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Batting Practice - the game before the game.

Batting Practice - the game before the game.

Batting Practice - the game before the game.

True baseball fans will always get to the ball park early to watch batting practice. Many fans, usually the younger ones, are there early for baseballs. Ball's drilled into the bleachers or balls fouled into bleachers. Other fans, older ones, come early to watch what players are working on. It's not just "hitting" players are working on. Batting practice, or "BP" as players call it, is used to work on many baseball problems players develop. "Running the bases, practicing leads, fielding ground balls, the mental approach, all part of the "BP" drill.

The "BP" scene consists of dozens of little rituals in a routine that is as much a part of a ballplayer's life as brushing his teeth. For the early arriving fans who dig more than the long ball, if he's paying attention he'll see quickly what part of the game is giving his favorite player problems. "BP" is the time to work on correcting bad habits players pick up.

"BP" has many rituals. One is the home team hits first, usually for an hour. Visitors follow for 40 minutes.(In the National League pitchers usually hit early at home). The time is typically split among four groups of three to four players with most of the regulars (or that day's starting lineup) in the middle group. The first batter in the cage for each group is designated group leader. He determines how many swings the hitters receive each round, making sure everybody gets the same number in the 10 to 16 minutes allotted. It typically starts at six to eight hacks in the first round and decreases. On every club there are "good" leaders and "bad" leaders. Some guys can't "count." Some guys need to be "nudged." There's always one or two players, after they missed or fouled off their last allotted hack, that screams, "wait-wait, just one more, one more.." they want to end with a drilled line-drive or ball off the wall. Many teammates over the course of a season have come to blows over.."wait-wait- just one more swing...one more swing." Every team has these pain in the rear "one more swing" players.

"BP" has a set drill. In the first round, players typically start with two bunts and run the bases one time after their swings. The hitting approach varies, but most batters use the first round to practice hitting to the opposite field and/or situations like hit-an-run or moving a runner over. While their main purpose is to get loose and get their timing down, hitters also want to enter a game with a positive frame of mind. Often players will take a bad "BP" into the game with them. That's why they want to end "BP" on a solid ball hit off the wall than on a pop-up. That's why they "scream"..."wait-wait..just one more swing!" During my playing days I used that line a hundred time. Long ball hitters usually save the 3rd and 4th round of "BP" showing off their home run swings. They dream up contests among themselves. The guy hitting the most "moon shots" will win and other players have to deliver him cokes or a sandwich in the clubhouse. Maybe even buy a few beers after the game.

The unsung hero's are the guys in front of the mound (BP pitchers) delivering to home plate, 60-70 mph fastballs the hitters launch toward the bleachers. The teams super-slugger, an Albert Pujols or a Ted Williams usually have or had their own "BP" pitchers. In fact last year at the All-Star game home run hitting contest didn't Yankee second baseman Robinson Cano have his own. His Dad was Cano's "BP" pitcher.

During Ted Williams years with the Boston Red Sox his personal"BP" pitcher was a clothing salesman who worked at Boston's famous Filene's basement. His name, Pete Cerrone. Filene's didn't have any problem giving him time off when the Red Sox were playing at Fenway. Cerrone always came to the park with a large collection of suits, sport jackets, men's clothing on large silver rolling clothes racks, that were rolled into Fenways clubhouse, and most items were bought up by the Sox and visiting players before Cerrone was finished throwing "BP" T. Williams. Pete Cerrone pitched and sold Filene's clothing to MLB players and Ted Williams for years. Visiting players loved coming to Fenway - they bought Filene's designer clothes at bargain basement prices. The years Cerrone pitched "BP" to the "Slendid Splinter" Ted Williams, Pete and Filene's dressed most players in the American League.

So let me suggest, the next time you plan a trip to take the kids, or family to see a major league baseball game, make sure you go early enough to watch "Batting Practice" - the game before the game. It's a "ritual" you'll enjoy - now that you know what to watch for.

Larry Upton

"Upton on Sports"-source:usatoday/mlb.com/

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By Larry Upton
Wednesday, 11 Jul 2012

 

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