Friday, March 18, 2011
SMALLS TALK: Tee Work
It's just sitting there. It's stationary atop the tee, just waiting to be clobbered. It's not moving 95 MPH. It's not curving, cutting, tailing, or dropping. The baseball is just there - helpless.
When you think of professional baseball players hitting off of a tee it's almost laughable. These guys are some of the best hitters in the world, and they're performing an activity that has 6-year olds everywhere smirking with confidence.
As I stand over the tee about to take my hack, I can't help but think of Happy Gilmore practicing his short game at the Putt Putt Mini-Golf Course: "This is embarrassing, I'm a professional golfer for God's sake." Amen.
The ball isn't even moving - where's the challenge?
Turns out, it's not that simple. Go into any college or professional hitting facility and you will find between one and three tees for every batting cage. It's an essential item - a mainstay in any hitting routine. Regardless of your talent level, there's always something to work on - you can never outgrow the tee. Even Big Leaguers are fans of the seemingly elementary tool - Hall of Famer Cal Ripken, Jr. was rumored to take over 200 swings off a tee everyday during his lengthy career.
I can't decide whether I'm more tired or bored just thinking about 200 swings off a tee.
The truth is, I hate tee work - I despise it. In my mind, it's easier to hit a moving ball than a stationary one. It's almost as if I see the ball sitting still - so vulnerable - and I get excited. Too excited.
Perhaps it's the same logic behind my poor golf game. I see the ball sitting in front of the head of my driver and think to myself: "It's not even moving! It's teed up for me, just waiting to get destroyed. Let's see how far I can hit it..." I wipe the drool from my chin, swing as hard as I can, and send the ball flying through the air in every direction imaginable. I can drive the ball 300 yards, but that just means my walks into the woods are that much longer.
It's the same mentality with a baseball bat in my hand, and it's an excitement I need to learn to harness on a daily basis.
Although as much as I dislike tee work, there's no denying its value - it's something that will play a huge role in my progression as a hitter.
Tee work isn't about how hard or far you can hit the ball - it's about your swing mechanics. Unlike other drills where you can find yourself simply being satisfied by making hard contact, hitting off of a tee breaks down your swing and gives you instant feedback.
Hit a ground ball? You're probably letting your hands get too far from your body, swinging the barrel "around" the ball rather than "through" it. Hit a ball with top spin? You're swinging with an uppercut rather than following a downward angle to the ball. Pop a ball up into the top of the cage? You're likely leaking your hips forward and failing to keep your weight back.
There's an answer and a solution for every problem, and the tee is where you go to highlight and fix those little holes in your swing. Anyone can hit home runs in batting practice, but the best hitters are the ones that can pepper the back wall of the batting cage with back spun line drives swing after swing.
It's not fun, and it's the furthest thing from exciting, but it's important. Every morning I head out to the cages and get my swing maintenance work in off a tee. I spend ten minutes or so rifling through a couple of buckets, analyzing the flight and spin of the ball as it travels through the netted tunnel. As frustrating as it can get, it can be just as rewarding. I think I actually get more confidence out of a good round off a tee than I do out of a great round of batting practice. A good session means my swing is where it needs to be - the tee doesn't lie.
In my mind, tee work is a necessary evil. It's not as flashy as some other drills, but it helps you analyze your swing in ways other drills can't. It's boring, but so was my Microeconomics class and I managed to learn something there. If it means helping my progression as a hitter, and perhaps my baseball career, then a little boredom is a small price to pay.
Despite how far I've come, however, I still think hitting off a tee was easier while wearing a mesh hat and socks with painted-on stirrups. These 6-year olds are closer than they think.
SMALLS TALK Series
Helmet for Pitchers?
Approaching Spring Training
Top 5 Things I Won't Miss About My Local Gym
Getting New Equipment
Last Day at Work
My Bat of Choice
The Superstitions and Quirks of a Ballplayer
The Art of the Autograph
Greensboro's 'Bat Dogs'
Tim Kurkjian is a Man Among Boys
Baseball Movie All-Star Game: Starting Lineups
Pre-Draft Medical Questionnaires
The Ryan Howard Namesake
The Magic of the Rally
Jeter and A-Rod, How Times Have Changed
Summer Leagues - Cape Still Cream of the Crop?
SportsCenter Commercials are Better Than Most Shows
Schilling's Bloody Sock
Red Sox Nation Goes Crazy, JD Drew Can't Be Bothered
Minor League Hats are the Way to Go
Who Has the Best Uniforms in College Baseball?