Ten days before pitchers and catchers report to spring training, high school baseball coaches across the country are getting their teams set up on GameChanger and making final preparations for their own seasons.
Jimmy Caruso, who runs the winter conditioning program at the Base — a nonprofit program in Boston that provides free year-round baseball and academic support to youth players — said it’s crucial to cultivate parent and player buy-in before the season.
Caruso, who also coached the Base’s Under-18 travel team to the 2013 Triple Crown U.S. Baseball Championship (it's second title in four years), oversees about 450 students participating in the Base’s winter conditioning, which for the first time is utilizing the organization's new indoor facility, complete with batting cages.
Here are 10 things Caruso said to consider before first pitch this spring:
1. Parent support: Parent buy-in during the offseason is crucial to making sure players consistently attend workouts and are eligible come spring.
2. Skill development: Winter conditioning sessions are no doubt intense, but honing basic skills in the offseason is just as crucial. “We are pairing up 10 feet apart with guys down on their knees and simply rolling the ball to each other, with their hands out in front receiving the ball, and keeping that form,” Caruso said.
3. Mental maintenance: “Even in winter conditioning we are preparing for the mental part of it; situational baseball,” Caruso said. “We are using our brains as much as our muscles while practicing. So we got a guy first and third with one out, and I’m going to hit the ball to a position. ‘Where you going? What is the play? Are you turning two?’”
4. Continuing ed: Coaches constantly tell players to practice like they play, but Caruso said coaches should follow their own advice by picking the brains of other coaches and attending college practices. “Never get in the mindset that you can’t learn,” he said.
5. Nutrition: The Base brings in nutritionists from the Boston Red Sox and Boston’s Children’s Hospital to speak about eating right. They also provide healthy snacks. “If I put out a bag of Cheetos or apples, nine of 10 guys are going to go for the bag of Cheetos,” Caruso said. “If you take those options away and only offer healthy snacks, they are still going to be hungry and they are going to eat it.”
6. Small innovations: If you are dealing with the kind of winter like the one pummeling Boston this year, it’s important to improvise in small spaces. “Some of the drills in which … you are talking about footwork for an outfielder or pitcher, you don’t need a lot of space,” Caruso said.
7. Communication: It can be hard for coaches to maintain communication with players in the winter, but Caruso recommends focusing on building relationships with captains who can spread your message to the rest of the team.
8. Cultivate alumni: Several alumni of the Base, including three players just drafted, are working out at the new facility this winter. “We put them right in with our guys,” Caruso said. “It does a few things: No. 1 they are not just hearing it from us all the time that education is important. And No. 2: They are actually seeing guys from their neighborhood playing collegiate (and pro) ball and they think, ‘This is doable, reachable. It’s an opportunity for me.’ “The best advocates for your program are going to be your alumni.”
9. Cultivate volunteers: “Make sure they are in it for the same reason you are,” Caruso said. “Finding quality volunteers you can lean on is important.”
10. Paperwork: With all the new concussion regulations, paperwork is only growing for coaches. “The big thing is organization, or have a volunteer specifically for your paperwork,” Caruso said. “Don’t wait till two weeks before the season, because then you’ll be scrambling and it will take time away from your team.”
Justin A. Rice is a freelance reporter for Red Line Editorial, Inc.