Winter sports are in full swing, but last week the boys of summer gathered at Seymour High School to work on pitching techniques during the school’s third annual winter pitching camp.
Over 50 youths used Christmas break to learn more about pitching from two teachers that know a thing or two about throwing from the mound.
Zack Brown, a 2013 graduate of Seymour and pitcher in the Milwaukee Brewers organization, and Elvis Hernandez, Seymour’s pitching coach that spent time in the St. Louis Cardinals organization, led the two-day camp that focused on exercises and techniques last week in the school’s auxiliary gymnasium.
The camp is organized by the high school team to help build excitement for the sport and to give youth something to focus on to improve their skills.
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Jeremy Richey, Seymour High School varsity coach, said he thinks the camp is always a great way for kids to remain interested in baseball, learn some techniques and get to spend some time around a professional pitcher.
“It’s a good time to get kids to throw a little bit over break, and some of them will start practice with their travel clubs after the first of the year and it kind of gives us a chance to show them some things they can do on their own,” he said. “It kind of gets them moving and thinking about baseball.”
Richey said the camp also serves as an opportunity to get young players interested in pitching, something the program needs each season because of its size and schedule.
“The goal is to get as many kids able to pitch as possible and to progress them as they go through,” he said. “We’re really excited about this year because we are incorporating some of the drills our high school kids do.”
Those drills include strength training that uses heavy balls and plyo balls.
Richey said the team is teaching the kids the exercises without the weighted balls so they can get the experience and then build up to using heavier balls.
“As they keep getting older, they have done these drills and when they reach that level, they can use the heavier balls to increase some strength in areas they haven’t had before,” he said. “That will incorporate what we do and help them when they’re older.”
Brown played for Richey and is a pitcher in the Milwaukee Brewers organization and recently finished up his first year in professional baseball. He also left the University of Kentucky a year early to pursue a professional career.
In a couple of weeks, Brown will fly to Arizona to meet with his farm director and work out with trainers at they Brewers’ athletics complex outside Phoenix for five days. Then spring training will begin, and he will find out where he will be assigned at the conclusion.
Some of the drills and techniques Brown will work on in Arizona are the very ones he shared with participants in the camp.
“They’re starting to use velocity training here at the high school and, honestly, the things I’m showing these kids are the same things I’m doing in my offseason program,” Brown said. “These kids are throwing early, and it’s going to be better for them, and just the main thing I want to show them is the routines and mechanics of pitching.”
Brown said he thinks the winter camp is a great for Seymour’s baseball program because it shows excitement for baseball during the offseason.
“That’s a huge thing for these kids,” he said. “It’s fun because every kid is different and you have to deal with each of them differently, and it’s fun to help them with something I love and see that they love baseball too.”
Richey hopes the kids enjoy working with Brown because of his ability to pitch professionally.
“I hope that’s pretty cool for them,” he said. “For them to work one-on-one with him is something that’s pretty special, and I think it really validates what we’re doing.”
Christopher Pumphrey of Seymour, 6, had a simple reaction to learning from Brown.
“It was really cool,” he said between drills. Pumphrey said he enjoys playing.
Eli Reasoner, 8, also seemed to be taking in the experience of learning from professional pitchers.
“It’s awesome,” he said before returning to the drills.
Richey said Hernandez also is an important piece of the pitching camp.
Hernandez, originally from the Dominican Republic, pitched in the St. Louis Cardinals organization, making it up to AA Springfield before a career-ending injury.
“There’s no doubt he would have pitched in the big show (MLB) if he would not have been injured,” Richey told kids at the end of the first session.
Hernandez said he looks forward to the camp each year because baseball is what he loves and it is a great way to help kids in the community learn more about the sport he loves.
“It’s my passion, and it’s helping my community,” he said. “So the same thing they did in my country, I want to bring it here.”
Hernandez said he wants kids to be introduced to the mechanics of pitching early and they need to use them to get improve.
He only requests a few simple things from each participant.
“The only thing I ask them is to work hard and do what you need to do and you will be all right,” Hernandez said. “I think they also need to have fun.”
This year, the National Federation of High School Sports set regulations on pitch counts and rest.
The rule is if a player pitches 120 pitches, he must sit out for four or five full days of rest. Richey said the new regulations will not affect his team because they sit players out longer than what they’ve been regulated to do.
“If they pitch that much, we rest them for a week,” he said.
Richey said he was uneasy about the thought of NFHSS limiting the pitch count to a certain number, such as 100.
“At 100 pitches, if somebody is throwing well, they can still be effective shortly thereafter,” he said. “They cut it off at 120, so for us it changes nothing, and that’s something I’m proud of because the way our staff treats the arms on our team.”
This has been a practice in the program for some time.
Richey recalled a game during Brown’s senior season when he could have used him in a big game at the end of a week, but he had let Brown go over 100 pitches earlier in the week.
He did not use Brown in the second game, to the surprise of a reporter in Columbus.
“He was surprised, but I told him I wasn’t going to do that to a kid,” Richey said.
Richey said he hopes the kids had fun at the camp and most importantly that they learned something to use on the mound.
The professional pitching experience will lead to more fastballs on diamonds throughout the area at the lower levels.