Basically, everything you’ve been taught is wrong

Even now, I or another of my teammates on one of my co-ed Lansing rec league softball teams will say to a struggling hitter, “Swing level.”

My good friend Maggie, who rediscovered her swing the first year I played on her team, said she can always hear her father, good old Ray Striz, telling her to keep her back elbow up when she settles into her stance at the plate.

But that’s all wrong. So is the generic, unhelpful advice to “stay back.”

Let’s start with swinging level. When I was an up-and-comer (read: sixth-grade fast-pitch Little-Leaguer), the chant from the bench was this: Swing level, swing level, and run like the devil. And that’s fine advice, if your goal is to hit grounders or line drives that don’t clear the infield and are easily nabbed by the shortstop.

In fact, the path your swing should take is more like a hula hoop tilted skyward at the finish, pointing toward the catcher’s mask at the low end. Imagine, as I do, the rings of Saturn, turned up 45 degrees.

In making contact with the ball—getting under it, as Rod Allen would note—while swinging on an upward track above level, you’re going to put the ball in the air, leading to either greater power and distance if you’re a power hitter, or better base-hit line drives if you’re my size. Which is, to be clear, 5-foot-2 and not very beefy.

When you finish your swing, your bat should be hitting you at the very top of your leading shoulder—in my case, my left shoulder, as I am a righty.

swing Take a look at my high school photo. Notice anything funny? Look at my wrists. My top hand has rolled over the bottom as I finish my swing, which is the telltale sign that you’re swinging level to a fault. It meant a lot of easy grounders, and an inability to consistently put the ball in the air unless I got a pitch that was already high, and forced me to get under it.

Here’s where the back elbow comes in. Keeping it up doesn’t help you, my coach says, unless you’re Ken Griffey Jr. In which case, you probably aren’t spending your Friday evenings getting drilled with grounders and taking hundreds of swings in the cages.

How can millions of American fathers have been so wrong? Because it’s actually not so much about the back arm—and elbow—as the front arm, and getting your hands through the zone—with the bat lagging back—before you push through with the final burst: stiffening the front leg, exploding through the hips and completing that upward arc.

Need a visual? This is about as good as it gets:

When I walk onto the field this spring, I want people to mistake my swing for Miguel Cabrera’s. And, as long as we’re wishing for insanely unlikely things, my hair, too.

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2 Responses to “Basically, everything you’ve been taught is wrong”
  1. MaggieMI says:

    YEeeeeessss!

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