Below is a collection of Catching Tips from former Big League catcher Brent Mayne. Be sure to check out his excellent book, The Art of Catching. You can also subscribe to Brent's Weekly Catching Tips via email HERE.
Blocking and the Feet
This is getting a little bit technical, but remember, the devil is in the details. When going down to block a ball, make sure your feet stay flat. The laces of your shoes should be on the ground or at least facing down and ultimately your butt will sit on your cleats.
In other words, stay off your toes.
This is important because it will allow you to get lower. The higher you are in your blocking stance, the more the arms need to extend to cover the "five hole" (area in between your legs).
The more your arms extend, the more likely they'll get tangled up in the middle of your chest. And if you recall last weeks tip, we want the arms outside of the body, nowhere near the flat surface area of the chest.
A lower blocking stance allows the arms to bend - creating the most efficient and largest area for a wild pitch to hit.
"Man, the Weather Sucks"
The path to the top is a slippery slope. There's always something that will snag and trip the unaware. It could be injury, a lack of talent, or yes, even the weather.
Let's face it, unless you're blessed to spend all your playing days in Anaheim, LA, San Diego, Oakland, or in a dome, you better figure out how to get it done in inclement weather.
I finally learned this lesson when I played for San Fransisco and got slapped around daily by the erratic weather in Candlestick.
And the lesson is this. Don't talk about the weather. Ever. Don't commiserate or participate in any conversation about how hot or cold it might be...whether it's with a teammate or just in your own head. Don't even joke about it.
Understand full well that even though it's hot or cold, the game is gonna happen. Someone is going to win and someone is going to lose. Someone is going to perform and someone isn't.
Complaining about the conditions isn't going to help your cause. Matter of fact, it'll take you out of the game before it ever starts. Why waste energy on a fight you're not going to win?
Put your head down and grind it out. Even though it's an easy excuse, DON'T let the weather trip you up. Keep your mouth shut on the subject, stay positive, stay mentally strong, and rise above.
Your On-the-Field Demeanor
As a player, it's important to recognize that there's always people evaluating your play...be it next year's Little League coach, a college recruiter, or a pro scout.
And here's the thing. Some of these people are only going to see you perform one or two times. In those brief encounters, they're going to have to make a judgment on your character.
These folks can't possibly know if you're a good kid or that you have integrity. They don't have time and need to formulate a decision based on...that's right, your actions on the field.
You don't run a fly ball out, guess what, the scout thinks "bad attitude." You may be have a great attitude, but not to that guy. It can work in positive ways too.
All to say, play the game right and you'll have no worries. When you put the cleats on and cross the lines, play the game with passion, joy, and energy. You'll be a better player, a better teammate, and a more attractive prospect.
Protect Your Fingers
Living with pain and injury is part of being a catcher. Or is it?
Yes, you've got to have a certain degree of pain tolerance and a little luck to be a healthy catcher. However, having proper mechanics will prevent injury as much as anything.
Here is a simple way to protect your throwing hand and keep you off the DL.
Always go to the ball (make the glove to hand transition) with your bare hand in a soft fist, preferably leading with the back of your paw. Never go to the ball with outstretched fingers like the image above.
Trust me, you'd much rather have a foul ball ricochet off the back of your hand rather than the tip of a finger. Scenario one involves having a little pain tolerance. Scenario two means going on the DL for two months with a broken finger.
It's little mechanical tips like this that will keep you healthy, productive, and on the field.
Separating Offense from Defense
I was reading a story the other day about how Ted Williams used to practice his swing while he was in the outfield playing defense. Come to think of it, I'm pretty sure I've seen Manny Ramirez doing that.
Both of these guys are great players. Williams was the greatest hitter ever. But neither one played the catching position.
A good receiver can't afford to be thinking about his offense when he's on defense.
The reality is this...the biggest impact you'll have on the game and for your team is going to come from your defense.
Catching is a critical position. Your teammates (especially the pitchers) are depending on your performance and decision making ability. You owe them 100 percent of your focus.
The point is, when you put the gear on and go behind the plate, leave the offensive results in the dugout. Simply put, it's the right way to play the game and you'll be a better player if you can keep them separate.
Increasing Your Arm Strength
I get asked often about how to improve one's arm strength. But before I tell you my favorite method, let's get one thing straight.
God either blessed you with a cannon or He didn't. You can improve your arm to a certain degree, but for the most part, it is what it is. On the upside though, (and you should know this from a past tip of the week) velocity is NOT the most important thing when it comes down to being an effective catcher/thrower.
That being said, the best way I know of to improve arm strength is by playing long toss.
Simply lengthen out your warm up session to a point where you throw the ball about 90% with a mild arc, using good solid mechanics and lower body drive, and one hop your partner. (See my book for more on proper technique).
The distance will change daily and as soon as you start to two hop you've gone a bit too far. Make about 10 throws at this distance 4-5 times a week and if your arm is anything like mine, it'll feel great and your velocity will improve.
Disclaimer - obviously, if your arm hurts use some common sense and see an expert. Long toss is a great way to rehab and build strength to a healthy arm.