For the second season in a row I had the honor and privilege of attending the World Baseball Coaches Convention in Uncasville, Connecticut. The event is put together by a group headed by former major leaguer Pete Walker. This year's speakers included John Farrell, the pitching coach of the Boston Red Sox, Trey Hillman, manager of the Kansas City Royals and Turtle Thomas, head coach at Florida International and formerly of LSU. Other notable speakers at the convention were Matt Nokes, Rich Gedman, Steve Phillips and Jim Penders. Nokes is pedaling a new approach to hitting, which in my eyes needs a lot of help to catch on. There is just far too much movement before the swing for high school players to grasp. Jim Penders is the head coach over at UCONN and absolutely brilliant baseball man; I would not be shocked to see him at the next level sometime soon. Also in attendance, but not speaking was Jennie Finch. She was promoting her new device she has called The Finch Windmill. After being around a bunch of Oakley wearing dudes for three days, she was a sight for sore eyes.
The convention (for the most part) is a place for coaches of all levels to get together and exchange some new ideas and techniques through lectures and forums. From frisbee drills, to new ways to soft toss, everyone has their own take on what works best. There were very few coaches from New Jersey; the convention is made up mostly of coaches from the Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts. That didn't matter though, all you need to do is throw on some coaches’ shoes, a hat and a pair of Oakley’s (upside down on the brim of course) and everyone automatically becomes old friends. We are all pretty much in the same boat. We have to endure the same weather and the same cramped practice spaces, but are still expected to be successful in what we do. The convention gives you a way to share and learn new ways of dealing with these east coast obstacles.
Each year the people that put it together usually throw in a few notables that draw the big crowds. This year that notable speaker was John Farrell. I attended just one of his lectures, but found him to be a very honest and very intelligent man. The topic of the lecture I attended was Maximizing Your Pitchers Performance. The room was filled with coaches that had changed out of their respective team's gear and into Red Sox jerseys, except for some big dope (Three guesses, first two don't count) in the fifth row wearing a Yankees hat. I tried to remain focused and listen to him as a coach looking to learn, but I kept reverting to the guy who writes for YFSF. So while I won't bore you with his pitching practices, here are some of the tidbits I thought you guys would be interested in:
- Did you know that on days he pitches Josh Beckett eats a turkey sandwich at exactly 2 o'clock? Me either. He also keeps a very detailed journal of all his performances. Something Farrell recommended for all pitchers.
- While warming up for the game in which he threw a no hitter, Jon Lester threw four balls off the back of the bullpen wall. (You hear this a lot when people speak of their no hitters, it's fairly common. His point was you don't have to be perfect, to be perfect.)
- During Jon Lester's no hitter last season there was almost a point where they pulled the plug and went to the bullpen. Going into the ninth inning Francona and Farrell were concerned with Lester's pitch count, so they called up to Theo to get the ok for him to continue. That ninth inning was in fact batter to batter he said. The rest is history.
- One of the most fascinating things he mentioned was that Daisuke long tosses from 300 feet. In comparison Wakefield goes from 90 feet, Beckett and Lester go from 200. Take a second to think of how far 300 feet is.
- In Lester's first season Farrell noticed that after every inning Lester would come off the field, walk over to the catcher at the time and go over the previous inning. Farrell put an end to that because in his eyes that "reinforces the things that went wrong."
Overall I thought Farrell was one of the better speakers at the convention. He really has an interesting take on pitching and I am glad that I had the chance to listen to him speak, regardless of the team he works for.
The other speaker I found to be very interesting was Trey Hillman, manager of the Kansas City Royals. Trey's lecture was titled "Getting the Most out of Your Staff and Players." Trey Hillman was a "very average player" by his own estimation. He decided to retire at the age of twenty-five to become a scout with the Indians. At that time he was the youngest scout in baseball. After spending one season with the Indians he was offered a job by the Yankees. He spent more than ten seasons in the Yankees system before heading over to Japan to manage. Long story short he is a true student of the game. He respects the game and the opportunity he has tremendously and really understands his role. He knows he will be fired someday, as he puts it "everyone is." He spoke of Jose Guillen and how his goal this season was to really try and connect with Jose. He said Guillen has the most passion for the game and strongest desire to win of any of the players in his clubhouse. Hillman also said that "they are elated to have Coco Crisp." He also said that since the trade, Coco has been working with the Royals on strengthening his arm because in Hillmans words Coco "grades out to have a below major league average arm." Hillman does think however that this can be corrected. On the topic of the John Gibbons hiring he said "It was 100% my idea." After being fired from the Blue Jays last season the Royals hired Gibbons to be their bench coach. Hillman said this was not the controversy that some made it out to be. He wanted a guy that was familiar with the American League and John Gibbons was that man. Hillman comes off as a very likeable, down to earth guy who truly loves the game.
I attend a few conventions each year and this to me is by far the best run and most informative one there is. There is such a great mix of all levels of the game, from high school to the major leagues. This is an event that I hope continues for years to come.