Inside Pitch Magazine, January/February 2021

Ground Rules: 'Glamour' Baseball Can't Replace Development

by Jonathan Gehris
Infield Ground BallIn today’s baseball landscape we can see the effects of the baseball-specific training facility. We have guys throwing 100 mph in high school and becoming versed in simulated hitting technology to track things like launch angle and exit velocity. However, for every player like this we have 50 that throw about 82 and don’t have the physicality to focus on launch angle. This is becoming all too common: parents being lured to gadgets for increases instead of fundamentals being drilled and money spent on strength and conditioning. Parents are being held hostage to pay thousands in travel baseball expenses just to feel like they are giving their child a chance to get a scholarship. The perceived choices are to get in line, pay your dues, and hope with enough unique training you can land 25% at a baseball powerhouse or develop your game by more traditional methods.

Old school, blue collar, hard work isn’t sexy. It might not get you drafted in the first round and you might not land 25% upon graduation, but it makes you a better player. This mentality is now not the norm and takes some convincing today. You have to be able to see past that sweet Instagram post with pictures of the university. Having done this for over 13 years, you start to wonder whether people are seeing the same thing. Athlete upon athlete rushing to go somewhere and in the process families are spending more than the cost of tuition to try and make this dream a reality. For every player who can effectively use weighted baseballs, there are many who cannot. For every hitter trying to be a dead pull, tank machine, there are far more who can’t generate enough strength to catch up to good fastballs and who haven’t spent enough time recognizing their zone as a hitter. Therefore, we are left with players that won’t buy in or learn to hit backside. The bunt, which used to be a weapon, is now a thing done by guys who “can’t hit.” College coaches should not have to be teaching guys how to bunt or execute a hit and run. The game has to be taught at the lower levels. Perspectives have to be changed.

Today, we have seen a massive increase in injuries. We have a large percentage of players that won’t make it out of the fall season as a freshman in college. A large percentage of players will play sparingly for their first couple of years at college. Some will quit, some will transfer, others will grit it out. I sit back and wonder where we have failed the kids. Are we not better served focusing on strength and conditioning? Focusing on good throwing programs and repeatable motions on the mound? Teaching feel and athleticism? Encouraging competition? Teaching players to pitch, not just throw? To battle at-bats, to hunt for speeds, to know pitches they can handle and those they cannot? Shouldn’t we, as high school coaches, try and help players make sound decisions – look at smaller schools, junior colleges, and to carefully offer input on “extra help/lessons?” The can’t-miss prospect is just that; for the rest it's about finding the best fit. At the end of the day the families will do as they want, based on what is best for them. I am just hoping we can take a step back from the direction this great game is headed and realize we have underdeveloped and overexposed our players. Too many pitches, too many lessons, too much focus on fluff. We need to get back to basics.

Old school baseball – running out every ball, hustling on and off the field, competing in practice, battling in the batter’s box, taking pride in defense, throwing through your cutoff man, and challenging hitters – is still the standard. The best college programs do it well. The best professional players do it well. That's good enough for me.

About Coach Gehris:
• 14th season as a head high school coach
• Over 60 former players played college ball
• Four players signed pro contracts
• Has had three HS All-Americans
• Has had 10 All-State players
• His teams have won a state championship and lost a state championship
• 14-year ABCA member

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