May 2012-Tip of the Month

Righteous Swagger

As we continue through the season, we need to remember a few things about how to carry ourselves on the field as catchers.

Whether you like it or not, as the catcher, you are the leader of the team. No, that doesn't make you the best, most athletic or even most popular player on the team. A leader can be all of those things, but they aren't pre-requisites and aren't necessary to fulfilling your role as the leader of the team.  What is necessary is understanding just how important that role really is.

I can remember watching a high school game last Spring. One of the team's catchers was athletic, strong, had a cannon for an arm and could hit the crud out of the ball. Certainly someone who had the pedigree to play at the next level.

As the game went on I noticed something a little disturbing. You see, the stud catcher had just struck out in the 6th inning of the game with the bases loaded and the score tied at 3. As he walked back to the dugout he slammed his bat down into the ground, coincidentally almost hitting one of his teammates. I then heard the coach yell out "Hey! Get that chip off your shoulder and play the freaking game!" (The language was cleaned up a little but you get the idea). The catcher looked at his coach, threw his hands up in the air and walked back into the dugout, shaking his head.

It must have been 5 minutes before the catcher had all of his gear on and he walked out of the dugout back to home plate.

As he took the last warmup pitch and got ready to throw down, he dropped to both knees and lazily lobbed the ball to 2B. It bounced about 3 times before the SS was able to secure it.

The first batter of the inning hit a routine ground ball to 2B, but it was bobbled and the runner was safe. The catcher, who was standing at home plate, NOT backing up the throw, again threw his hands up in the air and starting shaking his head. His second baseman saw it, hung his head and walked back to his position on the field.

The next batter hit another ground ball right at the 2B. Again, the infielder mishandled the ball and both of the runners were safe. The catcher hung his head and now the center fielder threw his arms up in the air and yelled "what the heck!"

By the end of the inning, the score was no longer tied at 3. After 5 errors, 3 walks and a handful of bleeders through the infield, the score was now 12-3.

After the inning the one thing that kept replaying itself inside my head was the coach yelling to the catcher to "get that chip off your shoulder". It really didn't sit well with me. You see, part of being a catcher requires a small chip on our shoulder. Having an attitude that you cannot get to me no matter how hard you try and in order to get to my team you have to go through me first. We must maintain an indestructible demeanor so that our teammates can look to us for direction and confidence.

Behind the plate, with an all-encompassing view of the field which is shared by nobody else, we set the tone for each and every game, inning and play with how we carry ourselves on and off the field. I call it a righteous swagger.

It's not arrogance or cockiness. It's leading by example. It's walking tall when the rest of the team is hanging their heads. It's accepting responsibility for every action you take on the field, positive or negative. It's being the foundation of your team.

The catcher that day lacked a righteous swagger. He didn't realize how infectious his body-language and actions could be. Again, both positive and negative.

Maybe they still give up those 9 runs even if he hadn't demonstrated his displeasure with his infielder's poor play or at his own failure at the plate. But at the very least, a simple "Keep your head up kid, get the next one" would have earned him his teammates respect and trust and the next time his team found themselves in a similar situation, maybe the result would have been different.

You're allowed a small chip on your shoulder. You need it to play this position well. But make sure you always carry yourself with a righteous swagger.

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From behind the mask,