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THE PRACTICE: What Works Well for One Team or Sport
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What Four Programs Do to Prepare to Win.

Sonora Baseball Team Beats the Weather

April 13, 1999|MIKE TERRY

A basketball gym is not the best place to hold a baseball practice. But the Sonora Raiders have no choice; two days of April rains turned their field into a mudhole.

However, coming indoors won't prevent the Raiders from having a productive practice. Not if their coach, Pat Tellers, has anything to say about it.

Sonora, which has won two Freeway League titles and the 1995 Southern Section Division II championship in nine years under Tellers, has started slowly this season. The Raiders (3-8) have been uncharacteristically shaky on defense.

So for Tellers, practice--any kind of practice--is important right now.

"We've been making the kind of mistakes we shouldn't," Tellers says. "And we've been making them too often.

"We have two on and two out, misplay a routine ground ball and let two runs score. Against La Habra, the left fielder let a ground ball single go through his legs. That play ultimately cost us three runs."

So Tellers puts his team through its paces this day.

He works his pitchers and infielders for 30 minutes on bunt coverage. He outlines the scenario--runner on first, two runners on, etc.--then orchestrates who fields the ball and which bases players will cover.

That is followed by instruction on pickoff plays.

Even when the Raiders take batting practice, they work on their fielding, Tellers said.

"We call it 'live situation' fielding," he said. "If the infielder gets the batting practice ball hit to him, he is expected to make a throw to first as if it were in a game. If it's hit to the outfield, that guy is to play the ball as if it were live and make a throw to the proper base."

Tellers said he added this element to practices because "normally batting practice is the most boring thing for fielders. . . . If a guy is just shagging fly balls or picking up a grounder then tossing the ball back to the batting practice pitcher, then that guy isn't getting any work done.

"We want the things they learn and do in practice to carry over into the games."

Offense is not ignored. Ten batters are tucked into the far corner of the gym, swinging their bats at sponge balls that bounce harmlessly off the walls and bleachers. The entire team will later take swings in the Raiders' batting cages located outside, next to their baseball field.

Tellers says fielding and throwing are the easiest things to teach but demand hours of repetition to perfect. Hitting, however, is another story.

"Hitting is the hardest thing to master," he says. "I've had good players that didn't really learn how until after high school."

But hitting the ball hasn't been the problem this season.

If the Raiders don't want to miss the playoffs a second season in a row, they must improve their fielding and throwing.

Which means players can expect more such drills in practice, no matter where those practices are held.

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