"This Much Is Everything"

Coach Penders held up his hand, and spoke frankly to the team.  "This much is everything."
An empty space of about an inch was between his fingers.  "The difference between us winning and losing, the difference between being good and being great... it's this much."
It's the little things that add up.  Execution, having a plan, and smarts.  For most of these young players, they are still finding out who they are, both on and off the field.  Part of being a good ball player is knowing how to make adjustments, and that's hard to do if you're still finding out who you are.  This weekend, the guys didn't make those adjustments, and they got beat... by "this much."  Competing means, that sometimes we lose.  Baseball is itself a game of failure; even the best only hit .300, and while we NEVER want to lose, we have to use the fact that it happens to grow, to be better.  These guys are competitors, and I think they will grow from this weekend.  They certainly have skilled and dedicated coaches to help guide them, but at the end of the day it needs to come from them.

Saturday was a marathon.

Reliever Will Jolin
No, it's not the 4th, it's the 14th.  The Huskies went down in the 15th after a three run top frame from the Bulls offense.  Heck of a way to lose, and an intense game with a few amazing highlights including a bottom of the ninth game tying solo HR from freshman catcher, Max McDowell.  Starter Anthony Marzi went 8.1 innings, and fanned 10.   Read the recaps for more info, it was a great game.

Saturday Game Recap:

Sunday was nervy.  
"You are as good as you believe you are, especially in Baseball."  -Coach Penders
The possibility of being swept usually puts fire into the guys, especially when defending home turf against a foe.  Nobody wants to be swept at home.  Sometimes that pressure makes guys nervy, or apprehensive.  This game had a mix of fire and apprehension.  It was good to see some players trying to  spark some intensity, and get things going later in the game.  Leadership and confidence are integral.  Some guys have it, and others don't.  The guys battled, and came within one in the 8th, but couldn't capitalize on bases-loaded, 1-out situation.  Again, they lost by "this much."  

Sunday Game Recap:

This will most likely be my last post from this trip, as all the main action has ended.  Today (Monday) is office work, and an optional lift.  We're heading over to watch a prospect player later today as well.  I'll go check it out, and if there is more to report, I'll throw it on the blog.  Otherwise I leave tomorrow, making the long journey across the pond to Lisbon.  

I want to again state just how wonderful this experience has been for me.  I've learned a ton, seen new techniques and drills, seen some things that we've been doing in Portugal which is always good reinforcement, and been around a ton of baseball.  Thank you to Coach Penders for allowing me the honor of wearing the UConn jersey, I wore it with pride.  Thank you to Coaches Jeff Hourigan and Chris Podeszwa for sharing their wisdom and making me feel like part of the team.  A very big thank you to Coach Josh MacDonald for hosting me, and to the MacDonald family for their hospitality.  All the coaches and staff at UConn and University of Hartford have been fantastic, really world class people and programs.  Another thanks to the EBCA for the opportunity to come and grow and learn from Coach Penders and crew.  The EBCA continues to do great work, and grow the sport in Europe with so many great initiatives.  Thank you!!!


Tough Loss

Game day is different than most days for the guys at UConn, especially on game days against the big rivals on the weekend.  The Big East Conference is one of the best and toughest conferences in collegiate sport.  This weekend UConn takes on USF (University of South Florida), one of their biggest rivals.  Friday night's game was tight, and was held at the New Britain Stadium- home of the Rock Cats, AA affiliate of the Minnesota Twins.  USF took and early lead plating 1 in the 1st, but UConn responded in the 3rd and took a 2-1 lead.  The lead held until the 6th, when the Bulls (USF) evened it up.  Score stayed tied until the 8th, when the Bulls pulled ahead.  When you face a team with almost equal ability, it becomes all about execution.  Doing the small things, executing a bunt, moving a runner over, making the routine plays.  It makes all the difference.  After a loss, there is a deafening silence in the dugout.  These guys give every bit of themselves, they are warriors and leave it all out on the field.  They hate to lose.  Let's see how they bounce back. I, for one, think they will.  That's all for now,  here is a link to the full game recap:
 and some shots from the day.



All Roads Pass Through UConn

April 18, 2013

The University of Hartford is NCAA Division I, in the America East Conference.  How I came to spend the day with their Baseball team is an interesting tale.  As you know, I am staying at the MacDonald Palace, who so happens to share his mansion in West Hartford with former teammate, and former UConn Assistant Coach, Steve Malinowski.  "Coach Mal" is currently assistant coach over at the University of Hartford, and suggested that I come on over to see how their program is run.  I jumped at the chance.
Here is where it gets crazy.
Left to Right: Coach Blood, Coach Mal, Coach Nemeth
Coach Mal now assists former UConn Pitching Coach, Justin Blood.  He is now Head Coach at University of Hartford, and has brought Assistant Coach Mike Nemeth on board... and yes, Nemeth is also a former UConn alumnus.  The whole staff... all went through UConn, and again welcomed me with the same signature CT hospitality.  We spent most of the morning going over Hawks Baseball philosophy and approach.  It was interesting to see the small nuances of difference, and similarity between the two programs.

PTPA Chart

The afternoon consisted of two main parts.  Outdoor workout on the field followed by a team lift.  Here is a look at the practice plan for the outdoor workout.
After warmup, the pitchers went into RF and began their throwing.  Up to 90 feet, every throw was a mix between 2-seam and 4-seam.  From 90 feet and longer they threw change ups, before they started to really stretch it out for some ELT.  On drawdown phase, they worked back in and once back at 90ft, they were back to change ups.  Then they shortened up into short work.  They worked middle (1 throw), in (2), and out (2), mixing in pitches.

"Have a plan"
Coach Blood stressed to all the pitchers, to have a plan. Every throw is an opportunity to learn something, is an opportunity to grow.  Coach Mal and Coach Blood then asked me to take a look at one their young lefty pitchers, who has recently changed his arm angle to submarine.  I watched him do his short work, and offered some opinions on how he might adjust one or two things.  We then went into some backshaping drills, and blending drills.   It felt good to work with a fellow submariner, and to see that he was getting the feel for his new arm slot.  I hope I was able to offer some insights to Barnes, and wish him much continuing growth and success. 

While the pitchers got their work in, the rest of the team worked on group or individual work with the coaches.  IF worked on steal coverage, while OF ran bases, hit in cages, or worked on reading line drives off a tee in LF.  Once pitchers finished their work, the whole team went into BP, and mass fungo.  Again, lots of pace, everyone moving and getting involved.  Great to see.  

Part 2 of practice was Strength and Conditioning, under the guidance of Coach Schwager.  I've included some videos of different dynamic warm ups and exercises, and was very impressed with how Coach Schwager commanded the troops.  Take a look.

I want to restate how grateful I am that Coaches Blood, Malinowski, Nemeth, and Schwager have allowed me the opportunity to learn from them, and see how they run things.  It's been astounding, just how welcoming and helpful these guys have been.  Real world class coaches and stand up guys.  Very thankful.  Tomorrow is GAME DAY with UConn taking on USF (University of South Florida) at New Britain Stadium.  Take a look at the website for more info, and follow along... it should be a great matchup.  Let's hope for good weather and GO HUSKIES!

In-season Strength and Conditioning

April 17, 2013

Coach MacDonald lives, breathes baseball.  His enthusiasm is contagious.  We got to campus early, as is usually the case with Coach Mac.  The whole morning was spent going over recruiting materials, catching up on office work, and getting ready for the afternoon workout/practice.  We spoke about offensive strategies, and Coach Hourigan waxed poetic on the virtues of "Guerilla Offense." Good stuff! The coaches also spent some time filling me in on the nexus of NCAA rules and regulations regarding the recruitment of players.  This week happens to be a "dead period" which basically means little to no recruiting contact with players.  NCAA uses this description:
"During a dead period a college coach may not have face-to-face contact with college-bound student-athletes or their parents, and may not watch student-athletes compete or visit their high schools. Coaches may write and telephone student-athletes or their parents during a dead period."
After lunch we got ready for the Strength and Conditioning workout.  From the beginning I knew this was something I wanted to see, especially in-season.  Once again, the UConn staff was incredibly welcoming.  As soon as we walked into the room, conditioning coordinator Maureen Butler introduced herself to me and encouraged me to take as many photos and ask as many questions as I like.  The room was all open for me to see, and to inquire.  Everything about their program is based on pair work, and on a system of stations.  Each player had their own personalized plan within a larger system of stations and routines, and pitchers altered their workout depending on their rotation schedule.  The focus of their program is all about explosiveness, and the workouts are designed with this as the main goal.  Medecine ball work, free weights, plyometrics, and ladders.  It was great to see, and everything moved like clockwork.  These players are focused, and the guidance from the staff was both stern and encouraging.

On our way over to the field we stopped off to check out their indoor facilities they use in the winter... I was blown away with how state-of-the-art this place was.  I mean, really impressive...
Coach Jeff Hourigan

We set up for practice, as the guys came out from the gym.  Another warm and sunny spring day in CT, and a perfect afternoon for Baseball.   Pitchers divided into two groups, one group throwing some long-toss, and the other working in the bullpen.  They needed to get ready to throw live for later in practice.  IF and OF split up.  The OF worked with Coach Hourigan on throws home while the IF worked with Coach Podeszwa on trusting their glove.  Here are some of the drills from the IF work.

Then the practice shifted into team work and live situations.  Pitchers threw live BP, while coach Penders put runners on the bases in different situations.  Much of the work was with a runner on third, getting runners to read the ball off the bat and work on their leads, and getting batters to focus on pitch selection and execution. 

After the live work, the regular rounds of BP began.  The rounds were identical to the pregame routine in the last post, and again pitchers and coaches were hitting fungos to IF so everyone worked.  Standing around on the field is just not an option.  It was excellent to see how UConn Baseball works out, and tomorrow I'll be heading to the University of Hartford with coach Steve Malinowski (a UConn Baseball alumnus) to see their program in action.  More to come. Here are some final shots from practice.

Coach Penders and BIG Penders. Great to see!

Big Guy taking some cuts


The Arrival and Game Time

April 16, 2013

Coach Jim Penders and I rolled into UConn at around 9am, and after a brief tour around the campus we headed to the office.  Assistant coaches, Jeff Hourigan and Josh MacDonald were already hard at work discussing recruiting and going over the game plan for the afternoon.  After introductions Coach Penders and I went down to get my uniform.  Since the very beginning the UConn staff, and the University have been extraordinarily generous, treating me as a part of the team.  I have felt included and integrated since the first second I stepped onto campus.  

Once back in the office, coach MacDonald went over their approach to recruiting, and what they look for in players.  We got into discussions about both the physical and mental aspects of baseball, and the unique position of the collegiate program to develop not just great ball players, but well rounded individuals. It was a great way to start the day, to hear about the theory behind the program, what UConn Baseball is all about: Attitude, Concentration, Effort.  

Coach Hourigan then went over their approach to hitting, charting, and the use of video analysis with hitting mechanics.  We took a look at some of the players' swings in Right View Pro, and talked about both good aspects of a swing, and some adjustments some players could make.  It was a great look into how they approach hitting, and the use of vid analysis as a tool.  I'll include pics of the charts they use as well.  Every game, players not in the game are charting.  

"Game day is a great day"

Agreed.  3:00 game means get to the field at 12:30.  We got to the field and players were already working to set up for BP.  Players trickled out, and they got loose on their own, many coming direct from classes.  Once BP started, things moved with pace.  
Round 1- Executions: everyone gets one swing and out
Split into hitting groups.
Round 2- Bunts
Round 3- Slashes
Round 4- Hit and Run
Round 5- Keep hitting if you hit the ball hard
Round 6- HWP: Hit it where it's pitched/ 2-strikes/ Runners in scoring position.

Catcher getting some work

The Barn
Coach Chris Podeszwa hit fungos to infielders, and those not hitting we running the bases.  Everything was fast paced, direct, and concise.  Great to see.

Inside the Barn
After all groups hit, players threw and kept loose, or went to hit in "the barn" to get some more swings in.  Pitchers worked on hitting spots from shorter distances, or threw some easy long-toss.  

Game Time.
To stand on the field, hat over heart, the National Anthem playing, a sunny afternoon in Connecticut; it's an honor to share in this experience.  
The Huskies took the game, showing incredible resolve after getting behind early.  Freshman hurler Christian Colletti got the W, and LJ Mazzilli hit a go ahead bases clearing double in the fourth.  
Full game recap and boxscore here: http://www.uconnhuskies.com/sports/m-basebl/recaps/041613aaa.html
Colletti fixing the mound to celebrate his W

Tomorrow is a lifting and practice day, so I'm looking forward to see how they approach in-season lifting and conditioning.  More to come.  For now, here is a video of reliever Feehan, whose fastball moves like a LHP slider... no joke, really unique delivery...

I want to restate how generous and gracious the UConn staff have been.  They have truly made me feel welcome, and it is an honor to learn from them.  I would like to especially thank Coach MacDonald for opening his home to me, and allowing me to stay with him.  Thanks also, to the EBCA for giving me this opportunity and setting up this experience.