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At the Holiday Baseball Camp, fun is in, hitting flaws are out

December 29, 2018

As a former collegiate head baseball coach and now a Cleveland Indians scout, Kyle Van Hook has watched thousands of ballplayers take their cuts at the plate.

Last Thursday afternoon at the Deer Park United Methodist Church gymnasium, he was at it again, evaluating a hitter’s stance and swing. Only this time, his pupils were pint size, not a whole lot taller than the bats they were swinging.

“Let’s see what you do when you stride,” said Van Hook, beginning his critique of a kid’s stance at home plate on the opening day of the two-day Holiday Baseball Camp.

“Uh oh, what’s wrong with that, Cade? You stepped out, exactly. It’s that domino effect. You get some length there. I see a little bit too much of your cheek. Good follow-through. Both hands on the bat, pretty good balance.

“That’s the problem with an open stance. It promotes an open stride. The arm lengthens out and I’m going to have trouble staying with a closed stance,” continued Van Hook as he watched in slow motion the child’s swing on a laptop.

Two days after Christmas, some two dozen campers were surrounded by the gift of outstanding baseball minds and proven baseball talent.

Among those at the handful of stations were Kansas State University player Cameron Thompson and University of Houston’s Clay Aguilar, 2016 and 2017 Deer Park High School graduates, respectively.

Deer Park head coach Chris Rupp was also on the camp staff, walking from station to station, providing feedback, watching the videos. Along with those three was Deer Park assistant coach Justin Garney, a former Deer Park player with Danny Sanchez, a former collegiate player.

Van Hook, who also served as Blinn Junior College’s head coach and San Jac assistant coach, said when citing faults with the fundamentals of kids and their plate appearances, three things stand out.

“In the old days, it was called stepping in the bucket. My dad would say, don’t step in the bucket and the other one is they don’t rotate that back foot. We use the comparison, squish the bug. For the young ones, it’s a fun thing when you ask them what do you do when you see a roach in your house?

You can’t just step on it, you’ve got to squish it. For the young kids who haven’t gotten their athleticism, they’re stiffer and they won’t swing that back foot. Those are the two main things, their stride and the back foot,” said Van Hook, who likes to see the heel of the back foot pointing skyward.

When it comes to proper hitting stance, he often used a term that the kids may never have heard of. “Weight transition” Van Hook called it. When making contact with a baseball, the good hitters transfer their weight from the back leg as they squish the bug and swivel their hips to the front leg.

And the knee and foot of that front leg also need to be in a proper position or that potential single up the middle could turn into an out.

Lastly, but perhaps the most important part to hitting are the eyes, believes Van Hook.

“The third thing is their head. You can have the best swing in the world, but if your head’s coming out, you’re not going to hit. I’ve seen guys with lesser-than-ideal swings but they’re good hitters because they’ve got great hand-eye coordination. So those three things are probably the main thing we see year in and year out on younger players. The eyes are the most important body part to hitting,” Van Hook said.

And since the best hitters are still only going to collect basehits 33 percent of the time, if that, Van Hook wants his players to produce ground balls, not fly balls because the defender most of the time still must make a throw to one of the bases or to home plate whereas a fly ball only requires a catch and an out is recorded.

Now, when the child is 7, 8 or 9 years old, is the time to catch flaws in a kid’s swing. The earlier bad habits are erased, the greater the chance that 7-year-old becomes a formidable 17-year-old no pitcher wants to face.

“We’re trying to gear your swing where you can play high school and college baseball, maybe even professional baseball. The lower the level, the slower the pitching, the more you can get away with it (bad stance and swing habits),” Van Hook told one of his campers.

ravery@hcnonline.com

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