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Notes on The BeTheBest Baseball Clinic, #2 YIBF Journal of 2015

Earlier this month I attended the 42nd annual BeTheBest baseball clinic in the Philadelphia suburb of Cherry Hill NJ. We live in an age when mountains of space are wasted on ranking teams' off-seasons before spring training camps have even opened.
I suggest finding out more about teaching the fundamentals of our beautiful game is a better use of time. So here are some of the highlights of an intense informative two-day gathering that warmed the heart and mind during a particularly frigid early January cold snap.

“We don’t go on because we’re ready,” Mississippi State coach John Cohen quoted Lorne Michaels longtime producer of NBC’s “Saturday Night Live”. “We go on because it is 11:30.” Moral of story – you are never really ready but the show must go on and you should improvise if necessary.

Cohen suggested creating DVDs as a teaching device for coaches. It forces you to understand the process, he said. Some of his DVDs are hilarious. Bunting is made fun when you try it lying down, behind the back, or with a paddle having only a quarter-inch surface available to use.

It was fascinating to watch Cohen and assistant coach Nick Mingiori lead sessions in a batting cage with two high school seniors from Manasquan NJ, the Jersey shore town of coach Jack Hawkins who founded and has nurtured the BeTheBest clinic.

In one of his sessions Pat McMahon, formerly Mississippi State pitching coach now working as an international scout with the Yankees, stressed the importance of the 1-1 pitch in any at-bat. “Challenge time, boys!” is what he calls it.

McMahon was one of several clinicians who instructed on the importance of catching, receiving the ball not retrieving it. He warned, “The best way to screw up a pitching staff is a bad catcher.”

Grand Canyon University coach Andy Stankiewicz stressed the importance of positive thinking in nurturing players: “Think well of yourself as a player.”
He cited the Reverse ABCs: “Conceive It, Believe It, Achieve It.”
(In his four years on the job Stankiewicz has overseen the rise of Grand Canyon, a private Christian university in Phoenix, from a Division II to a competitive Division I program.
Incidentally Dan Majerle, the former Phoenix Sun star, is now the Grand Canyon basketball coach.)

Ron Polk, a 1965 graduate of Grand Canyon who is now a volunteer coach at the UAB (University of Alabama-Birmingham), embellished the point about positive reinforcement with a story from his early days as third base coach for the University of Arizona’s grizzled longtime coach Frank Sancet.

In one game against arch-rival Arizona State, inexperienced Polk twice sent runners home only to see each thrown out easily by center fielder Reggie Jackson. Expecting to be chewed out after the inning, Sancet told him quietly: “That Jackson has quite an arm doesn’t he?” Moral of story – Don’t embarrass anyone publicly. There is plenty of time afterward to discuss mistakes privately.

The final-day speaker at the clinic was Pat Murphy, the San Diego Padres Triple-A manager who built a Notre Dame program from scratch and took Arizona State teams to the College World Series. One of Murphy’s themes was “team offense,” creating runs as individuals in a team setting.

“I am a member of this team and I will not detach myself from it” was a litany that Murphy delivered more than once. When a batter makes an out, Murphy has required that he return to the dugout by way of the on-deck circle so he can make eye contact with his teammate. As if to say, “I didn’t get the pitcher this time, but you will.”

When players are in slumps, Murphy doesn't want them to mope or whine about their fate.
"Go sweep out the dugout - that's how you get better," he tells them.

McMahon praised a “woodpecker mentality” as essential for success. He cited two great examples of such grinders among his former college players: Craig Counsell, his first scholarship athlete at Notre Dame who went on to score the winning run in the 1997 Florida Marlins World Series victory over the Cleveland Indians, and his Arizona State Sun Devil Dustin Pedroia who has become a Boston Red Sox mainstay and league MVP.

Murphy concluded with more inspirational thoughts: “Young players cannot conceive how good they are.” And the job of coaches is to be like anonymous offensive linemen in football – “helping players become their best selves.”

As you can see, there was plenty of nourishing food for thought on a very cold January weekend. More reports next time on the big late January dinners in NYC of the Baseball Writers Association and the 50th annual New York Pro Scouts Hot Stove League.

Until then, Always remember: Take it easy but take it!
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