Thursday, June 25, 2015

Texas Travelers play the Fastpitch & Firecrackers Tournament

The 04 Texas Travelers are gearing up for the Hall of Fame Tournament in Oklahoma City and then the coveted 2015 ASA/USA National Championship Tournament held in Normal, Illinois.  This elite select softball team is starting to peak at the right time with their win against the 02 Texas Glory in the 12U Summer Swingin Tournament Championship Game a couple of weeks ago.

The Fastpitch & Firecrackers Tournament will be held in Mesquite, Texas at the Girls Softball Complex.  In addition to the Texas Travelers, the tournament will feature 26 teams from North and East Texas.  Teams like 04 Texas Glory, Texas Fusion, Texas Pride 04, Jawbreakers, Texas Force, Lady Storm 04, Batbusters, North Texas Storm, Texas Elite, MOJO, Dallas Tigers, Inferno, Firecrackers DFW, American Freedom, and Sneaky Cleats are just a few of the teams entered to play in the double elimination tournament.

The Texas Travelers will face Firecrackers DFW and the Inferno in both of their Pool Play games.  The seeds have already been set with a blind draw putting the Travelers against the winner of CRUE Fastpitch or Texas Force at 5:15 PM on Saturday evening.  The winner of that game will play at 8 AM on Sunday with the championship game scheduled for 6 PM on Sunday.

Coach Jordan Strickland, Baylor Bear Softball Legend and 2014 Women’s College World Series All-Tournament Team will be leading her Travelers with the “Sic Em” attitude that made her such a fan favorite in Waco.  “The girls really respond to Jordan when she is in the dugout.  In addition to knowing the game; Jordan brings a swagger to the team helping them overcome the toughest of challenges on the softball field”, states Head Coach Kyle Bennett.

The competition will be strong, the days will be long; but the Texas Travelers and their fans live for softball weekends.  Good luck to all of the teams and girls competing in the Fastpitch & Firecrackers Tournament.

For more information on the Texas Travelers, players, coaches, or schedules visit the Texas Travelers News Network or follow the team on Facebook.  The Texas Travelers take pride in competing at the highest level possible for select softball.  They have earned the right to represent Texas in the 2015 ASA/USA National Championships in Normal, Illinois.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Fathers of a Softball Girl

It was a Sunday afternoon in mid-November and all of Fred’s friends had gathered to watch the big game while the steaks large enough to feed an army simmered on the grill.  Cold beverages were flowing, and loud boisterous banter was going back and forth amongst the men.  These alpha males enjoyed this ritual as they wore the jersey of their favorite football player as conversations of who the fieriest athlete was.  Middle linebackers, D-lineman, Tight ends and Fullbacks were auctioned off as the greatest.

Soon, the fathers of the sons in the house turned the conversation and admiration of their boys exclaiming how tough each of their offspring was.  “My son can bench 120% of his body weight”, “My son can run the 40 in 4.8 seconds”, and “My son pancaked the D-end” were phrases thrown out like punches of a heavyweight fight.  Oh yeah, these proud pops somehow lived their glory days and championed their boys like live stock in the auction.

Before the kickoff one of the fathers who was quiet wanted to partake in the “battle of the beast” proudly looked at his buddy’s and said, “None of your boys can handle what my kid can!”

Now, this dad had a son who was a good athlete.  His boy played all of the popular sports such as football, baseball, wrestling and even basketball.  The young strapping athlete received recognition for hitting the game winning shot, knocking the ball over the fence, pinning down his opponent in less than three seconds and catching the touchdown pass to put his team into the playoffs.  Quickly, the focus on his son was starting to be minimalized as he quickly told the men “I’m not talking about Johnny!”  “I’m talking about Grace.”

There was deafening silence as all of the Neanderthals looked at each other with more confusion on their face than they had during their 7th grade final exam taken almost 30 years ago.  With the cockiness and sarcasm only a dear friend could muster the question was asked, “How so Fred?”

Fred stated, “I see each of your boys play their games each week.  They practice twice a week.  Some of your boys even spend an hour a day in the weight room, mostly talking with their friends about last week’s game.  However, none of them are asked to do what Grace is asked to do each week all year around.”   Fred now had the podium and attention to share why ‘Softball Girls’ are the toughest athletes in all of sports.

“You see, Grace has to wake up every day at 5:30 AM.  She does her sprints, long distance and cardio workouts.  After school we rush her to her hitting lessons and then pitching lessons.  When she doesn’t have hitting and pitching lessons; she has 2-hour workouts just on the skills she was taught in those lessons.  At practice, she is hit 1000 ground balls where she has to execute a perfect throw down the line.  After her fielding, she puts on her helmet and takes another 1000 swings where we ask her to place the ball in a specific location otherwise it doesn’t count.  As she takes the mound, she is asked to throw her different pitches with pinpoint accuracy maintaining the velocity and achieving the appropriate break of the ball.  When the 4 hour practice comes to a conclusion; she and her teammates finish the workout with speed and agility drills.”  The men say, “Well that’s just a hard workout, our boys do the same!”  Fred responded, “OK, but now let’s talk about the games themselves.”

“You see, my daughter does this during the week year around, then every Friday night we travel to the tournament destination usually preparing for an 8 AM Saturday game.  Your boys would be done after that football game.  My daughter follows that 8 AM game with three more the same day.  Those three determine the seeding of her team, and schedule for Sunday’s play.  Sunday’s play is usually 6 to 7 games with the girls on the field from 8 AM until 11 PM.  That doesn’t even take into effect of the all-night tournaments that have had games played at 3 and 4 in the morning just to beat the weather or get in all of the games” Fred shared.

Now, Fred had their attention, but he wasn’t
done.  “Let’s talk about the softball game itself.  You see, softball has different rules than men’s sports.  Any starting player may re-enter a game once.  What does that mean?  It means, using a pinch hitter or a pinch runner doesn't mean you have to move your best defender or hitter to the bench because you've used a replacement. It means that you haven't really knocked the opponent's best pitcher out of a game just because the other coach takes her out. It means that a good softball coach will typically use everyone on the bench in their area of strength except perhaps that one final player who may have to be inserted into a game in the event of injury.  At all times, the very best players or the perfect player at that time is on the field.”

“Softball is a faster game.  The fact that a runner can't lead off first means there are no annoying throws down to first base to keep a runner close and stalling of time.  There is always action in the field and there is even an international tie-breaker rule that can make a really close game suddenly very explosive.”

“Speaking of close, a softball field is much smaller than a baseball field which means you get to sit really close to the action and you'll be able to see, not only the ball on every play, but maybe even the sparkle in the eye of the fielder who is making the play. The backstop is only 25 feet behind home plate. When that potential game-tying run is scored? You'll really, actually know if the umpire made the right call and he can hear you when he didn't!  With the bases so close together, there is never enough time to think about a play as one hesitation will cost you an out or even a run.”

“Pitchers don’t just throw fastballs.  In fact, the best pitchers can change the speeds of their pitches between 10-15 miles per hour.  A batter can gear up for a 55 mph rise-ball (it gets faster as they get older) and then the pitcher may break off a 36 mph change up making the hitter look, frankly, just foolish. And, you're sitting so close, you can see that and the look on both the pitcher's and the hitter's faces. Usually, everyone laughs except the batter.”

“Often, the left-handed batters look like they're trying out a crazy new dance step, not hitting. They call it the slap game and it's unbelievable. A fast player who can run the 60 feet to first base in under 2.8 seconds is usually turned into a left-handed batter, whether she can so much as hold a spoon with that hand or not. Why? Because all she has to do is get really good at dribbling the ball on the ground and she can beat out a throw from any infielder at will. It's not really a bunt, it's not really hitting away, and it’s called slapping. And, from a slightly sadistic point of view, it's really fun to watch teams think a leftie is just a slapper and then drive the ball to deep right-center field (or off a charging third baseman's ear) and scamper around the bases while outfielders chase the ball to the fence. The slap game has made softball an extremely dynamic, offensive game. Each year some of the nation's fastest players routinely hit for averages greater than .400. The slap game has revolutionized fastpitch and has become a favorite facet of the game for those who follow it. Think of it as a bit of an antidote for all those great weapons the pitcher has.”

“Hitting a softball is the hardest thing to do in sports. A pitcher stands in a circle (not a mound) 43 feet from a batter when she starts her delivery and, since most of the great ones seem to be at least six feet tall, they feel like they're on top of you as the ball is pitched and a hitter having a reaction to a particular pitch is often as much luck as it is skill. It has been scientifically proven that the softball hitter has less time to react to a pitch, because of the distance and the velocity, than does the baseball hitter. Remember that softball pitchers not only throw the ball hard, they can routinely change speeds of a pitch dramatically. Add to that the fact that, because of the way a softball is delivered, the ball make break up as much as it can down. The pitch that moves up is called a rise ball and the best coaches in the game say the only way to hit a rise ball is not to even try. Imagine a ball coming toward the strike zone of the plate that suddenly jumps up? Sure, you see a great "breaking ball" that goes down or moves across the plate in baseball, but how often does it just leap up above the plane of the bat? And, yes, softball pitchers can break the ball down (that's called a drop) and they throw both a true curve (that breaks away from a hitter) and screw ball that breaks into a hitter. Oh, yes, and the really good ones throw that bloody change-up that can make a hitter feel so foolish. So, the softball pitcher uses all four quadrants of a plate, uses both an up and a down pitch and changes speeds on a hitter.”

As Fred finished his lesson on how his little Grace played a much more demanding sport mentally and physically; he sipped his drink and smiled as the conversation quickly turned to great commercials on TV and less controversial topics such as who has the toughest kid because whether they admitted it or not; Grace was the winner in the room.

Happy Father’s Day to all of the proud Softball Dad’s from the Texas Travelers.  Enjoy being the father of your world class athlete and have pity on your friends who were not blessed to have a girl who plays softball!

For more information on the Texas Travelers you can follow them on Facebook or their News Network Site or by calling Coach Kyle Bennett at 972.679.7702.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Elizabeth Schaefer Strikeouts 1000th Batter

In 2012, Elizabeth Schaefer asked her father if she could pitch for her softball team.  Not knowing much about softball and even less about softball pitching; her father, James Schaefer said, “Go watch a softball pitcher on YouTube and then practice with your brother.  If I think you look like you might be able to pitch, I will find someone that can help you.”  Elizabeth did exactly what her father asked, and 1,000 strikeouts later they are celebrating her accomplishments.

On June 14, 2015 while E’s 10u Texas Travelers were facing the 02 Texas Glory in the 12u Summer Swing Tournament Championship game; she stuck out her 1000th batter on an outside fastball.
Somehow the stars lined up correctly to get Elizabeth the right instruction as well as find the right team to allow her to flourish as an elite softball pitcher at the 10u level.  James was very involved with his son’s select baseball and football teams.  Joseph, Elizabeth’s older brother by 2-years was practicing at a high school facility in Rockwall, Texas.  An acquaintance of James happen to be at the field taking his daughter to pitching lessons in the building next to the field.  James asked him to introduce them to his friend’s daughter’s pitching coach.  That is where Elizabeth was paired with Coach Rick Lee.  Coach Lee has put several girls into D1 colleges and has a plethora of starting varsity high school pitchers across the Dallas and Fort Worth area preparing for the ranks of college.  Coach Lee called Elizabeth’s dad after the first lesson, and said that if she sticks with pitching she would be successful as long as she continued to put in the work.  “Elizabeth is rare in that she combines terrific velocity with an ability to move the ball and change speeds with command.  She has also shown a great work ethic while seemingly enjoying the work it takes to reach the top” states Coach Rick Lee.

However, accomplishing this feat doesn’t end here.  Elizabeth wasn’t always thought of as a softball pitcher. Even after going through 3 months of pitching lessons, the team she played for at the time never let her see the mound.  After that 2012 fall season of not getting to pitch, her dad had her play a Season and half (spring and fall) in the Rockwall recreational league.  She quickly earn a reputation as being one of the fastest pitchers with good control.  After the 2013 fall season, both Elizabeth and her dad wanted to see how she stacked up in a more competitive select organization.  Her dad made some inquiries of some North Texas Softball teams, and scheduled tryouts.  There were several teams that had shown a little interest in her, but most of the teams already had pitchers they were happy with.  The Schaefer’s were just looking for a select organization that wanted to give her a little mound time and grow into a strong pitcher.

Enter, the Texas Travelers Select Softball Organization.  A friend of Elizabeth’s dad recommended her to try out for the Texas Travelers.  He said, it would be a great fit as they already had two 2003’s and Elizabeth being a 2004 player; it would help her grow into the role of being a select softball pitcher.  This would prevent Elizabeth from being thrown to the wolves in her first season as a select softball pitcher.

When Elizabeth tried out for the Texas Travelers, it was less than a stellar performance.  She was nervous.  It was cold, and she had just gone through the Texas Travelers hitting lessons (hitting and swinging the bat over 1000 times).  “Elizabeth had blisters on her hand and four coaches standing in the cage as she threw pitches to their catcher.  It seemed like every tenth pitch was a strike.  I thought for sure they would not want her.  However, the coaches invited her out for another look at an outdoor practice” adds James Schaefer.  The next practice was a lot better as Elizabeth was in her element on the softball diamond.  Her second performance earned her a spot on the Texas Travelers softball team.

The spring season, Elizabeth was committed to a basketball and volleyball team which the Travelers accommodated her to play.  However, Elizabeth quickly became the “Go-To” pitcher helping them win several tournaments and a berth to the USSSA World Series in Florida.  The 2014 fall season, Elizabeth and her team set a goal to play ASA/USA tournament ball which is the most prestigious governing body in Women’s softball.  Their goal was to earn a berth to the 2015 ASA National Championships in Normal, Illinois.  Today, they have accomplished that goal as being chosen as the State of Texas representative to the tournament and added another lofty goal; to become the ASA National Champion.

Elizabeth’s, or better known as “E” to her teammates and fans is still the “Go-To” pitcher for the Texas Travelers.  As she is winding down her second year of select softball she has reached a milestone few players her age have accomplished.  She has struck out over 1000 batters since she started pitching.  Even more impressive is she rarely walks a batter averaging 1 base on balls for every 20 batters she strikes out.  When you add her WHIP (Walks plus Hits given up per inning pitched) she has a state best of .81.  Not counting pitching for her rec team this season, Elizabeth has had 11 no-hitters thus far for the 2015 season and batters are batting less than .155 against her.  There have been many games where she has struck out every batter she has faced in a game.

Turning 11 years old in March, Elizabeth has earned these stats in a very impressive manner.  First, her 10u team plays the most competitive ASA tournaments in the country so she is facing the best hitters around.  She rarely pitches against weaker teams that would easily have boost her stats.  At 9 years old (last year) she also pitched for a 12u team leading them to win the league championship.  This year, in addition for playing for the Texas Travelers, she also pitches for a 14u Rec team where she has had 5 no hitters.  That’s pretty impressive when you think about the players she is facing.  By the time Elizabeth gets into high school as a freshman, the 14u girls will have already graduated.

Elizabeth has 3 pitches she uses.  Her fastball has been clocked at 53 mph at the 43 feet (high school level) with her drop ball registering at 51 mph.  Her deadliest pitch is the 36 mph flip change making batters look downright silly.   When she pitches from 35 feet (10u softball pitching distance), Elizabeth has been clocked as high as 56 mph.  Most of her strikeouts have come from the drop ball which looks like her fastball, but then drops just under the swing at the last second.  Currently, her pitching coach is developing her curve and rise ball with the screw ball to follow.  However, Coach Lee does not want to add those pitches until the 12u season as it could interfere with the effectiveness of her fastball.

Her goals are pretty straight forward.  She wants to help her Texas Travelers win ASA Nationals.  When she enters high school, she would like to win a State Championship or two.  She would like to be recruited and play for a D1 College helping them to a National Championship.  Then her ultimate goal is to be chosen as one of the top 18 girls to represent the United States playing for Team USA.  To accomplish these goals; Elizabeth knows there is a lot of work that still has to be done.  She knows she will have to increase her velocity into the upper 60’s and continue to understand how and what pitch she should deliver to tough batters.  At 5’5”, Elizabeth is still growing which will allow her to increase her strength helping her achieve this criteria.  She has yet learned to maximize her leap, but once she masters this, her velocity will increase even more.

Elizabeth is a pretty special player and sure to be seen at a higher level in the future if she continues to put in the work.  Her workout schedule includes practices with her 10u team, practices with her 14u team, pitching lessons with Coach Lee and then working out on her own with her dad or anyone else willing to catch her.  Elizabeth loves everything that comes with pitching on the mound and enjoys her team looking to her to deliver excellent results.

For more information about Elizabeth Schaefer, her teammates, or the Texas Travelers you can follow them on Facebook or follow the Texas Travelers News Network Site.  Coach Kyle Bennett can be reached at 972.679.7702.

Monday, June 8, 2015

10 Reasons you should not be able to influence Kids in Sports

If David Letterman followed youth sports, especially softball, he would have made a lasting impact on those who watched his popular late-night show.  He would have exposed those parents who really should not have any influence with today’s youth, but unfortunately for society those same parents are producing future little monsters who will replicate their teachings.

Ultimately, youth sports is a time for families to get together and enjoy watching their kids develop socially and athletically.  Youth sports prepares kids for challenges that they will face later in life such as success and disappointment alike.  In life, there are winners and losers.  In life, there are decisions that are unfair.  In life, there are errors that are made that can affect you positively or negatively and change the outcome of your day.  However, it is the kids’ reaction to the situation that determines what type of person they really are and will become.  Unfortunately, not all kids have a positive role model at home and this blog is meant to shed some light on those individuals.

Personally, I have coached basketball, football, baseball and softball.  I have had the pleasure of watching both of my kids play sports in the city leagues to select travel teams.  Although I love watching my kids compete in youth sports; I have found it just as entertaining to see parents overreact to what is supposed to be “just a game.”

Most of these will be softball references because that is the sport I am coaching now and am getting a lot of material as my daughter’s team travels around the country. However, I have seen this with all of the youth sports I have been involved in.

Now for the “10 Reasons you should not be able to influence Kids in Sports”…

1. If you have ever yelled at a ref, ump or official “call it both ways ump” during a game after the third inning with both of the teams having scored over 3 runs each you should not be able to influence kids in sports.  Honestly, I don’t think the official has a game plan to call a lopsided game and really cares which team wins or loses.  Besides, by saying this after 45 minutes or more of playing; you are probably upset about one particular call.  Plus, the official is “calling it both ways”.  The call is just not always going the way you want it.

2. If you have ever said, “the coach lost us the game” than you should not be able to influence kids in sports.  The fact of the matter is; coaches do make mistakes.  However, unless all of the kids are batting a .1000 and the pitcher is pitching a no-hitter; it is almost impossible for the coach to lose the game.  In addition, if you don’t like that bad decision the coach made which probably made you utter that nonsense; you should try your hand at coaching.  (Better yet, don’t because I will probably write something else that describes you, and remember; you shouldn’t be allowed to influence kids in sports.)

3. If you have ever stated your youth sports team is the best in the country, then you should not be allowed to influence kids in youth sports.  I understand being a proud parent and applaud those parents who are happy for their kid’s team.  However, unless you have played every team in all 50 states; can you really judge this?  Let’s take this a step further.  If you are not talking about a collegiate team or even a high school team; does anyone really care if you are the best 8u, 10u, or 12u team in the country?  Many players haven’t even started playing competitive sports at 8, 9, or even 10 years old!  Just to be clear, I don’t think ESPN will be calling you anytime soon for your analysis on youth sports.

4. If you have ever made a statement that a certain youth player is the best in the country, then you should not be allowed to influence kids in youth sports.  This is a fine line.  There are good players in youth sports.  However, to tout a kid at 9, 10, 11 or 12 years old as the best in the country is taking it overboard don’t you think?  Again, look at point 3 and don’t quit your day job.

5. If you have ever told your kid to play “dirty” just to win then you should not be allowed to influence kids in youth sports.  If this described you, you are pathetic.

6. If you have ever belittled another player on another team you should not be allowed to influence kids in youth sports.  As a matter of fact, you shouldn’t actually be allowed to be a parent.  You are a bully and a complete joke as a person.

7. If you are talking about your kid going pro or even getting a college scholarship and they have not hit their 16th birthday yet you should not be allowed to influence kids in youth sports.  There are some kids who we have all assumed will become the next “great one”; however, I have never heard of a kid signing a binding commitment to college or professional team at 10, 11 or 12 years old.

8. If you allow your kid to jump from team to team in order to win games then you should not be allowed to influence kids in youth sports.  I understand making the switch to stronger coaching, financial reasons or even a better fit.  However, I can assure you most of us do not care how many trophies you have in your house because your daughters’ team has won the last several tournaments.  You need to call your parents right now and ask for that hug because they probably do love you.

9. If you have ever started a social forum to talk about youth sports with the intention of taunting or belittling other teams or players, or just to tout what teams are the best at the young age of 9, 10, or 11, then you should not be allowed to influence kids in youth sports. These kids are still developing and many will drop select sports within the next few years.  I hate to tell you, there is more to life and nobody really cares.

10. If you have spent more than 10 minutes on a youth sports forum and participated in discussions about who is the best, then you should not be allowed to influence kids in youth sports.  You are just as bad as the person who started the site, and obviously struggle with seeing the bigger picture or the positive purpose of competitive youth sports. 

These are just ten things I have seen in the past couple of weeks.  There are many more things parents do that ruin youth sports and ultimately ruin the development of their children.  Remember, your kids are still kids.  Sports is a privilege to play, and many kids do not have that opportunity.  Be thankful, your kid has the talent and health to play sports.  Continue to encourage them and teach them how to handle both positive and negative situations. Let them believe they are the best when they do their best. Don't define them or their success by their wins or losses. 

Luckily, for our kids’ futures, most parents do not fall into these categories.  However, those that do, provides funny material for blogs like this.