Learning to hit big league pitching at the Opens

About the author

Pete Robbins

Pete Robbins

Veteran outdoor writer Pete Robbins provides a fan's perspective of B.A.S.S. complemented by an insider's knowledge of the sport. Follow him on Twitter @fishywriting

It’s rare these days that I have three hours free on a Saturday afternoon, or even the same amount of time on a random weeknight, but when I do I like to settle in on the couch and watch a Major League Baseball game.

I’m a fan of the sport, as well as particular players, and I follow the pennant races. Mostly, though, watching the game on TV allows me to fantasize that I could be jacking long shots over the centerfield fence, emerging out of nowhere like Roy Hobbs to revolutionize the game and earn a fat multimillion dollar contract and all the sunflower seeds I can spit.

Watching it on the tube, the game is greatly slowed down. Pitchers bring their best stuff from 60 feet 6 inches, and it seems like they’re lobbing volleyballs. Ninety miles an hour? It doesn’t seem that fast, or that intimidating.

Of course there’s the occasional outlier – Randy Johnson in his prime comes to mind – whose raw power is undeniable but for the most part even Cy Young caliber hurlers seem eminently hittable on TV. Of course, they’re not. If it was easy, they wouldn’t be doling out multi-year deals to big time hitters; they’d be signing potbellied middle-aged writers like me off the street on the cheap. Still, you’ve got to admit it: If you’ve watched any baseball at all, at some point you’ve said to yourself, “It can’t be that hard.”

If you take that kind of thinking to the next level, you start to assume you’d be able to see the spin on the ball, like so many acclaimed hitters routinely state in interviews. “I could tell it was a slider immediately,” they say. “It had a tight lateral spin and appeared to have a dot in the center.”

I’ve gotten into a batting cage against pitching that was in the 80-mph range, not necessarily fast enough to get a second look from professional scouts, and do you know why I couldn’t gauge the spin on the ball?

BECAUSE I HAD MY FREAKING EYES CLOSED.

It was that fast, that intimidating, that much of a blur. So much for believing everything I see on TV.

I thought of this at last week’s Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Northern Open on Virginia’s James River, because so many of the 170 competitors on the pro side of the ledger had clearly let their TV goggles get to them.

Randy Howell throws a Senko? I throw a Senko. I should be able to whip him.

KVD wins with a crankbait all the time. I’ve caught TONS of fish with a crankbait. Hand me my check right now.

I’m a local. Some of these so-called pros have never been here. Can’t wait to take their money.

Once you step up to the plate, though, the pitching gets faster. You’ve got to be able to hit a major league fastball. Then, once you master that, they start throwing you curves. Once every fifth day, the opposition may bring a knuckleballer to the mound. Those guys even baffle their own catchers, so how can you expect to hit against him? The Randy Howells and Mike Iaconellis and Brandon Palaniuks who fished the Open have seen every pitch you can possibly offer. They may not hit it every time, but over the long haul they’re going to put up good numbers.

I’m not trying to detract from the unknown hordes who fish the Opens. Some of them will indeed come out of nowhere to win a tournament, as Fletcher Shryock did a few years ago, and then proceed to show that their success wasn’t a fluke, thus going from unknown to known.

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