The image is engraved into the minds of baseball and softball coaches everywhere, and not in a good way: Their team is down by 12 runs in the mid-innings and folding fast. The odds of coming back seem improbable, even impossible.
What could be worse for a team?
Joe Solis actually sees opportunity in this bleak scenario.
“We look at it as a stepping stone to where we want to be,” said the coach of Texas Arsenal, a premier 18-and-under girls’ softball team in the Houston area.
Solis is hardly alone. Blowout defeats are part of a long season and can help a team in the future if coaches react in a winning way.
Solis and Rick Saggese, a former University of Miami star and owner of Think Outside the Diamond training school in Naples, Fla., offered some suggestions:
KEEP YOUR CALM, COACH
Keep calm, stay positive and be supportive — this isn’t a time for harsh criticism or ridicule. “I’ve been coaching for 15 years, and I realize you can’t get in these kids faces, especially with girls,” Solis said. “They don’t react well.”
STAY IN THE MOMENT
Cliché or not, it’s better to sweat the small stuff than to fret over the big picture, Saggese said. “You don’t want them to think they have to score 10 runs to win the game, or that they have to take the entire game on themselves,” he said. “That’s looking at the big picture.”
FOCUS ON THE DETAILS
Set a series of small goals and concentrate on accomplishing them. For example, in their final at-bats, Solis asks his players to correct earlier mistakes.
“We try to focus on what we have to do in terms of adjustments,” he said. “In a seven-inning game, typically they’ve gone up to bat twice and they’ve not (had success). Maybe they got caught off guard by a certain pitch. So make adjustments and have a plan.”
Saggase agrees: Shrink the game into manageable parts.
“So try to win each inning from then on,” he said. “You want each player to go up there and grind, work the count, force the pitcher to throw a lot of pitches and, even if (your hitter) doesn’t get on base, make it a productive out, a quality at-bat. For a pitcher, walks are the worst thing. Just throw strikes, and let your defense play behind you. If they earn their way on base, OK, but we don’t want to give them free passes.”
BE AWARE OF NON-VERBAL CUES
A player jogs to first on a groundout, performs listlessly at bat, walks slowly back to the dugout: all worrisome signs.
“Teams tend to want to give up, give in. The first sign is if they’re not running out ground balls,” Saggese said. “If they’re not hustling, not trying to keep an inning alive — that’s when pulling a kid is a good thing to do. That might wake up the other kids, make them think, ‘Hey, I don’t want to get pulled, so I better get it going.”’
AND REMEMBER, IT'S NOT REALLY OVER
In 2001 the Detroit Tigers rallied from a 12-run deficit to defeat the Seattle Mariners 15-14 in 11 innings. In 2010 the Colorado Rockies scored nine runs in the bottom of the ninth to beat the St. Louis Cardinals 12-9. “Baseball’s crazy, even stupid sometimes,” said Rockies player Seth Smith, who hit the winning three-run home run.
“It just takes one hit, then a couple more hits, and it becomes contagious,” Sagessee said. “Funny things happen in this game.”