8 simple tricks to improve pitchers’ mental strength

Parents, grandparents, friends, girlfriend, crowd, reporters, scouts … the World is watching you and observing your every move … the sun is warming you up, your heart is pounding wildly, and the sweat is pouring down your face … you have 60,5 feet to beat and you must not miss your target – an imaginary box with the size of about 2 times 2 feet … Not to mention that there is a raging bull standing next to the home plate with a bat and with a killer look …


Given the above description of a typical situation in baseball, one can easily imagine why Yogi Berra once said:

Baseball is 90 percent mental; the other half is physical.

Yogi Berra

Although the majority of sports involve some psychology, it is particularly apparent and important in baseball. The difference between baseball and other sports is that in baseball players actually have plenty of time to think about each action in advance – it is in that regard somewhat similar to chess. Because of all this spare time to think, it’s important for ball players to keep not only body, but also your brains fit for the job at hand. Below is a list of eight simple mind tricks that can help you become a stronger player mentally and thus get ready for the new baseball season ahead.

  1. Train hard and be aware of it

Make sure you train hard. Not only that – also make sure you convince yourself that you have done everything you could from the physical perspective. If you have not done everything you could, then start doing everything you can from the next time you will be doing it onwards. Once you can be sure of yourself and of all the effort you have put into your practice, your self-confidence will increase dramatically. It’s that simple.

  1. Know your stuff (variety of pitches, etc. – communicate clearly with your catcher)

Be sure you know your “repertoire” and that you are confident in all of your different pitches. It’s usually not about the quantity but rather about the quality. Make sure you train all those pitches extensively in advance and do not under no circumstances experiment with different grips or techniques in the game situation. Spare practice for the practice. That’s why it is called so in the first place. Additionally, communicate your “stuff” with your catcher clearly, so that he knows your repertoire exactly. This is necessary due to the fact that in certain game situations, especially with a runner on third, the catcher knowing exactly what you will throw can make a difference between winning or losing.

  1. Know your opponent

People often say pitchers are the most intelligent players on the baseball field (same often goes for catchers). It is not strange to hear this once you realise how much statistics pitcher and catcher (the battery) should be able to store and process in their heads before, during and after the game. As a pitcher, know every single player on the opponent’s lineup, study their swinging patterns beforehand, look at their batting videos, remember what they’re going after and which pitches you’ve been successful with against them. Go pitch by pitch, case by case, until you create a profile for every single player from the opposing team in your head.


  1. Visualise your success

There is a whole line of literature that deals with sports psychology and the mental preparation of the athletes. Elite athletes such as Tom Brady, Serena Williams, and Kobe Bryant use visualisation or imagery. Imagery is a skill you can develop just like any other and means using all your senses to create or re-create an experience in your mind. You can think of it as “focused daydreaming”. Research shows that imagery increases motivation, improves focus, reduces anxiety, and increases self-confidence. You may not have realized it, but you’ve probably already used imagery – both in your athletic training and in your everyday life. Do you ever think about a game or competition the night before and picture how you’ll perform? Do you see yourself making that final out to end an inning or even the game? Can you hear and feel the ball hitting the glove as the batter swings and misses it? If so, you’re using imagery.


  1. Get in the “zone”

Sports are like battles and baseball is no different. You can’t simply walk on the field and play a game, which is especially true for pitchers. You have to get in that special state, where you leave all your personal problems on the bench and walk on the field with a focused mind and in aggressive mood. Some people also call this state a “rhytm”. Many ball players like to follow certain personal rituals to get in their “zone”. Listen to a powerful song (rock usually does the trick) that charges you with energy, yell, pray or do your “haka”. Whatever gets you to that special place of yours where you are unbeatable.

  1. Imagine a tunnel

Roger Clemens, a former MLB pitcher, once commented that when he was focused, all he saw was the catcher, but when he lost his focus, he was “seeing the crowd, not just the catcher.” If you imagine a tunnel starting from the mound and narrowing down all the way to the strike zone and if you try to keep the ball inside that cone, then there’s no way your pitch will miss the strike zone. You can even get one of those tunnels or simply imagine one.


  1. Don’t forget about the looks

Psychology also involves how other people perceive you and what your appearance does to their mental processes. So, you might as well want to look sharp when you take command of that mound and try to intimidate your opponent as much as possible.

  1. Never ever ever give up

One game is only one game. The road is long, however. It is not so much about one single step as it is about the road and you keep moving on this road. Failure will come sooner or later, one way or the other. Just make sure you never give up and keep moving those feet of yours.


How Spring Training became an essential part of baseball

Every March millions of fans flock to Arizona and Florida and it’s not just because of the weather conditions. In fact it has little to do with the weather. Fans migrate to one of these two states to see their favorite baseball teams in action even before the  beginning of the season. There, they can even get a ball signed or a chance to talk to their idols. Spring Training is an incredible one-month experience. Only last year Spring Training in Arizona and Florida drew 3,172,910 fans to 435 games, which equates to an average gate of 7,294. This is how important Spring Training is to fans:

But not only fans, also the host cities devote incredible amount of effort and funding to provide suitable training conditions for the MLB teams. The tradition of Spring Training is around 140 yers old now. But it all started in a very different way. The first club that ever went “Down South” to get away from the winter conditions was Boss Tweed’s Mutuals, that spent some time in New Orleans in 1869.

However it is generally accepeted that the birth of Spring Training happened year after that, in 1870 when the Chicago White Stockings and the Cincinnati Red Stockings made spring trips to New Orleans, not only to hold baseball camps, but also to play some exhibition games. Compared to today’s standards, the early spring trainings were simple and far from fancy, but in those days the whole deal of traveling South was considered an advancement. Before the trips the trainings were done in local gyms, rented halls, sheds, rinks, or any other shelter available.

In the 1870s other clubs also followed the example of the White Sox, Reds and Mutuals. New Orleans was a favorite training base at that time, but clubs also went to other places like Washington (Cleveland), Savannah (Louisville, Pittsburgh and Detroit), and Charleston in South Carolina (Phillies). One of the main reasons for the teams to make trips to spring trainings was to get the players physically prepared for the season.

But one baseball legend reveals also another story. In February of 1885 the White Stockings player and manager, Baseball Hall of Famer Cap Anson spotted one of his players in a bar. The pitcher was wearing a too-tight vest from “living the winter good life” and downed several beers in front of his manager. At this moment Anson decided to take his players to Hot Springs, Arkansas, to “boil out alcoholic microbes” out of his players.

Albert Spalding, who was the team owner at that time supported the idea and later told a newspaper reporter:

I have written to a professor down there, and he is making arrangements to build a vat in which he can boil the whole nine at once… I boil out all the alcoholic microbes, which may have impregnated the systems of these men during the winter while they have been away from me and Anson… If that doesn’t work, I’ll send ‘em to Paris next year and have ‘em inoculated by Pasteur.”

It seems this “sweating out the toxins” worked; at least, the Chicago White Stockings won two straight championships, in 1885 and 1886. Soon after, the boiling-out process was considered essential for getting rid of the effects of winter “lushing,” as drinking was called then, and Hot Springs became a center for big league clubs.

1885-1886 Chicago White Stockings

1885-1886 Chicago White Stockings

It was about that time that teams went for the spring training to Florida for the first time. The first team that went to train to Florida were the Washington Capitals who went to Jacksonville for Spring Training in 1888. No northern professional team had traveled this far south before. The team traveled for two days.

As Connie Mack told about their experience:

“When we arrived in Jacksonville, four of our 14 players were reasonably sober. The rest were totally drunk. There was a fight every night, and the boys broke up a lot of furniture. We played exhibition games by day and drank much of the night.”

The team had quite a lot of problems with accommodation, they were turned away from several hotels due to their bad behavior and just for being baseball players. Northern players namely didn’t have a great reputation down south at the time. The Jacksonville trip didn’t do any good for the team, they had an incredibly bad season. After this, it would take spring training baseball 15 years to return to Florida.

But not all were fans of travelling to the South. Some claimed the players were subject to “sore muscles and cold” when they returned to winter after six or eight weeks in the South. Some players rather stayed at home, worked out by themselves and played in informal scrub games wherever they were spending the winter. The spring training in the South quickly started becoming an attraction and developing into a business. A. M. Gillam, writing for the Philadelphia Record, offered three dollars a day for short bulletins on 1887 training camp activities, scores of games, merits of players, and so forth, because he understood the interest people would have in the games. By 1890 a newspaper announced that the South was overrun with Northern ball players, and in the course of the decade spring training in the South was adopted by all major league clubs.

The man who truly redefined spring training was Ned Hanlon, the manager of the Baltimore Orioles. He brought his team to Macon, Georgia, where he drilled them for 8 hours a day for eight weeks. The team went on to win a pennant in 1894 and the two following years.

Manager Ned Hanlon (in business suit, center) with the 1896 Baltimore Orioles.

Manager Ned Hanlon (in business suit, center) with the 1896 Baltimore Orioles.

By the 1910s the spring training was already a marketing institution and around that time the Grapefruit League became an official league. St. Petersburg’s mayor Al Lang helped get a waterfront stadium built specifically to lure teams to St. Petersburg. First he got a deal with the Braves in 1923 and then with the Babe Ruth’s Yankees in 1925. It was significantly later, around World War II that spring training happened in Arizona.

The teams had traveled west for spring training already at the turn of the century, though. The Chicago Cubs were the first to travel to Southern California for Spring Training in 1903, first near downtown Los Angeles, two years later they moved to Santa Monica. The New York Giants, The Chicago White Sox, and the Boston Red Sox followed the Cubs’ example and spent the spring in Los Angeles for several years. The Cubs returned to South California in 1917, this time to Pasadena, and moved to tropical Catalina island in 1922. There they practiced and played exhibition games at a field that was an exact replica of their home field in Chicago.

One of the most important factors that contributed to spring training making its way to Arizona during the 1940s was the war. During this time, baseball commissioner Kennesaw Mountain Landis established the “Potomac Line”. This line was a compromise worked out between the Commissioner and Joseph B. Eastman, director of the federal Office of Defense Transportation to ensure teams would spend their spring training close to their home bases, north of the Potomac and Ohio Rivers and east of the Mississippi. During wartime the trains were crammed with supplies and troops, and in that context transporting baseball players and their fans seemed to be a frivolous use of precious resources. The Cardinals, the White Sox and the Cubs were limited to training in Missouri, Indiana or Illinois, the New York Yankees ended up training in Asbury Park, N.J., while the Red Sox trained Tufts College in nearby Medford, Mass.

After the war, the teams were again allowed to travel west, but during the time passed the teams’ owners had already considered new spring training locations. The Cactus League’s origins can be at least partially traced to a visit made by Giants owner Horace Stoneham in the late ’40s to a place called the Buckhorn Mineral Wells and Baths in Mesa, not far from the current location of HoHoKam Park. Originally the site of a gas station, the Buckhorn location was converted into a motel that offered mineral baths and massage treatments after a hot-water aquifer containing significant deposits of potassium, silica, magnesium and iron was discovered on the property. Stoneham was introduced to the Buckhorn baths by officials from the Phoenix Chamber of Commerce while scouting for possible training sites, and was so enticed by the rejuvenating effects of the baths and therapy treatments that he thought it might make an ideal place for players to get in shape.

Seattle Mariners vs Colorado Rockies game at Spring Training in Peoria (AZ) 2015

Seattle Mariners vs Colorado Rockies game at Spring Training in Peoria (AZ) 2015

Around the same time, Stoneham received a call from Bill Veeck, the owner of the Indians who had a winter home in Tucson. Veeck had already been thinking about moving his team to Tucson for Spring Training, and thus, the Cactus League was born. Spring training has come a long way from since its humble beginnings.

Every March 15 MLB teams play in each league, the Grapefruit League in Florida and Cactus League in Arizona, and they all hope that the good work they do in the spring will add up to a victory in October.


5 minutes a day can save your arm

A former MLB pitcher Bruce Hurst once said that a simple and fast daily workout can save a player’s shoulder and thus his career. He went on and explained that had he known and used this daily workout routine earlier, he might not had to go through the tough times of injury, surgery and rehabilitation. However, these exercises are not only intended for pitchers but rather for ball players of all positions.


You only need two 5lbs dumbbell weights for this workout (you can also use heavier weights, depending on your current strength). When you’re travelling, you might not be carrying the weights around with you. However, you can still follow your daily routine by simply taking the two empty water bottles and filling them up with some sand or gravel (remember: where there’s a will, there’s a way).

The workout consists of four cycles of four simple exercises: 1) side lift, 2) side drop, 3) front lift, and 4) reverse front lift. One cycle consists of fifteen side lifts, fifteen side drops, fifteen front lifts and fifteen reverse front lifts. You have 15 seconds between each cycle to rest. You can do the workouts with both hands simultaneously to save time.

The first exercise is called the Side Lift. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and with weights in your hands and resting beside your body. Start the exercise by lifting the weights sideways up to the shoulder-height (about 90 degrees angle), and then lowering them down again. Do this process slowly and control the breathing. Repeat fifteen times.

The second exercise is called the Side Drop. Again, stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Start the exercise by holding the weights at the shoulder-height and then “drop” the weights and catch them soon after you drop them (before they get too far off or hit the ground).You will probably need some time before you get used to catching the weight after dropping it – our advice is to first try this exercise somewhere, where there is soft floor (grass or similar). Control the breathing. Repeat fifteen times.

The third exercise is called the Front Lift. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and with weights in your hands and resting beside your body. Start the exercise by lifting the weights up frontally to the shoulder-height (about 90 degrees), and then lowering them down again. Do this process slowly and control the breathing. Repeat fifteen times.

The fourth exercise is called the Reverse Front Lift. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and with weights in your hands and resting beside your body (hands twisted by 180 degrees). Start the exercise by lifting the weights up frontally to the shoulder-height (about 90 degrees), and then lowering them down again. Keep your hands twisted by 180 degrees during this entire exercise. Do this process slowly and control the breathing. Repeat fifteen times.

Four cycles of four times fifteen repetitions plus four times the fifteen seconds break equals to only five minutes of your precious time. Let this routine become your daily routine. Your shoulder will be eternally grateful.

Pitchers, kings of baseball

Pitching is 75% of baseball. 

Connie Mack

You need nine guys to form a baseball team.

But let’s face it – there is a “king” among those nine guys, whose role in winning or losing a game is much bigger than the role of the rest of the eight guys combined. This guy is called a pitcher.

Pitching is what the game is all about. Pitching IS the game. 

Bob Welch

Symbolically enough, a pitcher has his own hill on the baseball field with his own little fortress – a pitching rubber. He is literally a king of the hill as he controls the development and the pace of each game from up there.

Pitching is #1. If your pitcher pitches a shut-out you can’t lose!

Al Campanis

Typically, an active (25-man) Major League team roster will consist of five starting pitchers, seven relief pitchers, two catchers, six infielders, and five outfielders.

By doing some basic maths, we quickly come to a conclusion that pitchers represent just under half (12/25) of the typical Major League team.

A few decades ago a study was performed to ascertain whether today’s baseball experts still believe pitching is the most important ingredient in winning baseball and how they compare it with batting, fielding, and other factors. Of the 50 baseball experts completing the questionnaire, 44 ranked pitching the most important factor in winning baseball.

This is even more so for the left-handed pitchers.

Baseball scouts repeatedly say that while a RHP has to give you a reason to like him, a LHP has to give you a reason not to like him.

More recent authors, who take into account also the psychological factors that might influence the performance of a pitcher, speak more of the importance of the relationship between the pitcher and “his” catcher, a duel that is called the “battery” in the baseball jargon. We’ve all seen how effective a working battery can be in this year’s World Series.

mad bum

With all the above said, it does not come as a surprise that the highest-paid player in the Majors is … well, a pitcher. The 25-year-old, two-time Cy Young winner, Clayton Kershaw, recently agreed to the largest contract for a pitcher in baseball history to the tune of seven years, $215 million.

The 5 MLB’s highest-paid pitchers (Clayton Kershaw, Justin Verlander, Felix Hernandez, C.C. Sabathia and Zack Greinke) will earn the staggering $878 million over a period of seven years. To prove our point, half of the 10 highest-paid athletes in baseball are pitchers.

So, make sure that when your kid asks you for a piece of advice on which position should he play, you will make the right call.

And remember, it’s never too early to enter the Big Leagues! 😉