There are several key movements in a baseball swing. Setup, negative movement (or load) w/ stride, toe touch, linear movement, heal plant, connection, rotation, contact and finish are all keys to a great swing. To make consistent solid contact each part of the swing is important. That is to say, to be successful through each phase the hitter must perform the preceding action to a level that allows for success.
Here is an overview of lesson one.
Step into the batters box; put the bat in your left hand. Touch the middle of the plate – slight lean in. We touch the middle of the plate to check and make sure we are balanced, and the proper distance away from the plate. If the hitter is too close to the plate or too far from the plate the young hitter may not have good plate coverage when in the “contact” position.
Feet in setup
Make sure your feet are about shoulder width (or a little wider) apart. Make sure your feet are square. Do not have one or both feet pointing in or out, but straight ahead. Make sure your feet are inline with the pitcher. This is what you would call an even stance. If I was giving a first time hitting lesson in the middle of the season I would allow some leeway in having a little bit of a closed or open stance. I would allow this till I got to know the hitter a little better, or until I determined that a variation in the stance was the cause or result of some other problem with their swing.
Hands in slot
After touching the plate the hitter should then hold the bat with both hands in the slot. This “slot” area is an area in front of your back shoulder – not too close to your body and not too far away. The hands should be in a nice comfortable position getting ready to “load”.
Grip and position of back elbow
I call the positions of the back elbow and, now after years of careful thought, the grip a non teach. Let me explain. I grew up with my father preaching that I should line up my knocking knuckles. After I became successful in High School and then made a college team this grip became a consistent part of my approach. But, then somewhere along the way my dad gave me Charlie Lau’s book The Art of Hitting .300 and I learned a different view. After reading it several times over the years, I have now seen that there are several variations on the grip, from the “hit for power” grip to the “hit for average” grip. And those hitters can be successful in any one of a number of grips as long as the hitter is able to get into proper contact position (palm up – palm down) and then achieve good extension on the way to a high finish.
As you will learn later when studying the parts of the swing, the back elbow will have to come down and connect to the side rib cage in order to swing. If you start with your elbow too high, you create a longer distance that the elbow needs to travel in order to connect. If you start with your elbow too low then you make your negative movement or load movement too rigid or robotic and awkward. I like a nice comfortable position in between these two allowing a nice smooth transition from setup to load.
Head and Eyes Set/ Shoulder alignment
After you get your feet set and hands in the slot, the hitter needs to square the shoulders, get the head set, and turn the head so that both eyes can see the ball. If the hitter sets the shoulders square he/she will be more likely to develop and demonstrate discipline throughout the whole swing. Feet set and shoulders square sets the tone for good balance. If the shoulders are in good alignment early in the swing it will be much easier to maintain good balance (Refer to problems when hitter stands too close to the plate). The hitter needs to have his head up and turned so that he is in good position to see and track the ball with both eyes. The young hitter does not sit on the couch at home and watch a movie with his/her head cocked sideways and tilted so that he/she can only see the TV with one eye. And, his father or mother did not drive to the hitting lesson that way. No, you want to be able to watch the movie with both eyes and see the road and drive safely.
Remember your eyes are your camera. Your camera needs to be steady. If your shoulders are turning or if your knees are bending then your camera is moving. Think of your body as a tripod for your camera and get set in your proper stance.
Lastly open your mouth slightly – it relaxes the body.
Whenever I think of rhythm and how to teach it, I think of two things. First, I like to tell a story my mom used to tell. She used to say that if I had no number on my uniform she could still pick me out by the way I stood in the box. Secondly, I like to ask young hitters to look at the top of a pine tree far away. You can see it sway from side to side.
A hitter needs to establish a little movement forward and back called rhythm. Objects at rest tend to stay at rest. Hitters who start out in motion are able to time the pitch much better. This rhythm is a natural segue to the load or negative movement and should be as a gentle sway. Be careful not to bounce back and forth too much as this could cause you to load too late!
Getting into a good athletic position is important in every sport. When was the last time you saw an athlete who was consistently successful while being off balance. Balance is a vital part of the stance and swing. Teachers who don’t emphasize this do not understand it. Balance is the foundation that makes all the other absolutes possible. It makes it easier to develop rhythm and good weight shift, stride and linear movement. Balance starts with the feet. I start by placing the feet just a little wider than shoulder width apart and your weight slightly on the balls of your feet. Knees should be set inside your feet to allow weight to be supported by the inside leg muscles.
The Key thing is to find a position that allows you to be completely balanced and to shift your weight easily back toward the catcher and forward toward the pitcher as you swing. Guard against making your stance too wide. The wider the stance the more difficult it is to transfer your weight during the swing.
Next you are ready to start working on your load / stride and linear movement in lesson two.
All hitters will have a different looks. I do not to use a cookie cutter approach to create and recreate hitters!