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Seeing the Ball Part 2: Obstacles to Seeing the Ball

Seeing the ball should be as easy as it sounds, but it is not. There are obstacles to seeing the ball that interfere with the hitter’s ability to focus on such a simple task. Learning how to control these obstacles is imperative to successful hitting. The following are reasons I have found, over the course of my career, to be the most common obstacles to seeing the ball the best you can, every time you bat.

The fear of being hit by the ball makes it almost impossible to see the ball as well as you can. Fear is a distraction that divides attention. If a player has a fear of being hit, the first time a pitcher throws a pitch close to him, his mind gets scattered. A scattered mind loses focus. Many hitters have fear at the plate because they don’t see the ball well. The ball is on top of them before they have time to get out of the way.

Players have fear at the plate for other reasons as well. One of the big reasons is that they do not know the proper technique to get out of the way of pitches. This fear that one has at the plate can be overcome. Admitting to yourself that you have a fear of being hit is the first-step, then you must learn how to get out of the way of the ball (There is an excellent article on this learned skill elsewhere on this site; Click Here). When you develop the confidence in your ability to get out of the way of the ball, your fear will disappear. Obviously, seeing the ball will again be your number one priority, and getting hit will no longer be a distraction.

Divided Attention
Divided attention is trying to do two things at one time. Hitters get their best look at the ball (their “A Look”) when coaches tell them to take a pitch. However, when they start swinging at pitches, they don’t always see the ball well. When a hitter knows he is not swinging the bat well, there is only one thing to do, look at the ball. Be a little more selective, make it a priority to hit a good pitch every at bat. When hitter’s take this approach their attention is re-focused on seeing the ball. When a coach tells him he is hitting, now he has to do two things, see and hit. This divides his attention, and makes it difficult to get his “A Look” at the ball. Your best hitters are only focused on one thing, seeing the ball. They do this by preparing themselves to swing at every pitch as if the ball were going to be in their zone, and trust their eyes to tell them to stop (once they recognize the pitch is not what or where they want).

Thinking Too Much
Another reason that hitters have trouble seeing the ball is thinking too much. Additional thinking is a distraction that prohibits the eyes from working the way they should. Yogi Berra said, “you cannot think and hit”. If a hitter wastes mental energy focusing on how they feel, or what their mechanics are, they are not totally focused on seeing the ball. Ultimately, this will lead to poor decisions on what to swing at.

Trying Too Hard
Yet another reason for having problems seeing the ball is trying too hard mentally and/or physically. The harder you try, the smaller the ball looks. Putting out too much effort causes the hitter to swing too hard, pulling the head and eyes off the ball. Likewise, a hitter who is relaxed and stays within himself will not have extra tension. A relaxed hitter is more likely to see the ball with his “A Look”.
Timing of Concentration
Focusing or concentrating too early or too late also causes obstacles to seeing the ball. Timing is involved in focusing. When your eyes get to the release point too early or too late, it has a negative effect on seeing the release. Part of the hitter’s timing involves the hitter’s ability to zero in on the release area as the ball moves to the zone (Focal Point; an article on this topic in Mental Approach). Getting to the release point late means that the ball has already been released. The eyes then have to race ahead to pick the ball up, giving the impression that the ball is quicker than it actually is. Getting to the release point too early gives the mind time to interfere with concentration. Many thoughts may pop in their mind, and timing can be lost.

Poor Eye Position
Poor eye position causes major problems in seeing the ball. When a hitter leans too much from the waist over the plate, his eyes get tilted, making it difficult to judge the flight of the ball. Some hitters don’t turn their head to see the pitcher and barely see the pitcher with their back eye. Depth perception, which allows you to read the speed of the pitch, is best when the head faces the pitcher straight with both eyes on the pitcher, and the eyes are level.

Improving Your Ability to See the Ball
The ability to see the ball isn’t just having great eyesight, but is learning to use your eyes and brain more effectively. Even though coaches are constantly telling hitters to get a good look at the ball, only during a hot streak does a hitter see the ball as well as he can. A hitter’s attitude, physical, and mental preparation are all keys to seeing the ball better. Click on Hitting Drills for eye exercises designed to improve the many facets of vision.

Many players after failing in their first at-bat, striking out, popping out or whatever, come back to the dugout complaining how tough the background is, or how hard it is to see the ball. His attitude is;”this is a tough place to hit, or this is a tough pitcher to hit.” As one of his teammates may point out, “no one else has a problem”, and “everybody else is hitting the ball hard”. The hitter needs to realize that “excuses satisfy those who give them”. He needs a change in attitude. The moment the attitude changes, line drives start to happen. Proper attitude improves how well a hitter sees the ball. Attitudes can basically be changed by saying to yourself: (1) I’m really seeing the ball well, (2) the ball looks like a beach ball, (3) the ball looks like it is coming in slow motion, (4) I am right on everything he throws, or (5) every pitch is different, but I am going to get my “A Look” at every pitch. When you are not seeing the ball well, make sure your attitude is positive and visualize seeing the ball better than you ever have before.

Great hitters at the higher levels always anticipate that pitchers are going to throw to the corners and that every pitch is going to be nasty. Obviously that is not possible. Pitchers make mistakes, and hitters make mistakes. You must change your attitude to change your approach at the plate. The attitude must be, “I know the pitch will be down the middle”. With that type of attitude, it will change everything.

A little something I learned about attitude: If you give a numerical value to each letter in the word “attitude”, a=1, t=20, i=9, u=21, d=4, e=5, etc. the word “attitude” adds up to 100! Attitude = 100%!

Attitude is everything! Remember that.

About Rick Down

Richard John Down was named the New York Mets hitting coach on November 26, 2004. In 2004, he was the minor league batting instructor with the New York Yankees. Served two separate tours of duty as the Yankees batting coach from 1993-1995 and from 2002-2003. After leaving the Yankees in 1994, he was the hitting coach with the Baltimore Orioles (1995-1998), the Los Angeles Dodgers (1999-2000) and the Boston Red Sox (2001). Helped guide the 2000 Dodgers to a franchise record 211 home runs.

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