation, which, when lacking, is quickly exposed in day-to-day game situations.
And when one doesn’t know what to do in a particular on-field situation, or would know had they pre-thought the realm of variable scenarios, the result is often Little League-style execution that surely makes baseball purists shudder.
The following is an example of an always costly and inexcusable miscue that I have witnessed repeatedly at the highest level of the sport: When a base runner is on second, he must be sure that a ground ball hit to the left side is through the infield before breaking for third. If the player does break on contact, the result is an embarrassing easy out as well as a rally killer.
So why do players often bolt into an easy out? My high school baseball coach, placing a physical cause to a mental absence, would blame it on a “brain fart,” then he’d make the entire team run as a form of punishment after the game.
On the subject of base running, what’s with players looking at the ball while trying to advance?
I was amazed to see on Baseball Tonight last week a player who was rounding third rotate 180 degrees to locate the ball in left field. Although he wound up scoring, there was a fairly close play at the plate. There’s absolutely no reason to look back. Doing so is not going to quicken the time to the plate, and that’s why a guy known as a third base coach has a job.
It seems that nearly every player stares the ball into the catcher’s glove while attempting to steal second base. Again, that doesn’t speed anything up, and thus should be avoided. Watching whoever is covering the bag will indicate if there is going to be a play.
Missed signs, although more difficult for a viewer to spot, happen too often as well. For good reason; missing signs is about the surest way to lose playing time in the lower levels of the sport, where players play for fun, not millions of dollars.
Players under Truckee High softball coach Mitch Brown’s tutelage do not get away with those kind of mental blunders without repercussion.
“If [the girls] make a mental mistake, they’re gonna run,” Brown said. “If they miss a sign, there’s definitely gonna be problems.”
Then there’s the common case of running out, or not running out, ground balls or fly balls. Salary and overconfidence may have a direct effect on this one. The higher the salary and more swollen the head, the more likely a player is to stand at the plate and watch his home run that isn’t.
That must be embarrassing. If a player did that when I was in high school, he would never hear the end of the “power shortage” taunts from teammates. Furthermore, facing the irritated coach would be worse than the scorn of peers.
Bunting, instead of being second nature to the best ballplayers in the world, is practically a lost art form. Players with superior hand-eye coordination have no excuse for not being able to lay down a bunt when called upon to do so, yet it happens all the time.
Maybe sluggers feel as though they don’t need to practice, and managers think their players mastered the basic task at some point before reaching the Majors. Either way, bunting is not difficult when done properly, and it should not be a challenge for even the last player on the worst high school team’s bench.
What’s with pitchers not scrambling to first base when the ball is hit to the right side of the infield? That is supposed to be automatic, especially after pitching competitively for years. But it happens all the time, and there’s absolutely no excuse.
The list goes on.
The bottom line is that bonehead, Little League-style mistakes nullify the best of talent in a sport built on mental execution.
Sylas Wright is sports editor of the Sierra Sun.
Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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