By Eric Johnson
It’s probably getting close to your school’s holiday break. Finals will be over with before you know it, and you’ll be free for 3-4 weeks. A lot of you probably have big plans for the break, but make sure those plans include keeping your game sharp. As a hitter, the hardest part of taking time off is adjusting to live pitching. The best thing to do over break is to get a couple buddies who are pitchers, and practice by taking live BP. Ask your coach about setting up live BP safely. It can be on a field (if you live somewhere without snow on the ground) or in a batting cage. If you’re working in the cages, make sure you back the pitcher up as close to 60’6” as possible, and try to find some way to elevate him, so it’s like he’s throwing off a mound. You need to be smart and make sure that you’re taking precautions to make sure that everyone is safe (helmets, room to move etc.).
As great as live BP is, most of the time you’re probably going to have to work solo. When you’re working solo, the tee becomes your best friend. Here are a few drills to work on different parts of your swing, using just a tee and a bucket. Remember, when you’re using a tee, always go for quality over quantity. The easiest way to develop bad habits is by taking 100 swings when you’re tired. See if you can get your whole day’s work done in 30-50 good, focused swings.
*Note – You’ll notice that every tee drill described will instruct you to set the ball up as a middle-opp pitch and try to take it the other way. I am a firm believer that pulling a ball off a tee is a waste of a swing. That’s my hitting philosophy. If something different works for you, don’t be afraid to adjust accordingly.
Set up the tee on top of the bucket, so that the ball is between your letters and your shoulders. Set yourself up so that the ball is like a middle-opp pitch. Your goal is to hit line drives to right-center field. Be careful NOT to swing down on the ball. Keep your swing flat. This is going to be a challenge. Our tendency as hitters is to dip the bat head on outside pitches. This drill will develop your top hand, and will help you keep a line-drive swing.
Two-Stage Tee Drill
This drill will help you build muscle memory and break down your swing into manageable parts. It’s especially helpful when you think you have a problem somewhere in your swing, but can’t figure out what it is.
Set up the ball belt-high, middle-opp. Get in your stance, and imagine the pitcher starting his windup. It’s important to visualize everything that you’d see in a normal game, but try to slow it down in your mind, so the whole process is going in slow motion. This approach will continue through the drill.
Stride and load. Freeze. What do you feel? Are your hands in the right place? Is the bat head at the right angle? Are your shoulders square? Is your weight correctly distributed between your front and back legs? Make sure you feel that weight on the inside of your back knee, and not over the outside of your back foot.
Imagine the ball coming in towards the plate. Recognize a fastball/curveball/changeup (your choice) on the outer half.
Swing. Make sure that you swing directly from your current hand position. Don’t load a second time. Freeze on your follow through.
Was your swing flat? Was it short? Did you hit through the ball, or did you roll off? Sometimes these questions can be answered by where the ball went. If you hit a line drive to right center, you probably took a pretty decent swing. But results will lie, especially when a tee is involved. Make sure you really reflect on how the swing felt. Break it down into little parts. If something went wrong, what part of your swing felt weird or different? Fix it. Try something new. This is your chance to experiment and see what the results are.
Try to only take 10-15 swings doing this drill. It’s slow and it’ll take a lot of focus. Concentrate on quality over quantity.
Attack Tee Drill
This drill will help you keep your momentum going forwards, so that you attack the baseball. Do NOT do this drill if you have a tendency to lunge or dive at the ball. This drill is best for guys who sit back too much and don’t use their lower body to hit the ball.
Set up the tee belt-high, middle-opp. Get in your normal stance. Stride and load. When you fire your back side, push off the inside ball of your back foot so hard that you actually bring your back knee up off the ground until it’s at least even with your front leg. Keep your knee in tight to your body – so tight that it’s almost touching your front leg. Here’s the most important part of this drill – make sure you keep all the weight on the inside ball of your front foot. Do NOT allow any weight to leak over top of your front foot. You should basically be launching off your back leg, hitting the ball, then falling right back down onto your back leg into a balanced position. Again, make sure you keep your swing flat and short. If you get lazy doing this drill, it’s easy to start drifting and get long. Be careful with this drill. It’s one of my favorites. Use it correctly, and it’ll pay off.