ABCA 2022 First Day

This is my first big baseball conference. I’ve been to IT shows and worked the All Star Game Fan Fest, but NOTHING prepared me for this. As a baseball guy walking the trade show, you could stop at EVERY booth and find something interesting or useful. You’d also get to talk to some great people.

Brilliance in bat design

A number of years ago, I wanted a flared-knob bat. I’d been using my Phoenix Bat regularly, but when I’d do an hour-long batting cage session, I’d develop a line of blisters at the knob. So I asked them to design me a bat with a flared knob. Some major leaguers were using them already and Axe had just come out with it’s first bats (only flared on one side). When I stopped by the booth today, Brad Taylor recognized my name. He was the one who designed my bat back in December of 2015!

Now, Phoenix has a dozen flared-knob bats on the display table. If you’re at the ABCA, go check THOSE bats out if you do nothing else. Tell Brad he’s a genius because… he is.

Weather

Chicago is mighty cold. I asked a bicycle cop if it was better to ride slow to avoid the wind or fast to create body heat. He told me “slow and steady wins the race” because riding hard makes you sweat and that sweat makes you COLD! I took the train in and met up with a few other conference attendees at the Clark/Lake stop. We conferred on which train was the right one and we nailed it. Unfortunately, the walk from the Cermak/McCormick Place station to the convention center was long and COLD. Three guys from Virginia, Texas and Florida might have been a little overmatched, but we survived.

Ground-breaking new tool made in the USA!

I’d let my Little Leaguers use my sleeved weight on their bats when I accidentally had it in the team bag, but it was just too heavy for them to do anything but be funny. I’ve been learning more about overload and underload bats, so wanted to start incorporating them into our practices. That gets a little too pricey for a coach buying gear out of his own pocket.

Rick Weaver (@Rweaver23) was talking to Justin Kuhn, father of one of the players he coaches, about an idea he had for bat weights. Justin had a friend with a machine shop, so the came up with the Krato Bat Weight. By being just above the hands, you get the benefits of the modern overload bats but can use it on any bat, use it in live hitting, against machines or off the tee without worrying about breakage or other nonsense.

They come in a variety of sizes and I went ahead and bought the beginner pack (10-ounce, 15-ounce and 20-ounce) with the heaviest one intended for MY personal use.

They’ve been in business for… 30 DAYS. Check their website and stop in to see them. Booth #671.

Getting 56 on your radar gun?

There’s a fantastic new version of SmartCoach out from Pocker Radar for the iPhone. While that won’t be available on Android for a few months, I did spend some time with one of the hardware engineers, Michael. He did a great job of demonstrating the new software and I’m pretty excited about that new version. Apparently, three new Android guys have joined the team and releases will be much more in sync in the future.

So, the biggest tip I got today was on the phantom 56 and 118 mph readings that randomly appear on my Pocket Radar. Those are from cell phone towers! Or some other electronic interference. Nothing wrong with the equipment, just a known anomaly. The new version makes it easier to set the velocity range for your Pocket Radar. Fortunately, none of my Little Leaguers can throw 56. In my men’s league, I think I’ll take advantage of the fact that I have two radars and put one at 36-55 and the other at 57-75.

Great first day

Despite that fact that I’m an introvert (an OUTGOING introvert), I met a lot of people today and really got into some great conversations. Because I learned a number of years ago that I’m an outgoing introvert instead of just “weird”, I know that I need to find a quiet spot and time to recharge. I’m doing that in my room right now as I write this. I’m recharging the energy used spent talking to people (the introvert part) so that I can get back out and be the dynamic guy I love being. So much to learn, so many people to talk to.

If you’re here, maximize your time. Get the most out of it. If that means spending an hour away recharging, do that. If it means diving into every open session, do that. Whatever you do, go talk to folks on the showcase floor. Even if you don’t think it’s something you’d be able to use, talk to them and find out! You might learn something and make a friend in the process.

Which coaching conference suits you?

Looking at the various emails, links and ads that I’ve seen over the last few months, I’m trying to sort out where I’ll go for a coaching conference this off-season.

Who Am I?

I’m just a beginning coach. I coach at nearly the lowest level of youth baseball and I’ve only been doing it a year.

The highest level I played regularly at was the “F minor” in 1979, which was the city rec league – no tryouts required. I sat at the end of the bench as an 8th grader the next spring on our school team. Once I got to college, I started a string of 35 years playing on as many adult softball teams as I could. I settled on a men’s “C” league team for 25 years, plus a few Congressional “beer league” coed teams.

When I bought Dusty Baker’s You Can Teach Hitting, I went from a mediocre hitter to a very good one. It didn’t last because I got older and the league continued to have a supply of guys in their 20s. However, I had become a student of hitting.

About five years ago, I got invited to play in a 48+ men’s baseball league. Again, I started as a mediocre player. I’ve been down to Florida 3 times for our league’s “spring training”. I got coaching from the Twins’ Jeff Smith the first year. The next two years, Rick Knapp lead my team — Rick’s most recent post is as the pitching coach for the Durham Bulls. I’m an extremely coachable player, so my hitting got better and…. I finally learned how to pitch.

I think of myself as demonstration that you CAN teach an old dog new tricks.

I feel that this learning process I’ve gone through to get myself back on the field and onto the mound gives me a lot of insight that most youth coaches don’t have. I’m facing challenges, overcoming hurdles and trying to improve my play every day. I think this puts me ahead of guys for whom the game came easy and ahead of guys who haven’t played in 30 years.

Nonetheless, as a coach, I’m nearly a complete neophyte.

What kinds of options are there?

I joined the ABCA a year ago on recommendation of our league President, hoping I could learn coaching. They have a coaching conference every January. I also started seeing ads for pitching conferences and a catcher conference. In addition, some organizations are starting certification programs, in which you do a lot of learning off-site, but come on-site with a number of other coaches for a final program. So, there are some general options and some specific ones. Size of conference also varies, from those small on-site sessions that might have 25, to groups of 100 or 150, all the way up to the ABCA conference at over 7000 participants.

ABCA Annual Conference

2-5 January 2020 in Nashville, TN at a cost of $120 ($80 for early, $100 for advanced and $150 for late registration)

This is the big production – clinics, trade shows, and banquets. They’re accepting up to 7100 attendees. There’s even a special Youth Coaches session on the 3rd and 4th. The 2021 convention will be a few miles from my house at the Gaylord National Harbor,  so I’m going to defer on the 2020 conference for a “no travel required” 2021 option.

Baseball Skill Acquisition Summit

12-13 October 2019 in Lakeland, FL at the Florida Baseball Ranch at a cost of $999

This is the second edition of the Summit, which is focused on “motor learning and skill acquisition conference targeted specifically for baseball.” After the initial 2018 Summit, 3 of the presenters were hired by MLB teams as consultants. The attendees included 53 representatives of MLB teams, so the value of this conference is understood at the highest level. As a beginning coach, I’d be way over my head.

Ultimate Pitching Coaches Bootcamp

6-8 December 2019 in Montgomery, TX at the Texas Baseball Ranch at a cost of $449

In it’s 20th iteration, the Ultimate Pitching Coaches Bootcamp has 3 intense days of pitching coach sessions that can be supplemented for another $99 with the Bonus Session on the 5th of December to learn the techniques and tools used by the Texas Baseball Ranch. This is limited to 150 coaches, so the ratio of coaches to speakers is probably 10:1 or so. This is intriguing because of the focus and the ratio.

Pitchapalooza

6-9 December 2019 in Franklin, TN which cost $349 in 2018

If you’re a pitching nerd like I am, trying to learn from folks using all the latest tools and scientific analyses, Pitch-a-Palooza is probably right up your alley. Last year they had Kyle Boddy, Dr Stephen Osterer, Eugene Bleecker, and Nunzio Signore among the speakers. I only know them from their writings and tweets, but they’re impressive. The rest of the speakers also have meaningful backgrounds, but those jumped out at me. This is a 300-coach conference, with representatives from 23 MLB teams in attendance last year. (What were the other 7 teams thinking?) Those headliners and the scientific approach catch my eye. It’s possible that I’d also get to visit the Civil War battlefield there….

CatcherCON

December 2019 in Nashville, TN

Every detail you want to learn about catching and coaching catchers is fair game at CatcherCon. When you search videos from the conference, you get great stuff like Xan Barksdale’s 2017 talk on drills for recovering blocked balls more quickly or Jerry Weinstein of the Rockies talking about Building Arm Strength in 2018. I started catching in January because I hadn’t tried it since 1978 and there are never enough catchers in men’s leagues. This, however, is also likely going to sail over my head.

Driveline Foundations of Pitching Certification

32 online courses with a live, in-person seminar to complete certification at a cost of $699

Deep dive, on your own schedule, into everything about pitching by Driveline’s experts. I think that the in-person sessions are currently all in Seattle, but that they plan on more sessions at other locations in the future. One of the nice things here is that you go at your own pace, on your own time. Of course, that can also be a hurdle if you find yourself too busy — being away a conference can give one an ability to focus. It has the added benefit of a certification at the end, which is likely going to helpful for those starting a career. I think I’m going to wait on this, while I see how much I might be over my head elsewhere.

Tentative thoughts

I’ve only been thinking about this for a few weeks, so I doubt that I even have half of the options available. So, right now, I’m thinking that I’ll go to one of the pitching conferences. I study and teach pitching a lot, so it would be good to get a deeper dive. There might be other options that I haven’t considered, so I’m eager to hear from you if you’ve done or are doing something else.