Penn Charter’s Winter Baseball Clinic keeps the game simple.
Want your child to learn to hit like a pro? They’ve already got some of the basic concepts down, according to David Miller, head of Penn Charter’s Winter Baseball Clinic and former first-round draft choice of the Cleveland Indians.
“When you ask a kid how they get higher on a swingset, every one of them knows the answer — it’s swinging back farther. A baseball swing is like that too. The farther back you go, the more power you generate when you swing through. Every kid knows that, but it’s the picture that makes it real for them.”
“When Charlie taught you, he explained it by ‘painting pictures with words.’ You can be the smartest guy in the world, he used to say in that drawl of his, but you can’t coach if you can’t paint a picture.”
How did Miller cross paths with Charlie? Miller had been struggling in the Indians minor league system, hitting .200 after a succession of hitting gurus left him “all screwed up.” The Indians sent Charlie for three days to see if he could fix Miller’s swing.
“He sat down with me, put his hand on my shoulder, and told me to clear my mind and just relax. And, believe me, Charlie’s gets your attention when he puts his hand on your shoulder — it’s a really big paw.”
And then they went to work. After Charlie’s visit, Miller went on a tear, hitting almost .500 the second half of the year and leading the country in hits and triples.
“A lot of what Charlie taught me I still use today with the kids in our clinic. From his basic drills to break down the swing to the use of video to show hitters where they’re making progress.”
Another lesson Miller learned — “keep it simple” — is at the heart of what he and his coaching partner Justin Hanley preach at their baseball clinics. They believe it’s a bad idea to overcoach younger players because it makes them hesitant to just play the game and, more importantly, learn from their mistakes.
“You’ll never hear us yell at a kid for making a mistake,” said Miller, “because if they don’t allow themselves to make mistakes, they won’t succeed. It’s a game of failure. If you allow mistakes to dim your passion for it, you’re already beaten.”
Makes sense then that their primary goal with younger players is to build up their passion for the game and competition. Hanley loves winter clinics, particularly when the younger kids play games like dizzy bat to encourage them to compete. “They love it. For hours they’ll play games. It’s just a natural thing for kids to do.”
Hanley, a pitching coach, believes that competing is the ultimate lesson, especially for youngsters, but as his students develop, he also wants them to understand how to pitch successfully.
“The very first, and most important thing I tell my pitchers is that location and movement, not velocity, are key to being a successful pitcher. Velocity is great, but it’s not sustainable. Most hitters would rather face a pitcher throwing a flat 92 mph fastball than an 84-86 mph pitch with movement.”
His goal is to develop “smart pitchers” who pitch with the entire lineup in mind and adjust their approach during a game as hitters change theirs. “It’s a game of adjustment,” he says. “We coach them as best we can in practice, but when it’s time to take the field, we want them to rely on themselves.”
Not too late to sign up for Penn Charter’s Winter Baseball clinic, starting this Saturday (and continuing weekly through Feb. 20th).
Miller and Hanley will announce their spring clinics soon. In the meantime, check out their local 13-15 year-old baseball instructional league, Miller Baseball. Spots still available.