Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Kickball Season 4: Mid-Season Report

This isn't really "mid-season" from the standpoint that we're halfway through my fourth season of co-ed kickball. In fact, we only have one game left in the regular season (which I am sitting out tomorrow night). But I suppose anything between now and the end of the season is still "mid-season".

So, anyway...how's our team doing this year? How about, the best we've ever done? Right now our record is 4-3, which is already more non-forfeit wins than we've ever had, at least since I joined the team. The biggest difference is discliplined and solid defense. Through seven games, we have only given up nine runs the entire season. Compare that to my first season, when we averaged over nine runs allowed per nine innings, and were "mercy ruled" more than once. Needless to say, we've come a long way. (I'll talk about my pitching later.)

As for the offense...well, let's talk about my bunting, which is still the only way I can consistently reach base. And now I present to you, my first-ever kickball diagram:

This is how a typical defense will set up when I'm at the plate. The 3rd baseman will stand as close to home plate as the rules allow, directly behind that line along the 3rd base line. (Side note: the quarter-circle in front of home plate is the "bunt line"; if a ball comes to rest before it reaches the bunt line, and stays fair, it is an out.) The best place to bunt is down the 3rd base line in order to make the throw to 1st as long as possible. So, the 3rd baseman's job is to get a running start, pick the ball up quickly, and either throw it to the 1st baseman before I get there, or peg me from behind if that's easier. Other teams are getting better at this, so I've struggled in my last two games, only going 2-for-7 following a 14-for-17 start to the season. I knew this would happen eventually, so it's time to adjust.

Other people's tactics are not as memorable, so normally, the 3rd baseman will stand a bit farther back. But when I'm at bat, they know what's coming, so the 3rd baseman stands right on that line. That leaves a rather gaping hole in the defense if I can get the ball over the 3rd baseman's head. I've hit that hole a couple of times, but it's hard: you have to keep it fair, but not so fair that the shortstop can catch it, and not too far so that the left fielder (who is required to stand in the grass) can catch it, either. I tried this a few times last night and failed; instead, I was able to reach base twice by kicking it hard enough down the third base line such that the 3rd baseman wasn't able to react quickly enough to field it. That's the downside of standing so close to home plate: if the kick comes right at you, with speed, you may not be able to react. But my usually effective bunting

Another way pitchers have gotten me out in the past is to pitch to the right side of the strike zone, which more often than not results in a kick towards the pitcher or down the first base line, which is an easier throw-out. That's something I've been getting better at, taking a right-side pitch down the 3rd base line. But I also learned from that and started incorporating that into my pitching. Let's say we have runners on 1st and 2nd, and a fast runner at the plate. By pitching to the 3rd base side, we're more likely to get a kick down the 3rd base line, allowing us to get the force out at 3rd. Or, let's say we have a runner on 2nd with two outs, and we have a slow runner at the plate. Then, I pitch to the 1st base side of the strike zone in order to give us an easy play at 1st for the third out. Every season, I try to add something new to my pitching arsenal, and this tactic has definitely helped when combined with pitching to the kicker's opposite foot, and my general late-breaking and deceptive pitches. I might be overthinking this whole pitching thing, but this has been our best defensive season by far, and I broke my personal single-season strikeout record last night (16 Ks; previous record was 15), including one strikeout with the bases loaded and two outs that I'm really proud of, so you can't argue with the numbers. (Regarding the strikeouts: I also think the umpiring has been more forgiving than usual with respect to the strike zone. They're giving me the corner every time! But to be fair, it goes both ways.)

Oh, I haven't mentioned this yet. When I first started playing kickball, I vowed that I would never take this sport so seriously that I would feel the need to by cleats. Well, I have failed myself, because I went out and bought some. I bought cleats for safety than anything else after having slipped and fallen more than once, and they were only $20, so I didn't beat myself up too much over it. But let me tell you, they help, a lot. Given how much I rely on speed, both on offense and defense, how did I ever get by without them?

Even though I'm making our team sound, like, totally super awesome and stuff, we are still quite beatable. When the league's defending champions have their full lineup, they are very difficult to score against, because there are no holes in the defense. And, every team we've played has played much better in the second game, compared to the first time we played them. So even though our team is as good as it's ever been, now that our opponents have figured out how to play defense, the runs have not come easy as of late. (Stat: after scoring 5 runs in my first 10 at-bats this season, I now have scored only 1 run in my last 17 at-bats. And that run was as manufactured as they come: lead off hit, bunt hit to set up 1st/2nd, sacrifice to move us to 2nd/3rd, sacrifice fly to score me from 3rd.) I picked up my 100th career hit a few games ago; how long will it take me before I get my 200th hit? It depends on how many new teams we get each season, I suppose.

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