Since Mike Doyle took over as head coach at O’Dea (Wash.) High School in 2008, the Seattle-based team has captured three state titles (2009, 2010, 2014) in large part due to the program’s tireless devotion in the batting cages.
The Fighting Irish play off campus at a city park but utilize batting cages in their school gymnasium. A 60-minute batting practice session takes place daily either before or after school, depending on the schedule.
Doyle breaks his team into three groups, and each session includes three circuits. The circuits consist of a regular batting cage session, a front toss cage and a cage devoted to situational hitting. Each circuit takes 20 minutes.
One of the main objectives is for the players to get a strong grasp on the fundamentals of batting.
“We want to make sure that they’re getting their hands out in front of the barrel so they’re able to stay back on a pitch,” Doyle said. “We don’t want them lunging out and trying to roll everything over. So we try to work the middle (and) away part of the batting cages and to hit the ball in that direction.”
Repetition is also key.
“We’re making them repeat everything, so they get it right,” he said.
Once players have gone through the regular batting cage session, the front toss and situational hitting cages allow them to hone specific skills.
During front toss, Doyle and his coaches work with players on things like reacting to inside pitches and hitting to the opposite field.
The situation cage, Doyle said, is all about execution in a wide range of possible situations.
“With a runner on second base you have to be able to hit the ball through the gap. With a runner on third base you need to hit a hard line drive to get the runner home,” Doyle said. “Hit-and-run you have to be able to make contact and put the ball on the ground.”
The goal of the situational hitting circuit ultimately is to establish muscle memory, Doyle said. It can pay off big time when the calendar turns to the postseason.
“I think it’s been pretty effective, especially in the playoffs,” Doyle said “It’s a different level during that time of the year. When it’s a tight situation, hitting the ball behind the runner at second base means even more. In one game out of an 80-game summer ball season, they’re not going to see the importance of that. But in a do-or-die situation of the playoffs, they’ll have built the habits to know why it’s important to need to move a runner over and closer to scoring.”
At any level, batting practice is a common part of training. Though any reps in the cage can help, Doyle said, committing to learning and improving during that time can go a long way.
“I would say the time we commit to it and the players wanting to do it well, helps tremendously when it comes down to game time,” Doyle said. “That mentality will take you a far way as a team no matter your talent level.”
From GameChanger and Rolando Rosa
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