sports psychologist & clinical psychology

TWITCH HITTERS: PRE-PITCH ROUTINES

Colorado Springs Gazette – May 16, 2006 – Milo F. Bryant – Use the back foot to scuff a spot in the batters box dirt. Back out of the box. Tap the toe of each cleat twice. Tap tap. Tap tap. Adjust the helmet. Tug the jersey a couple of times. Tap the cleats again.

Tap tap. Tap tap.

Check the helmet again. Maniacally adjust, readjust and re-readjust the batting gloves. Take a couple of practice swings.

Step into the batters box, ready for the pitch.

Los Angeles Dodgers first baseman Nomar Garciaparra goes through much of that routine in and around the batter’s box before each pitch. He and other hitters say such rhythms are essential parts of the process of trying to get a hit.

Others call it annoying shenanigans and grandstanding.

Sometimes, I think its overboard, Colo- rado Rockies reliever Ray King said, referring to Garciaparra, who will be in Denver for a three-game series against the Rockies starting tonight. tapping his shoe, loosening his wristbands. You need more TV time? Become a pitcher.

Å“I think some of them do it for the attention. You know, the game is televised, or he’s got his buddy in the stands. Theyre stepping in and stepping out, and Im like, ‘lets gooooo.

The routine is a normal part of life according to Garciaparra, who cares little about a pitcher’s gripes. Some people wash their face then brush their teeth. Some brush their teeth first.

“It’s more to get yourself focused than anything, Garciaparra said. You can ask anybody if they take the same way to work every day. Or, if theres going to be a big day, do they put on a certain shirt? Or if theyre going for a job interview, do they wear a certain thing? People do it in all walks of life.

“Some people, if they dont have the cup of coffee in the morning, they dont feel right. Its part of what we do. Part of what we are. Its part of human nature.

Garciaparra is no Mike “The Human Rain Delay Hargrove, known in baseball circles as having the most irritatingly long batters box routine. Hargrove finished his 12-season career in 1985. Garciaparra is the current leader in the race to take Hargrove’s crown.

Rockies infielder Jamey Carroll doesnt remember when his routine started. Carroll has been doing it so long he considers it more of a habit than a special routine.

Routines can be broken. Habits are hard to break. Carroll has to do it, or the at-bat doesn’t feel right.

“What I do is clean out the box, Carroll said. I dig my spot with the right foot. Then wipe it with the left.

Carroll said the wipe with the left foot completes a cross in the dirt to symbolize Jesus and what is most important to him.

“I look down and get the sign, he said of the next part in his routine, referring to the third base coach. “I step back in, and I hit the corner of the plate one time. And there we go.

John F. Murray, a Palm Beach, Fla.-based sports psychologist, said routines are important because the management of downtime matters.

The actual time a batter performs an action is short. Like a golfer, the batters only action happens during the swing. Everything else is downtime � the moments before that first pitch, the moments between pitches.

“Because the situation is so important, we do things to become more patterned and consistent, Murray said he routine is supposed to have the effect of preparing the person for that moment in a consistent manner, such that in possible moments of stress, anxiety, anger, over-excitement, that we have something to fall back on to put us into a rhythm. . . . It has to be consistent. You dont want to rush it, and you dont want to change (the routine) once you have a good one.

Garciaparra, 32, has played 11 seasons and is a career .320 hitter.

Major League Baseball has tried to shorten games, some of which last four hours. Batters often blame pitchers. Pitchers blame the batters who have found that one good routine, as Murray suggests.

Dodgers pitcher Eric Gagne, who faced Garciaparra when he played for the Cubs, called Garciaparra’s routine a little weird. But the routine, Gagne said, isnt as bad as other batters.

“He does a lot of stuff, but he doesnt slow down the game, Gagne said. There are some guys who go and just take their sweet time. If you dont slow down the game, it doesnt matter what you do.

“Sometimes there are guys who just wont step in the box. Either theyre not mentally ready or they havent done their routine all over again.

St. Louis Cardinals outfielder John Rodriguez hasn’t completed a full season in the majors, yet his batters box routine already irritates many.

Houston Astros manager Phil Garner shook his head and rolled his eyes as he specifically pointed to Rodriguez digging a toe hold, stepping out of the box, taking swings, then taking time to get back in the box.

Then he steps in, steps back, wiggles, does all this, and its just like, ËœKid, get in the box, King said, getting more exasperated the more he talked about Rodriguez. When youve been in this league 10, 12 years, then you can do all that.

If a batter takes too long to get in the box, the umpire can signal the pitcher to throw anyway.

“The league is always trying to speed up the game, and they rush the pitchers, King said. “But some of these hitters, they need to rush them. Step in, step out, check the bat 20 times. . Lets go. Either youre going to hit the ball or youre not going to hit the ball.

Astros second baseman Craig Biggio uses that mentality. Biggio, 40, is a seven-time All-Star who said he doesnt have a set routine.

Biggio, like most batters, simply wants to be comfortable at the plate. Time is Biggis only constant.

Look, I dont want to stand up there too long, Biggio said. i want to get up there and go.

Batters such as Biggio like that rhythm. If, however, a batter is hitting well, a pitcher may take a little more time to disrupt that rhythm.

Batters think the same way. They dont want pitchers, who are in a groove, to maintain that comfort zone. Some batters box routines might be lengthened simply to irritate a pitcher such as King.Å“You dont want him up there just throwing away,current Astros and former Rockies center fielder Preston Wilson said. So, there is a little cat and mouse game going on.

Dr. John F. Murray is a sports psychologist and clinical psychologist providing sports psychology and counseling services based in Palm Beach, Florida.

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