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Training Technique Is Questioned by Parents

Providence High officials apologize after coach uses machine to hit players with pitches.

May 05, 2006|Eric Sondheimer | Times Staff Writer

At two practices last week, baseball players from a small private school in Burbank were instructed by their coach to climb into the batter's box and get ready ... not to hit, but to be hit.

And, using a pitching machine, that's exactly what they did -- an exercise that prompted a backlash, an apology and surely will spark debate around baseball and softball diamonds across Southern California.

Baseball lesson or borderline abuse?

Providence High officials say the intent of first-year Coach Nick Rondon was to teach a fundamental safety technique for the protection of players who were not reacting well to inside pitches. However, some parents complained that their boys had been bruised and the coach's tactics were over the top, even dangerous.

So, on Thursday, Principal Michele Schulte and Athletic Director Andrew Bencze issued a joint apology, conceding that the prescribed drill "was not the best way to teach the skill."

"We had decided that our players were reacting unsafely to pitches that came at them in games, putting themselves at risk," the letter read in part. "In an effort to teach them how to get hit safely, the team used the pitching machine set at the lowest speed, to try and teach this skill.... The thought was that this was the most controlled way of teaching it."

Rondon could not be reached for comment, but Schulte said the intent of the drill "was not to harm."

"Obviously, it wasn't the most appropriate choice because students did get bruised," she said. "In hindsight, if we knew students would get bruised, would we have done it? No."

A few of Rondon's peers suggested other ways to teach the same skill.

"Hard balls is not a safe way to teach it," UCLA Coach John Savage said. "There's too many things that could happen."

Using a tennis ball is an alternative for many coaches.

"If it's over the plate, you hit it," Westminster La Quinta Coach Dave Demarest said of his tennis ball drill. "If not, you turn into it."

At a game Thursday between Woodland Hills El Camino Real and Reseda Cleveland, parents offered varying opinions on the wisdom of having players practice getting hit.

"I would think that's crazy," said Ismael Castillon, the father of Cleveland shortstop Miguel Castillon. "You run the risk of getting hurt."

But Kathy Eskelin, whose son Todd is an El Camino Real outfielder, said she wouldn't be concerned.

"It's probably not a bad idea because Todd gets hit a lot, and I see the red marks," she said. "If a coach did that on purpose and it was low speed, I wouldn't have a problem."

Patricia Almendarez, whose son Robert is a freshman third baseman for Cleveland, said getting hit "has been part of baseball forever. But what's the right way? I wouldn't want my son intentionally hit by a hard ball."

Schulte declined to say whether Rondon would face disciplinary action.

He is expected to coach Providence tonight in a game against Avalon at Ralph Foy Park in Burbank.

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