If you watched the 8th inning of Sunday’s game against the Athletics, you were treated to this at-bat by Brendan Harris.
If you remember, Harris flinched at the second pitch…which was a strike. You may also note that this was not the first time that Harris flinched at a strike on the inside corner. I have an idea that if Harris would stop shivering in his cleats every at-bat, that he might be able to bat higher than .200. Therefore, here is my program that will hopefully be adopted by the Twins coaching staff to help Harris learn to be a man in the batter’s box.
My program is modeled after this term used in psychology.
Systematic Desensitization: A technique used in behavior therapy to treat phobias and other behavior problems involving anxiety; client is exposed to the threatening situation under relaxed conditions until the anxiety reaction is extinguished (dictionary.com)
If you don’t understand this definition, don’t worry. The steps below will make it quite clear what we’re trying to do here.
1. Introduce Brendan Harris to a baseball.
Very simple. Pull Brendan aside in the dugout. Pull out a baseball from your pocket. If he shrieks and runs away, he’s not ready for Step 2. Instead, bring him into the clubhouse. Have Brendan stand on one side of the clubhouse, and place the baseball on the other side. Brendan should remain relaxed here; if he is still afraid of the baseball, perhaps today is not the right day to start the program. If you are stubborn, then have Brendan watch a baseball game on a TV. Point out instances when players are not afraid of the baseball. If a hitter is about to be plunked, cover Brendan’s eyes immediately and do not allow him to see until the hitter no longer shows any ill effects from being hit. If watching a baseball on TV is still too taxing for Brendan, you should probably just cut him from the team right now.
2. Bring the baseball closer to Brendan.
Once Brendan remains calm with the baseball at a particular distance, start moving the ball closer to him until he becomes apprehensive, then place the ball down gently to avoid scaring him. Remember, you must be patient with this approach. Any progress made during the day is a positive sign. Do not belittle him if he suffers a setback.
3. Allow Brendan to hold the baseball.
Once you can have Brendan and the baseball less than a foot away from each other, allow him to hold the baseball. Let him run his fingers over the seams. He must know that contact with the baseball does not hurt. However, do not let him attempt to throw the ball. A thrown ball may ricochet off an object and strike Brendan, which will then cause a setback in the program.
4. Roll the ball with Brendan.
Brendan needs to become accustomed to a moving baseball, and the safest way is to roll it with him. Sit about 10 feet away, and roll it slowly to him. Let Brendan catch the ball and roll it back to you. Keep going back and forth with the ball. If you are feeling confident and are not afraid of a setback, roll the ball faster to him.
5. Play catch with Brendan.
By now, Brendan has progressed enough for him to play catch. Let him use a glove, but keep the velocity of the baseball down. Perhaps a child should play catch with him. Have them stand about 20 feet apart, and gradually let them move away from each other after 10 throws. Once the child cannot throw the ball on the fly to Brendan, step in for the child. Stop moving back when the distance reaches 90 feet.
6. Pitch to Brendan.
This is the most difficult step in this program, since it involves the very issue that Brendan was having at the beginning. Let him stand in the batter’s box, and throw pitches at about 60 MPH on the outside corner of the plate. Brendan flinches at pitches on the inside corner, so avoiding that area of the plate is best. If Brendan appears to show confidence, start moving the pitches closer to the middle of the plate, and then gradually to the inside corner. If he flinches, go back to pitching at the middle of the plate. It may be a good idea to station Jon Rauch nearby. If Brendan attempts to leave the batter’s box, direct Jon to do everything in his power to keep Brendan nearby. Trust me, once he sees an angry Jon Rauch, Brendan would much rather have you throw 90 MPH fastballs 2 feet from his body.
7. Pepper the inside corner.
If you feel that Brendan has made significant progress with Step 6, then repeatedly throw baseballs on the inside corner. Brendan must learn that pitchers are unafraid to throw inside, especially to him. To get him game-ready, allow both lefties and righties to throw to Brendan.
8. Teach Brendan to pull the inside pitch.
Once Brendan stops flinching at any pitch that is more than half a foot from his body, allow him to swing the bat. Show him how to use quick hands and his lower body to not only pull the inside fastball, but also drive it to left field. If he can consistently hit the ball to the outfield fence, then he has passed this step.
If Brendan can drive the inside fastball to left field consistently, then congratulations! You have helped Brendan overcome his fear of baseballs! During the entire program, you may notice that Brendan’s batting average, on base percentage, and slugging percentage all increase significantly. Brendan’s playing time may also increase during this program. Now you may sit back and relax. Who knows, maybe you’ll get some high profile jobs with other major league teams! Enjoy your success!