By: Kurt Snyder
The word discipline when used as a verb means “to develop behavior by instruction and practice. When you have discipline, you have self-control.”
I can’t imagine how difficult it must be to be a major league hitter. If we had to pick one thing that most fans agonizingly shout at hitters during at bats, one would definitely be “what are you swinging at?”
But, imagine all the things that go through the head of a hitter. To remain relatively successful, batters must study opposing pitchers and the patterns they have used to retire them. More than likely, most of the failures they have against a given pitcher include swinging at pitches out of the strike zone.
The pitcher’s ultimate weapon against a hitter is not only the ability to throw strikes, but also the ability to make you swing at pitches that are not. So it begins with command. If the pitcher demonstrates a consistent ability to command the strike zone, batters face an extreme disadvantage. Because if he can throw a pitch wherever he wants, he can make you swing at balls out of the zone.
Training yourself to be disciplined enough to only swing at strikes has to be the most difficult thing in the game. And it’s mainly because you have so little time after that ball begins its flight to the plate. We take for granted how difficult it is to determine what pitch might be coming next with only a split second to decide. Every hitter must have a strategic plan in their heads that they battle throughout the entire at-bat.
And we all wonder why players have their own little rituals; the ones we feel are unnecessary and too time consuming. This is all part of baseball, folks. Its one miniscule aspect in the game within the game, and from a fan perspective, we can’t possibly understand the importance. That’s why the commissioner has to be very careful which parts of the game he chooses to effect in the ongoing effort to speed up the pace of play.
Baseball is a unique animal. Hitters rely on routine and comfort while they are at the plate. So as strange and unnecessary some of their antics are, it may be part of the success they have as hitters.
In order to succeed, discipline is a trait every hitter must possess. How do I know? Not because I have played professionally (I haven’t), and not because I have seen thousands of baseball games. We all know actually. We are watching disciplined hitting on display every day as we are fortunate enough to be able to watch Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez hit.
As a tandem, Miggy and VMart display a hitting approach that is a model for all hitters across the league. They are incredibly focused. They rarely swing at bad pitches. And their patience to wait for a pitch to drive, to hit hard, anywhere in the field of play, is unmatched. When the count reaches 2 strikes, they may be at their best. It’s almost when it gets toughest for the pitcher, not easier, when in most cases, with most hitters, pitchers can go on the offensive. They smell blood. But when facing Cabrera and Martinez with 2 strikes, it’s like you have an animal cornered. You may find a way to defeat them, but you better be very careful not to make a mistake.
The Tigers are extremely lucky to have, not one, but two hitters in the middle of their lineup who will battle a pitcher. And even though the team is floundering and spinning their wheels while we watch the season go by, at the very least, real fans of the game have the joy of learning how the league’s best hitters master their craft. We are truly watching the best.