Saturday, August 18, 2012

The importance of training and execution

Mathis guns for another runner.
I was listening to a Jays broadcast this week as they played the White Sox and one of those plays happens that a catcher trains for and should execute every time, but which seldom bears any sort of fruit. (Sorry, but I’m far away from a reliable Internet connection so I can’t tell you which game it was.)

The catcher was Jeff Mathis, a player whom the Jays got from the Angels precisely because he is very reliable defensively, as he ably proved on this occasion. A ball was grounded to an infielder and thrown across to first base. Unfortunately, the throw was errant and skipped past the first baseman. As good catchers do, Mathis charged down the line to back up at first base. He collected the ball neatly and as the runner, thinking he was seizing an opportunity, quickly chugged towards the next bag. Considering Mathis’s fantastic arm, that runner was easy prey. Out recorded and if memory serves, the Jays left the field for another crack at the Sox pitcher. Unless you really know baseball, you wouldn’t know the importance of making that play. Too often you see a catcher not going all out down the line, arriving too late, and the batter gets a free extra base. It won’t be ruled an error, but everyone on the team knows the play should have been made.

Having been the catcher for the Hogtown Bombers for most of my career, I know well what a pain it is to leap to your feet many times during a game, charge down the first base line with all that gear on, only to watch the ball settle nicely into the first baseman’s glove. After awhile, it is not much fun, especially when you’ve been playing a lot and the weather is very warm. It’s easy to get a bit lax, to dog it a bit. The Jays aren’t going anywhere this year and were behind at the time, and it would have been perfectly understandable for Mathis to not go all out.

But the Jays back-up catcher doesn’t play ball like that, and being highly sympathetic to those who wear the tools of ignorance, I thumped the desk at my computer (I was working at the time) and shouted out, “Yes!”

I knew how much that play can mean to a team that’s struggling and how much it says about the guy making the play. Well done, Jeff!

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