Advanced Youth Baseball Training Tips and Techiques

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Sunday, October 4, 2009

Using Pitching Machines to Improve Hitting at Cal-Berkely

By Chris Gandolfo

David Esquer represents the best in college baseball - first as a player, then as an assistant coach, and finally as head baseball coach at the University of California-Berkley. As a player, Esquer was the starting shortstop on Stanford University's 1987 national championship squad. As an assistant coach with Stanford and Pepperdine, he helped produce six NCAA post season teams and one World Series participant. As Cal's coach, Esquer led the Bears to the program's ninth NCAA regional in 2001 while being named Pacific 10 Conference Coach of the Year in only his second season.

Why did you decide to invest in a pitching machine?

Last year, we really struggled to get runs. We decided to focus on hitting - on getting our average up. We think the feel of a real ball at contact is key in training. At the time, the pitching machine we owned wasn't really effective. It rapidly wore out real leather balls, and they frequently got stuck in the machine. Players were frustrated by the constant interruptions. One of the first things that drew our attention to the Hack Attack was its ability to throw leather baseballs consistently and without any interruptions.

Was that the only reason you purchased a Hack Attack?

No, it was just what first got our attention. As soon as we got one in a cage, we found that many things made it incredibly effective. It's far more accurate, especially with breaking pitches. It also lets you see the ball through the throwing process like live arm motion. Not only did delays due to ball problems disappear, but changing from fastballs to curveballs or left- to right-handed breaking pitches is very easy with the speed control dials and the elevation handle. There is no slow, awkward, complicated process like we used to experience with our unbalanced two-wheel machines. The third wheel on the Hack Attack changes everything.

Exactly how do you use the Hack Attack in your practices?

We now have three Hack Attacks. We set up a hitting station for each one in a circuit that we use daily, including for batting practice on game days. One station is for right- and left-handed curveballs, the second is for fastballs, and the third is where we move the machine up and hit against a short fastball without a stride to improve bat quickness. We just ordered a fourth machine for an additional fastball station with change-of-location. We want one on the field all the time, so we plan to buy a fifth machine for defensive and bunting drills. When we take a machine on the field now, we spend a lot of time on cut-offs, and it has allowed us to double our outfield work. We've never been able to get such quality repetition on hard-to-hit fungo work until now.

The Hack Attack is a solid machine - is it easy to move around?

It is the easiest machine to set up and operate that we've ever used. It moves quickly on and off the field. One player or coach can roll it anywhere. It used to be a struggle to get players to help set up and put away machines. That's no longer a problem, and that is saying something.

What results have you seen from using the Hack Attack?

It has made a measurable improvement in our hitting - more than 40 points over the past two years. We credit much of our improvement to the Hack Attack. We think it's the best investment in our team that we could have made.

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