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For Fans Who Should Know Better

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Mudville: September 29, 2023 2:07 pm PDT

BY KEVIN KERNAN

Getting to the heart of the situation is what life is all about.

That goes for baseball, too; especially baseball.

There’s nothing better here at Baseball or Bust than finding true baseball people wanting to teach the game in the right way to young players. That’s the game’s future. Learn how to play the game with the proper foundation and everything after that will fall into place.

Your talent will take you as far as you can go.

That’s why it’s so encouraging to see people who’ve been in the game for so long make the effort to give back in the hopes of passing the game on in the right direction. Baseball needs that now more than ever. Pass that along and you have accomplished something that will have long-lasting, positive results.

And that’s not that easy to do in this day and age. What baseball instruction can you truly trust in a world of so many charlatans? But there is something special coming up Feb. 18 in Delaware. More on that in a bit.

Are you being taught baseball or are you being taught gimmicks?

That’s a question parents have to ask themselves more and more these days.

If you find that travel coach who can teach and has the best interests of your young baseball or softball player at heart, and is not just out to make a quick buck, you’re one of the lucky ones. And I speak from experience – having three children, who are now all grown up, travel that path.

We cannot forget that failure is a great teacher in baseball. Learn from failure. Those are three words I would offer most to young players: Learn from failure.

After spending so many years in spring training, with another one about to start soon, right after the Super Bowl this Sunday, it was always fun for me to pick up little tidbits of success, small things that meant a lot – like Tony Gwynn’s simple wiffle ball drill where he would set up a tee and have a bucket of wiffle balls at his side. He would then take a net, or you could do this in front of a wall or a garage door, set the tee up, and hit wiffle balls into the net – which was about 10 feet in front.

If Tony’s swing was right where he wanted it to be, he would hit the wiffle ball and it would bound off the net and then come spinning back directly to the tee, practically a straight line.

If something was off in his swing, say he might hook the ball a bit, he would get immediate low-tech feedback because the wiffle ball would be spinning and not come anywhere near the tee on its return trip.

Pure simplicity, and you package that with the Hall of Famer’s in-depth video study of his swing, along with a world of talent – and you have yourself eight batting titles.

Again, a small drill built on fundamentals.

On the pitching mound, it was always fun to watch Rick Peterson do a number of easy, simple drills to unlock keys of success for his pitchers and to make the pitching motion more fluid, more rhythmic.

It’s not throwing, Peterson is fond of saying, it’s pitching.

Tony Gwynn and his trusty Wiffle ball. (Getty)

In the search to return the game to some basic fundamentals, scouts like Will George of the Rockies, Brandon Duckworth, a Yankees major league scout who also scouts in Japan and Korea, and Jesse Levis, who was a longtime scout with the Phillies, are putting together a pitching, hitting, and catching clinic on Saturday, Feb. 18 at the indoor facility at Sports at the Beach in Georgetown, Delaware, along with former high school athletic director and baseball coach Dave Doherty.

Doherty runs the 8,800 square foot indoor facility and also was one of the first travel ball coaches in Delaware. The four men will hit the ground running in a grass roots kind of way with a small number of participants. There will be two sessions, each three hours long, one for 12 and under and one for those 13 and up. Essentially it’s a Little League size field group session and a regulation size field group, with the ability to add individual instruction after the two sessions are complete.

“It’s a game-changer when you go 60-90 and I think that’s where half the kids fall out,’’ Duckworth told BallNine. “The game becomes too hard and they don’t want to battle through anything. As parents in general, all too often we get caught up in ‘my kid has to be on this team and that team.’ No, they just need to play and develop, everybody is going to develop differently.’’

Wise words. We cannot forget that failure is a great teacher in baseball. Learn from failure. Those are three words I would offer most to young players: Learn from failure.

Don’t be afraid to fail. That’s the beginning of learning to make the necessary adjustments baseball encourages you to make. That is the essence of the game.

This has to be the best baseball bargain out there for parents at only $75 per session. For further information you can call Doherty at (302) 236-9268 or email him at daddart@yahoo.com. If interested, I wouldn’t wait.

When I found out about this amazing clinic on Wednesday morning I wanted to reach out to the instructors to learn why they wanted to do such a thing. There is a lot of baseball wisdom here and this story has a lot more importance than one Saturday baseball clinic, so read carefully.

This is Baseball.

Brandon Duckworth #56 of the Boston Red Sox prepares to pitch the final inning against the Florida Marlins at Roger Dean Stadium on March 24, 2011 in Jupiter, Florida. (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)

“First and foremost, these kids need to learn the game itself, the nuances of it,’’ said Duckworth, who pitched eight seasons in the majors with the Phillies, Astros, and Royals. “Understand positioning. Understand where they have to be. Realize that every position is difficult in its own right. Understand how the game works.’’

He added that it’s good for players to play multiple positions so they realize the difficult aspects of each position and that mistakes will be made, so don’t lose your cool when someone else makes a mistake.

The men all live in the same general area so they want to do something together to help the young baseball player. That is what this is all about.

“The value of a small camp means you are going to get a lot of individual instruction,’’ said George, a lefty pitcher who was a sixth-round pick in the 1977 amateur draft by the Orioles out of Pennsauken High School (NJ) and is one of the most respected scouts in the game. “I’m excited because these are people who are really good at what they do. Jesse is an outstanding catching guy who learned from Gary Tuck.’’

Gary Tuck was a former Yankees, Marlins, and Red Sox coach, who coached and managed in the Astros and Cleveland organizations as well, where he taught Levis what it meant to be to be a complete catcher at AA in 1991. Levis had a nine-year major league career with the Indians and Brewers. With the Yankees, Tuck worked extensively with Jorge Posada and was thought of so highly by Joe Girardi that when Girardi became manager of the Marlins, Tuck was hired as his bench coach.

“Then you have Brandon, he played eight years in the big leagues, and then pitched over in Japan; he understands bio-mechanics, he understands the wisdom of the old school, too,’’ George said.

“What we want to do is give the players a foundation to work on, this is like their pre-spring training. Okay, here are the things you need to do to make yourself the best pitcher you could be and the best catcher and the best hitter.’’

Building that foundation is what it should be all about, not just radar gun readings with a running start and throwing wildly against a net.

Gary Tuck

Gary Tuck #58 of the New York Yankees poses for a picture during Yankees Photo Day in Tampa, Florida. (Photo By Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

“What we talk about in our pitching group is that we keep chasing finished products without building the foundation that gives you the finished product,’’ George explained. More wisdom.

Baseball at all levels should take heed.

Again, this story is not just about a baseball clinic; this is about the way the game should be taught, the way the game should be addressed for longtime success and understanding of baseball.

Stop chasing perfection and start building a solid base for young players.

Life isn’t TikTok. And baseball life sure isn’t TikTok or Instagram.

“This is going to be hands-on,’’ George said. “I’m in my 47th year in baseball, Jesse is over 30 years, and Brandon is over 25 years in baseball.’’

Real life baseball experience on a Saturday afternoon in February. What could be better?

It’s important that this kind of instruction is passed along to the next generation. George noted that former Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr. and his brother David are doing excellent work, guiding talented young players in the Philadelphia area.

“We would love to expand this and do some summer camps as well,’’ George said. “We want to bring in, through all our contacts, real baseball people. That would be a lot of fun to do.’’

BallNine is all for that. More real baseball people in baseball is a good thing. AMBS is all about grass roots. Lessons learned are passed along to a new generation.

Levis learned so much from Gary Tuck at AA in the Cleveland organization. “Gary sent me to the big leagues, I had talent, I just didn’t know how to take charge of the game and work with pitchers, he pushed me,’’ said Levis, who manages a baseball facility called All-Star Baseball Academy in Conshocken, Pa.

Those lessons he learned 31 years ago need to be passed along.

“The earlier the better,’’ said Levis, who played his college baseball at UNC. “Learning to separate your offense from your defense. It’s easy to talk about, but to live it is another thing. Gary just made me more accountable for my game and how I really worked at the defensive part; that really separated it for me. I was always a pretty good hitter. Once I showed them that I could be a take charge guy and the manager didn’t have to worry about me day to day, that’s when my career got going. Phil Garner was a tremendous manager of mine in Milwaukee, he really appreciated my game. It should be a good clinic, Brandon and I go way back. We played together for a season a little bit in Scranton and Will was my AA pitching coach and I knew him before that as well. He was a big help in my career. Over the years we have seen each other a bunch.’’

Ruben Amaro, Jr.

Boston Red Sox first base coach Ruben Amaro Jr. directs the positioning of the outfield from the top step of the dugout during the eighth inning. The Boston Red Sox host the Tampa Bay Rays at Fenway Park in Boston on May 13, 2017. (Photo by Matthew J. Lee/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

The men built a long-lasting baseball relationship.

In a baseball way, they have been teammates for years so that is another good lesson to pass along. The game is a circle.

“This is the fun stuff,’’ Duckworth said with a laugh. “Instead of having to sit there and dissect every player and tell them what they can’t do, I want to be a little more positive at the younger age because this sport is so hard.’’

That alone is important, again people and parents really don’t realize how hard it is to play the game of baseball.

“I want the players not to be afraid to make a mistake, to learn from the experience itself because they are always going to make mistakes,’’ said Duckworth, a good-hitting pitcher too, who hit .221 over his career. “We’re going to be very positive with everything because all too often, when you go and watch some of these (travel) games, you don’t see a lot of positivity. Anything is possible if you put your mind do it and are willing to do the work.’’

Here is the bottom line.

“I want to make sure they’re having fun and are learning the game,’’ Levis said. “Also, don’t be so driven about analytics and thinking way too much. It’s a reactive sport.’’

It sure is. Smart words from baseball people who understand every aspect of the game.

Keep passing the torch of baseball.

45+ years, columnist at NY Post for the last 23 years prior to joining BallNine. Elected to the NY Baseball Hall of Fame. Former SportsTalk Host (KFMB), ESPN’s First Take and Cold Pizza contributor. Frequent guest on radio shows and podcasts nationwide. Author of seven books. Seen in episode 10 of ESPN’s “The Last Dance” (the one with Dennis Rodman). First baseball interview he conducted was with Thurman Munson. Now you know why he is America’s Most Beloved Sportswriter.

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