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Sports Talk: Fundamentals are often lost on professionals

Before I start on my weekly diatribe allow me to wish The McDuffie Mirror Happy Anniversary, Birthday, or whatever it is.

Anniversary sounds better; especially when you realize that editor Jason Smith has too much gray hair to even be associated with a first birthday. Jason, Kristopher, Elwood and the gang have done a great job in presenting McDuffie County newspaper coverage based on positives.

I've been watching a lot of college baseball on TV the last month. I guess the Georgia Bulldogs making it to the College World Series and getting there through Clemson and Georgia Tech spurred my interest.

What I noticed most by watching all of the college teams was that those kids seem to have the basic fundamentals down much better than many major leaguers. They at least attempted to execute the fundamentals with superior enthusiasm and hustle than their big league brethren.

The first fundamental that I noticed that college guys seemed to excel in is the catcher blocking or catching pitches in the dirt. Few college pitchers can smoke the ball regularly at 95 mph. They have to rely on curveballs and change-ups. In turn, their catcher gets real dirty selling out to stop balls that may bounce around the plate. They have to throw a lot of swinging third strikes out at first base.

When I watch the big leaguers, it often appears they are afraid of scratching up their shin guards. Former Brave and current Oriole Javier Lopez was the worst. He liked to just stab at a pitch and hope it ended up in the mitt. He even had trouble handling relay throws with runners coming in.

You could also tell that college coaches have their teams well drilled in backing up bases on defense. The middle infielders constantly darting into the picture to back up the catcher's return throw to the pitcher was downright annoying. I guess the pros figure the catcher will never overthrow the pitcher.

I recently went to a Braves-Royals game and observed the Braves pitchers literally move in slow motion to back up third or home on balls hit to the outfield. One of their relievers looked like he just decided it was too hot to even try. It wasn't too hot for the Royal hitters to rip balls into the gaps.

Bunting is another lost art in the major leagues in my opinion. The college guys square around early and will stick their noses on the ball if need be to move a runner up a base. I think the major leaguers try to get two strikes on them so the manager will call the bunt off. They demonstrate the same excitement with a bunt that I do at a Saturday afternoon wedding.

As I made these points to my buddy that went to the Braves game with me, he agreed. He offered a very simple, yet astute explanation. "The guy in charge of a professional baseball team is called a manager, a college team is led by a coach," he said.

I wish I'd said that. It's clear that a coach makes his team practice those little fundamentals more often than a manager even thinks about them. After all, his guys are pros.

Web posted on Thursday, July 1, 2004

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