Intent- “If you have everything under control, you’re not moving fast enough!” Mario Andretti

Intent is a popular word thrown around in the baseball community now a day, and for good reason.  Intent defined: resolved or determined to do something, showing earnest and eager attention, an aim or purpose, being focused, giving all your attention to something. Forgetting sports for a minute, wouldn’t you want to do everything in life with a sharp determination and focus? My only issue with the trendy use of the word in sports is the hypocrisy from those that use it. Many of the coaches that read one Driveline article and proclaim they are firm believers in throwing with intent are the same guys that chew their pitchers out for walking 2 guys in a row screaming, “you’re overthrowing!” They want their pitchers to throw hard, but also want Greg Maddux control. Most (almost all) of these coaches have never pitched in the big leagues. Beyond that, unless their names are Nolan Ryan, Pedro Martinez, Clayton Kershaw or a handful of other all time greats, they never threw 95+ with pinpoint command and filthy off-speed stuff.

I can say with no uncertainty that I was a pretty solid prospect, but didn’t even sniff the kind of elite abilities those legends possessed.  At my best, I was average in today’s top tier Division 1/professional standards. I once possessed a low 90’s fastball and made plenty of mistakes with it up over the plate. I had an above average changeup, but a sub-par breaking ball. In college, competing against the nation’s elite, my margin for error was slim. When I made mistakes, I paid for them dearly in the form of some long home runs. But that is why I don’t jump my pitchers if they fall behind 2-0. I’ve walked countless guys in my career, and I understand how difficult the art of pitching is. The game wasn’t taught the way it is today when I came up through the travel ball ranks. There is more information available to coaches and trainers today than ever before. This valuable information can be utilized in a positive manner, or it can create a generation of confused athletes, unsure if they should “get after it and cut it loose” or if they should “just throw strikes and guide it in there.”

I’m glad that I came up just before the era of information overload. I was also lucky to have coaches that understood that having a young power arm usually comes with stretches of erratic command. They never yelled my favorite quote, “Just throw strikes.” Well maybe a time or two they hinted that I was overthrowing, and I may have politely ignored their suggestion to slow it down. But call me crazy- I enjoyed throwing hard. I was never that guy to sand bag in warm-ups to catch the first batter off guard. I was the guy that took pleasure in unleashing my best heater in my first warm-up, and hearing the “uh-oh’s” from the opposing dugout. I didn’t understand the importance of my habits or reasoning behind them at the time, but I do now.

It sounds oversimplified and extremely caveman-ish, but in order to throw hard YOU HAVE TO THROW HARD! An engine is most likely to overheat or start smoking when you floor it from a dead stop and try to see how fast you can get from 0-100. I’m not suggesting any young drivers to go out and hit 100 on the speedometer, but your much less likely for an engine blow out if your on the highway (ideally the Autobahn) cruising at 80 and then push it to 100. What I’m getting at is that idle catch is a waste of time. Lobbing the ball to save bullets for the game makes no sense. I often have to bite my tongue when I work with our showcase guys and they tell me “I’m just going to throw a light pen today- 80%.” The blunt side in me wants to snap back and say “Oh yeah, good thinking, that’s the way to make gains.” But it’s hard to tell what every pitcher is feeling in their body on a given day. However, you’re either healthy and can get after it, or you shouldn’t be throwing at all. Every time you throw, you are creating habits, muscle memory that your body adjusts to. Injuries often occur when guys train at 80% and try to light it up under the big lights. Besides the stuff factor, how can one expect to command their best max effort fastball if they only practice it in game situations?

That is why training with a purpose is so vital to make velocity gains. For those unfamiliar with our pitching instruction at TPA, we start every lesson with a weighted ball warm-up. The warm-up is designed to get our guys loose before throwing a baseball, train efficient movement patterns, and encourage our guys to throw the plyocare balls HARD at a padded wall without concern of hitting a spot. The most common critique we have to say over and over again is “throw the dang ball!” It gets frustrating, but I believe it’s a result of coaches installing a governor in their young pitchers’ arms.

For coaches, I urge that you let your players push through their limitations. Let your players fail. “Failure and rejection are only the first step to success!” Jim Valvano. Understand that every single athlete has a biomechanical pattern unique to the individual. No two athletes are exactly the same, so there is no single delivery that is most efficient for every pitcher. How many big leaguers have the exact same delivery? There are a million different ways to crack an egg. Let your players be different; encourage it! The faster a young pitcher can figure out the most efficient way to maximize their delivery, the faster they’ll learn to command their best stuff! Listen to your players if they experience arm pain, but realize it is almost never a result of “overthrowing.” It is often caused by under-training or a kink in the kinetic chain. But the answer is not to “slow it down and just get it over the plate.” Pretend every player is your own son. Would you rather he help you win some games in 12u tournaments, or work through some ups and downs at a young age and potentially come out a college prospect?

To all those aspiring aces out there, let the ponies out of the stable! Lift, run, and throw with intent every time you train! After all, “If you aren’t going all the way, why go at all?” Joe Namath. Figure out what works for you. Experiment, find a delivery that allows your body to work and consistently unleash the best heater you’ve got. Keep in mind that missing the strike zone is usually caused by simple timing issues. So don’t downshift in tough spots, go down with your best! Be an athlete, and odds are good things will happen.

Article By: Danny Healey