BaseballTake a Lead, I Dare You

By Bryan Peters

I have a dream job.

As the Associate Head Coach of the Long Beach State Dirtbags I am part of an amazing staff, a historic program, and a phenomenal school with an electric community.  Let me highlight:

Amazing staff:

  • Eric Valenzuela, Head Coach – If you don’t know him, GTS!  He’s a winner.  Wins everywhere he goes.  He’s a great coach, husband, and father.  The model of who you would want to play for, work for, and be friends with.  I consider myself lucky to work for him, and even luckier to have him as a friend. 
  • Daniel Constanza, Recruiting Coordinator – Daniel Costanza All you need to know is there was a degree in Care Factor he would have a PhD.  
  • Ryan Day, Catching Coach – Ryan Day If it’s not awkward, I’d like to describe him as a daggum sweetheart.  He is such a great human combined with such high competence, in makes him an outstanding coach.  
  • Jordan Aboites, Director of Player Development – A talented player who is on his way to becoming a super star in the coaching industry.  He came in as an empty cup, its getting filled quickly. 

Historic Program:

The Dirtbags is not just a cool nickname.  Being a Dirtbag is a badge of honor, it’s a privilege, it’s a brand, it’s an aura, it’s a lifestyle, and it’s a tradition.  It comes with a lot of expectation.  We play hard, we get dirty, we’re tough, and we win.  Don’t come here if you aren’t ready for that.  We’re one of just 28 teams in all of the NCAA with 4+ CWS appearances.  We’ve made 22 regional appearances, won 12 conference titles, and had 27 30-win seasons.  We’ve also had 258 total draft picks, 10 first rounders.  We’ve had 53 total major leaguers including the most of all colleges from 2010-2017.  The Dirtbags are good.

Phenomenal School:

Cal State University of Long Beach CSULB was ranked the No. 2 master’s-level university in the nation in Washington Monthly’s annual College Guide and Rankings, which focused on the university’s contributions to social mobility, research, and promotion of public service. Washington Monthly also ranked CSULB No. 1 “Best Bang for the Buck” in the Western United States, a jump from No. 10 in 2020. This best-value ranking assessed social mobility metrics like graduation rates, tuition, and the number of Pell grant recipients who earned bachelor’s degrees

Electric Community:

Long Beach = The LBC.  You know it.  Everyone knows it.  What is “it?”  To learn that let’s find out what we are not.  We are not LA and we are not OC.  We ARE right in the middle both geographically, and culturally.  We’re a fun, chill, and diverse little beach town.  The weather is always perfect. We don’t get hot, we don’t get cold, and it never rains.  We’re also right in between the Dodgers and the Angels, but we don’t have our own professional sports team.  We also don’t have a football team.  That means Long Beach loves the Dirtbags. So we have great support and a great atmosphere at Bohl Diamond at Blair Field.  If I said there’s a buzz, I’d mean the steady buzz of excitement from our loyal, passionate, and knowledgeable fan base.  But that would sell the other buzzes short, because the national pastime goes well with an ice-cold brew, and there is plenty to go around during our games.

So why am I of all people writing a blog about catching?

With all the background information into our program, why am I writing a blog about catching?  I am probably the least qualified on our staff to speak about coaching catchers.  However, over my journey as a college coach and recruiter I have been influenced by some great catching coaches and constantly have been in pursuit of bringing in top level catching.  One of those is Greg Brown, who I worked for at Nova Southeastern University for two seasons.  Brownie is one of the best catching coaches I’ve ever met and he also happens to be an elite hitting coach.  He became a mentor to me and is one of my best friends.  Beyond that, I’m old.  I’ve been around for a minute.  So before I cough, or fall asleep, or forget what I’m writing this for… let’s get into it! 

Recruiting Catchers – Take a lead I dare you 

No no, not that kind of lead.  I’m not talking about A lead.  I’m talking about taking THE lead.  The first thing we want in a Dirtbag catcher is leadership.  That’s a broad brush and a wide umbrella but allow me to break it down further.  For years now the coaches and teachers have professed “kids have changed” and they have griped that “there are no leaders anymore.”  I’ll save my opinions on that for another blog but for the purpose of this blog, let’s carry on as if that is true that there are no more leaders.

When you’re watching a catcher, and he is a leader, it sure is pretty.  You know it when you see it.  It goes along with the coaching cliche about catching, he’s the field general.  There are so many layers to being a leader behind the plate.  If I could sum it up with an illustration it would be the image at the top of this blog.  He’s in the trenches, not in the castle.  He’s reliable, durable, and tough.  He communicates and collaborates.  He has a relentless energy and enthusiasm. He understands the game and the players, he’s knowledgeable of the X’s and O’s but considers the Johnnies and Joes.  In football when the ball is hiked, 11 people on offense know what to do and do it in an instant and in harmony.  Eleven people on defense react to those 11.  In baseball a catcher’s job is to know what all 9 people will do when the ball is put in play.  But he also must know all 9 personalities, especially the ones on the clay.  He also better have a good rapport with the umpire and the guy calling the pitches.   There is a lot going on and a lot to take in.  

Two other forms of leadership that reveal themselves, especially in the tools of ignorance, are passion and ambition.  It’s hard to find a great catcher that doesn’t love catching.  An obsession of the craft goes a long way.  That healthy obsession is paramount to getting the most out of a job that gets you as beat up as catching does.  Passion and ambition are attractive qualities because they come with side orders of effort and emotion.  A catcher, who catches a lot of bullpens, takes a lot of blocks off bones, catches foul tips off flesh, who is weighed down with a protective armor, squats down, and stands up repeatedly for hours, that has bounce in his step despite the challenges of the position.  You cannot do that without passion and ambition.  If normal and average are the same thing, then elite and crazy must be the same thing.  And yes, you might have to be crazy to be a catcher who leads.  And that is why you know it when you see it.  Even better still, you hear it.  A great catcher has a sound.  Is that weird?  Next time you see one listen.  There is the whack of a ball caught perfectly in the pocket that is as sexy of a sound as an old school R&B jam. It’s phonetically gorgeous.  But it’s not just the sound of the mitt popping, it’s the constant chirping.  The flow of communication, from encouragement to the pitcher, healthy debate with an umpire, the commanding of game situations to all on the field, and relaying information to the coaches in the dugout, comes from the catcher. The real catchers are the loudest whilst catching a bullpen.  There’s a barrage of one liners, “great pitch,” “dude that was nasty,” “ah don’t leave that there,” “hey get that in the dirt, I’ll block it I swear.” *Side note, when he does get it down there the next time, you better actually block it like it was the 11th inning of a playoff game with the winning run on 3rd.  Doesn’t all that sound like leadership to you?  The poor catchers dread catching pens, so they pout.  When they pout not only do they not get better, but they are not doing their part to make the pitching staff better.  You do not have to be demonstrative, an extrovert, or the biggest guy on the field to take command of the game.  The beauty is you can be yourself, but you need to be heard. The passion and ambition reveal themselves all over the field. There is usually one catcher on every team all the pitchers want to throw to.  Be that one.  

What about tools?  What about the skill set?  Of course, dude…calm down!  

We want catching skills, especially the ability to Receive, Block, and Throw — in that order.  The reason for that preference order is because of the volume each contribute to winning baseball games.  You receive more pitches that you block.  You block more pitches than you throw to bases.  And ultimately, WE Want to Win Games.  

Receive well to get pitches in the shadows to be strikes instead of balls.  Passed balls should not be a thing.  Catch it — it’s the root word of your position.  When the pitch is off the edges of the strike zone, catch it a strike.  Just do it.  It is crucial to our success.

Block well.  Take pride in it.  Block so well that wild pitches are not even a thing.  I love it when people argue that wild pitches are not the catcher’s fault because “the pitcher threw it in the dirt.”  Of course he did, he will do it again, and he should.  But it only counts as a wild pitch if a runner advances a base.  They usually only advance a base if the block got away too far from the catcher.  When the pitcher throws a ball in the dirt, the runner does not always advance.  Clean blocks prevent them from advancing.  Additionally, a blocked ball can lead to an assist and the recording of an out.  If the baserunner tries to advance on a ball in the dirt, and you block it well, the key is to be able to recover it well.  Then make the clean throw.  That is the magic.  Or go ahead, blame a wild pitch on the pitcher.   A leader doesn’t.

Throw well enough so that we can have some grip on the running game.  As long as stealing bases are not as automatic as if a track meet broke out on the baseball diamond, we can still manage a game to win.  Especially when our catcher is receiving and blocking well.  So pop times, sure.  Be good.  The lower the better.  But we can do a lot of things as coaches to help control the running game.  Be clean and accurate with the baseball to prevent extra 90’s.  The issue becomes that often the evaluation process begins with the pop time, yet it is the least important.  Therefore, in most catcher’s training they constantly are trying to improve their pop times.  We would we love a great arm, accurate, with a quick release, of course.  Work on those things, but throw well enough.  To summarize: 1 Lead 2 Receive 3 Block 4 Throw

Hitting? It is a bonus.  Especially in college.  If you can hit and catch, you are an automatic pro prosect.  You probably think you can hit and catch at elite levels, sorry, there are only about seven of those on the planet.  And none of them go to college.  So for us we try to give ourselves options to win.  That means we usually have one catcher who is elite defensively, one who’s offensive, maybe one that bats left-handed, and hopefully another with a pretty balanced skill set.  We will opt for the one that helps us win the game that day more often than not.  That is usually the best leader.  They all better lead and lead well.  They all better have passion and ambition, effort and energy.  They all better be obsessed and crazy.  But there will be one, THE ONE, that leads the most.

Take the lead catchers.  I dare you.  Not only do we dare you to, we need you to.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *