If you had a dollar for every time you heard someone tell a hitter to “keep your eye on the ball,” you would be able fill your car up with gas and not get angry about the cost. But that is a discussion for another day. This all-time classic of hitting wisdom does really carry a lot more weight than some of us might have thought at first listen. So here we go…
After all these years of coaching, one thing has become abundantly clear to me. Most hitters think they are “keeping their eye on the ball” but many of them are not. And some are really not!
We all know that our eyes are an important part of hitting the ball, or almost anything in this game, and something that we often take for granted. It seems so obvious that the hitter needs to “see the ball” to have any idea of where it is headed and when the ball is going to arrive. It’s common sense right? Well, we all know that common sense and common practice aren’t always the same thing.
There are many parts of seeing the ball as we discuss how to improve our hitting. The first piece might need to start with a trip to the eye doctor. Finding out if a hitter has vision shortcomings that can be corrected is a great place to start.
I coached a player several years ago that did a great job in her younger days, but started to really struggle as she transitioned into the college game. At first we took for granted that it was the step up in competition but after, probably too long, decided to send her to the eye doctor and found that her vision really needed help. The doctor explained that her vision could have been changing over a period of time and that she had been able to fake it until the that point in time. Point being, she got contact lenses and started to kill the ball.
The second part of the equation is tied in many ways to the first. Many hitters don’t see the ball very well, but because they are talented and have worked hard their brain is able to fill in the gaps in information and they can still have some success. They see the ball for a few feet out of the pitchers hand and their experience allows them to guess pretty well where and when the ball will arrive and hit it fairly consistently. They may have perfect vision or may not but they acquire just enough information early in the process to still be a pretty good hitter. It is my experience that many hitters fall into this category.
The third issue is that most hitters don’t value their ability to track the ball for a longer distance or don’t understand that they are not seeing the ball very well because they are in the group we just discussed and have been having some success. To address this issue we have to train our hitters to see the ball longer. There are a lot of different drills (numbers on the balls, colored dots on the balls, smaller balls) that work on a hitters awareness of how well they are seeing the ball and to work on improving that skill. The important thing is to help our players understand that they can improve their ability to see the ball and create an environment where they will work on it.
We have all seen many instances where a hitter appears to be swinging at some sort of imaginary ball because they are missing the real ball by so much. These big misses can be attributed to a lot of things. One of the biggest might just be that she is swinging at the ball she is seeing it’s just not really the ball.