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Dr. Whacko's Guide
To Slow-Pitch Softball
by Bruce Brown

Dr. Whacko's Guide to Slow-pitch Softball by Bruce Brown cover

Dr Whacko's Guide to Slow-Pitch Softball
by Bruce Brown
BF Communications Inc. 2015
Buy Bruce Brown's book on Amazon!

Quick Take --

This is the original slow-pitch softball classic -- now in a special 24th anniversary Kindle Edition. Booklist called Dr. Whacko's Guide to Slow-Pitch Softball, "funny and informative," and slow-pitch softball players all over the world agree. The 16 stories Dr. W. tells here are mostly about the oddball cast of characters that make up his fictional team, The Mouth Breathers, and their one shining season of slow-pitch softball success. Each yarn serves up several slow-pitch softball lessons, but if you don't have time to be amused, you can simply speed-read Dr. Whacko's Slow-Pitch Softball Tips. They've been essential slow-pitch softball reading for over two decades!

Excerpt --

Red Shoes Don't Make It Anymore
- Or -
Hitting the Slow-Pitch Strike

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THERE IS NOTHING this old practitioner likes seeing more than a hot young baseball player come up to bat for the first time in a slow-pitch softball game -- especially on the other team.

Dr. Whacko's Guide To Slow-Pitch Softball cover from Colliers first editionIf I'm pitching, I'll do my best dork routine. Pulling my pants up too high, I begin to twitch oddly around the mouth and eyes. Sometimes I'll even drop the ball and then kick it awkwardly as I reach to pick it up.

I remember one guy who thought I was particularly hopeless. He almost salivated as he tapped the dirt off his fancy red spikes, which matched the baseball uniform pants he was wearing with a comparatively simple (and clashing) slow-pitch T-shirt top.

I gave him lots of time to get himself set, which he did with the deliberate delicacy that most people reserve for handling a lethal weapon. I could tell he was expecting to drive the ball by the way he studied the power alleys in left- and right-center.

"Come on, Bud," the third base coach shouted to the hitter. "Ducks on the pond. Blast that sucker!" The guy at the plate -- who was about 23 -- leveled his bright anodized aluminum bat over the plate a couple times. "Are you ready?" I asked, twisting him a little tighter.

Tony, the catcher and father confessor figure on our team, has spoken to me about this. "You toy with them too much," he told me once when we were celebrating a particularly satisfying slow-pitch softball tournament victory. "Why draw it out?" he asked. "The guy is just a formality."

I defended my motives -- a bit too strenuously perhaps -- in terms of the aesthetics of pitching, but I did not disagree with his basic point. It doesn't matter how good a player was in fast-pitch softball or baseball. He really doesn't have much of a chance the first time he faces a good slow-pitch hurler.

The reason is that the games of baseball and slow-pitch softball are too different. Despite the fact that they both are played on diamonds with bats, gloves, bases, three strikes and four balls, baseball and slow-pitch softball are very different. To play slow-pitch successfully, you have to adjust not only your hitting and pitching, but also your defense and underlying strategy.

Take the guy in the red shoes. Even before the first pitch, he had already made a mistake which doomed his first turn at bat. The problem was his position in the batter's box. He took a straightaway position, with one foot in front of the plate and the other behind it. In hardball this is a good place to be. Some hitters may prefer to stand closer to the pitcher at the front of the box, and others may prefer to stand farther away at the back of the box, but straightaway is always a safe choice, especially against a pitcher you have never faced before.

In slow-pitch softball, however, straightaway is a very bad place to be. The reason is the high arc of the ball after it leaves the pitcher's hand. A strike must be lofted to a height of at least six feet, and then fall in a roughly four-square-foot area behind the plate. This means that the ball passes over the plate about head-high, or way out of the normal hitting zone. The only way to hit this pitch this is to attack it with an unorthodox stroke like lumberjacks use in the double-bladed axe throw.

 

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The real Dr. Whacko on the sidelines before a slow-pitch softball game in Havana, Cuba, in 1984. Angel Pino, of Prensa Latinoamericana, is standing behind the “crazy physician of the softball.”FORTUNATELY, the guy in the red shoes was cool. I could tell by the way he tucked up the sleeve of his shirt like the San Francisco Giants' Will Clark that he had studied the classical forms. He would not take an ungainly hack if he could help it. And so I threw a simple strike, right down the middle of the plate. He thought it was high, stared at the umpire for a moment, and then walked away. Now he was really determined to cream the big white ball. I obliged him with a lower arc pitch that seems impossibly fat to a hardball hitter. The ball curved from left to right, though, and it was so soft that it actually fell well in front of the plate. The umpire was just beginning to call it flat when the eager hitter swung and fouled the ball weakly off the end of the bat.

The count was now no balls and two strikes. I knew if I struck him out my team would all throw themselves to the grass as if moved by an invisible wind. This is one of the little jokes we have developed over our years of playing together. Teams that know us will even sometimes strikeout on purpose just to see Dr. Whacko and the Mouth Breathers throw themselves on their backs. One cold, wet day a few years ago, an arch rival tavern team struck out three times (and ended up losing the game) for the pleasure of seeing us in the mud. Today, the field was dry, though. I wanted the strikeout, so I reached deep into my bag of tricks.

I decided to try a pitch I had been working on during the week on my mound at home. It used backspin to gyroscopically curve like a screwball. When it works it can break as much as 8 inches, but it doesn't always break. Then it's a easy mark, like a chicken on a busy roadway. I tried to throw it as a backdoor strike on the outside corner, that is a ball that starts outside but comes back at the last instant to catch the far corner of the plate. The ball broke well, but I had been too cautious, and it did not come back enough. The batter watched the ball all the way down to the ground, and then stared back at the umpire as if daring to call it a strike. Ball one.

Tony, who was catching as usual, got up out of his crouch behind the plate and threw the ball back with authority that spoke in the crack of the ball in my glove. I came back with high arc, which is both the statistically hardest to throw for a strike, and the hardest to hit if it drops in. Because the ball can come down from a height of 12 feet (or more in some leagues), a high arc pitch must be intercepted in that brief moment when it falls through the plane of the batter's swing. This is much harder than you'd think. It's also much different from baseball or fast-pitch softball, where the bat and pitched ball occupy the same plane much longer. But my high arc pitch was deep, falling too far behind the plate.

The count was now two balls and two strikes, and I could hear Tony's words in my mind. Now I had to throw a strike, and the guy in red shoes knew it. I thought, well, he hasn't had a good swing yet. Let's see him hit it. So I threw the same pitch I started with, simple backspin right down the middle of the plate. He still hadn't adjusted his position in the batter's box, and so once again the pitch seemed high to him. He knew he had to swing at anything close, though, so he took a rip. It was the best swing he'd had yet, but because of the height of the pitch, he was forced to uppercut the ball, lofting it deep into right center field.

I turned and watched Boo, our right center fielder, drifting back under the tall lights, calling and waving his arms. The ball was in his sights, and since we were playing on a field with no fences, there was nothing to stop him from going and getting it. He drifted back another half dozen or so strides, and then gathered it in his grasp, which was as soft and icy as a foot of new fallen snow.

Back on the bench, Tony caught my eye. I knew what he was going to say so I answered before he could ask. "Just working on my reputation as a mental case," I said.

Dr. Whacko's Notebook #1: Poodle Alert at the Plate

1) As you step up to the plate to hit, think where you are going to stand in the batters box because a poor choice can take you out before the first pitch.

2) To maximize your chances, you've got to be able to hit the strikes. If you can't, a decent slow-pitch hurler will play with you like a poodle shredding Kleenex.

3) During practice, go up to the plate and position yourself where you need to be to take the ball that falls just behind the plate for a quality strike. Insist on strikes during batting practice so that you get in the habit of recognizing and swinging at good pitches.

4) Boiled down, this means that most hitters playing in rec leagues should be standing deeper in the box than they would in baseball.

This is an excerpt from Dr. Whacko's Guide To Slow-Pitch Softball by Bruce Brown. Buy Dr. Whacko's Softball on Amazon!

©Copyright 1991, 2015 by Bruce Brown

   

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