BSUK and GB Baseball team up for hitting clinic

Mon 8 Aug 2011

From BSUK Regional Coach and Club Development Officer, Liam Carroll:

I started playing ball in the GB programme in 1996. One of the biggest influences on all players in the programme at that time was Vince Garcia. In 2001 I enrolled at Porterville College in California, where I was coached by Oscar Marcelino, a long time GB player and coach. In the 2003 European Championship in Holland I played with Oscar's son Bradley, a GB player since 1999.

Not long before the recent European Championship Qualifier in Tel Aviv, Oscar and Brad emailed me to say they were going to be in London. Getting Vince down was an easy sell – he'd not seen the Marcelinos for years. This was going to be a no-brainer: I needed to get these guys on a field with some young British players.

Thanks to the efforts of Will Lintern, the head coach of the GB Juniors and BSUK's Regional Coach and Club Development Officer in the Midlands, at short notice seven GB youth players travelled into London on the 3rd of August. Also in attendance was Alan Dean, strength and conditioning coach for the national teams programme and BSUK Academy Baseball, Jonathon Cramman and Josh Saunders, both London Mets players.

The day proved to be one of the most fun and rewarding days of baseball I've ever had. As well as talking story with old friends I got to share knowledge with three extremely good baseball coaches.

The players not only got to spend an afternoon hitting baseballs under the direction of these great coaches, but also got to meet Bradley, an accomplished veteran of GB Baseball. The national teams programme is looking into events that will involve senior national team players with youth players in the future; based on the success of this session and the impact Brad, Oscar and Vince had on these players, great opportunities lie ahead and I hope BSUK can facilitate the events as we did this time, particularly from a coach education standpoint. We absolutely need to get more people on courses but the simple experience of talking hitting can be invaluable to a coach's development – and we can do this very easily. Thinking about the various ABCA conventions that I've been to, the clinics are great but it's been burning the midnight oil talking about the game, demonstrating techniques in hotel lobbies that are the things I remember most and have really shaped my coaching knowledge.

Thanks must go to the London Mets for allowing use of their field and equipment. For effective BP it's important to have loads of balls, so the buckets were full with the club's and some extras of mine. With a bucket set up on a chair (coaches don't pick balls up off the ground!) behind the club's brand new L-Screen, Vince, Brad and Oscar threw great BP (good speed, great location) to two groups of players, six rounds of swings for each player. The all-star staff was keen to get in as many quality hacks as possible with the primary focus being simply to take the best swing possible and hit a line drive. Efficient and productive BP requires everyone to bounce around – in typical GB fashion the players hustled around the field to get balls picked up and in the buckets. As Vince said, we don't need to have any “land mines” on the field, balls that are left for someone else to pick up and become a safety hazard.

We obviously want players to be great competitors in games; to get to that point it's important to compete in practice, so each group counted the number of line drives they hit. The first group set a good target and the second competed to beat them. The coaches hit after that and demonstrated that it's okay to have fun in practice, the type of fun you have challenging yourself and your team-mates to get better. Largely thanks to the Alan Dean, we hit the most line drives!

Throughout the session the players were given individual tips to improve their swing. Rather than stalling the entire group's participation by working with the live hitter, the players were pulled aside between each round. By just sitting on a bucket and listening I picked up loads of new ideas and different “teaches.” All of the players went away with some physical keys and verbal cues that will help them improve. Further, and of great importance, some of the messages reinforced the concepts delivered regularly by the current GB coaches.

To finish the session Brad, Oscar and Vince pulled some information out of the players about what they learned and provided some more feedback and advice. Oscar wants to see the players take more swings, giving them a magic number of 300 per day. Vince explained that it doesn't require full-on BP to achieve this; they can hit off a tee and take dry swings to get better, and just like we did on the day create competitive drills to make it more fun.

Brad talked about approach, explaining that getting a base hit is out of his control so his focus is on hitting the ball hard and having Quality At Bats. He also talked about preparing for his own at bats by watching his team-mates to learn about the pitcher and their plan, so that when he gets up he's lived through a few at bats already. If the pitcher has been throwing first pitch sliders in the dirt to everyone and you get up and swing at a first pitch slider in the dirt, then you've not been watching the game and are hurting your chance to hit a ball hard and have a Quality At Bat. When I coach in games I always keep a Quality At Bat chart, which can provide me and the players with a great measure of their success and contribution. An 0-4 day isn't necessarily an indication of a poor performance; the Quality At Bat chart might show that a player has advanced or scored a runner or lined out a couple of times.

2012 will be a great year for Great Britain Baseball, particularly with the seniors playing in the European Championship and World Baseball Classic Qualifier. I hope such an opportunity as this will be afforded to GB players next year, both to inspire the youngest GB players and to allow the Seniors to give back to the programme that has given them so much.

Below Brad has reflected on the day and his involvement with Great Britain Baseball. He's represented his country in three decades. We talked about how cool it would be if he can hang around along enough to play in a fourth. It made me think about the other families who've contributed multiple players to the programme, such as the Carters, Linterns and Marshalls.

At our clinic there were three Ratcliff brothers; as they continue to work hard and develop as ballplayers I wonder how many decades they'll carry on playing for Britain? Events such as this clinic serve to inspire and provide elite instruction and this will give the Ratcliffs, and all others involved in Great Britain Baseball, a better chance to follow in Brad's footsteps.

Bradley Marcelino is the Director of the North County Mavericks High School/College developmental baseball programme in San Diego.

“GB Baseball has been part of my life since 1999 and in my family for longer as my dad also played for the national team. GB has taken me to so many unbelievable countries in my playing career and I have tried to return the favour.

"The clinic at Finsbury Park was a great event to be a part of and I felt that it was just as important as any of the at bats I have had for Team GB or wins I have been part of. To be able to give a tiny bit back to the GB youth players was a great experience and something that should happen on a consistent basis. If we engrained a single thought/message/idea to just one of the kids then it was a success.

"It was an interesting experience to have my dad at the clinic, Vince Garcia who coached me as a 17-year old, Liam Carroll who played for my dad, and The Dean Machine (aka Alan Dean). I never thought I would see the day that Oscar threw BP to the Dean Machine.

"As Liam Carroll stated it would be great for GB, The Marcelino family and I think pretty cool for baseball to be playing in the program for four decades which could very well happen. Thanks Liam and thanks to all the boys that came out, we made it a great day.”

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