Buy Into the Boring: The Process that Makes the Plays
By Darren Fenster
Last month, we discussed The Play Before the Play, detailing the importance of those seemingly unimpactful plays in a game that directly set up the plays we see on SportsCenter the next day. The more we make our players aware of how impactful those ‘insignificant’ things are, the more likely they will buy into doing the things and playing in a way that will help make those things happen more often. The same can be said for how we go about our drills in practice and pre-game.
The professional season is a long one. Starting from the beginning of Spring Training in early February until the end of the year in September, there is a ton of monotony to our days at the ballpark. We stress the importance of routines for our players to become consistent in their play. You know what another word for routine is? Boring…
There is a prevailing sentiment in professional baseball where we challenge our players to become great at boring. While everyone loves to work on the highlight reel play or to just be loose and have fun during pre-game, it’s the boring stuff that comes up most often in the game. If our Minor Leaguers can’t learn how to master the mundane, they will have no chance of ever becoming Major Leaguers.
This season, our infielders implemented a new routine to finish off their daily throwing program, called Four Corners. It is the mother of all infield drills, where almost every type of catch and throw an infielder will ever have to make in a game can be practiced with a lot of reps in a very short period. With three different size boxes, the smallest with each corner about 30’ apart, medium at 45’, and large spread at 60’, we do everything from underhand flips around the horn, to jump turn double play feeds, to forehands, backhands, and chopped ground balls… and a whole lot more. Each specific four corner variation is done for about 30-45 seconds at a progressively increasing speed and intensity to allow for the technique to set in first, with the skill’s quickness following suit.
Just as with anything else, some players took longer than others to perfect the technique to be able to do it at game speed. Some struggled to pick up the quarterback option DP feed. Others grappled with cleanly fielding and throwing the chopper play. Different players with different abilities take different periods of time to develop. Once we started playing games, I made it a point to mention various instances when a play between the lines mirrored something we did during Four Corners because I wanted to make them aware of exactly how the work translated directly into the game. When they were conscious of that translation, the more buy-in we could get the next day during Four Corners… and the day after that… and so on and so forth. The better we became at Four Corners, the better we became in the game.
Over the course of the long year, throwing that ball around the horn at the end of our throwing program can indeed get boring. But when they understand how that ‘boring’ game of catch in pre-game work is what helps them when the lights go on for the game, they are far more likely to buy into the boring, because that’s the process that makes the plays.
Darren Fenster is currently the Minor League Infield Coordinator for the Boston Red Sox. In addition to being the Third Base Coach for the 2020 US Olympic Team, Fenster was previously Manager of the Portland Sea Dogs, the Double-A affiliate of the Boston Red Sox. A former player in the Kansas City Royals minor league system, Fenster joined the Red Sox organization in 2012 after filling various roles on the Rutgers University Baseball staff, where he was a two-time All-American for the Scarlet Knights. Fenster is also Founder and CEO of Coaching Your Kids, LLC, and can be found on Twitter @CoachYourKids.