In New York, the weather can be pretty unpredictable, but we are still trying to get every single second of outdoor playing time that we can. Even if you live in a state like California where you can mostly play all year long, the chances are that you will be forced to pitch in bad weather at some point in your career. Instead of using bad weather as an excuse for poor performance, learn how to adapt and beat the competition in a tough situation.
I have had to pitch in all sorts of weather conditions (including the snow!), but the most miserable I endured was pitching a game in college in the pouring rain. I had never had so many walks in my life (except maybe when I first learned to pitch). Not only that, but it was one of the only times in my career that I really didn’t feel like I ever wanted to pitch again. I was soaked and discouraged. We won the game, but my morale was pretty low. Not only that, but afterwards, I was skittish about pitching when there was even light precipitation (I wish I had known about Havening then!). Pitching in the rain would have been less problematic for me afterwards if I had actively sought some solutions that could have worked for me. I just accepted what everyone said about trying to keep the ball dry (impossible if it is pouring) and keeping a towel in my back pocket (the towel was soaked too so it didn’t matter). As I have gotten older, I have realized that there are lots of ways to make pitching in bad weather work for you. Here they are:
In the rain: This is the hardest situation if you ask me. The ball is wet, the pitching circle is slippery, and sometimes visibility is an issue as well. So you have to address a few different factors, the most important of which is not necessary how DRY to ball is, but how well you can GRIP the ball. This is also the reason why I always suggest getting the game ball and pitching with it before the game. Different balls have different seams and grips, so you might need to adapt or even throw the ball into the fence a little to scratch it up. Here are a few good ways to grip the ball in the rain:
1. Put a ton of dirt and sand on it. Even though the dirt and sand will probably still be wet, it creates some traction, which will enable you to still spin the ball. If you dry off the ball but it keeps getting wet, you will not be able to grip it no matter what you do.
2. Try a rosin bag. This doesn’t work for me at all, but I know some pitchers who can’t live without it. Don’t let a game situation be the first time you try rosin. Play around with wetting your fingers in a bucket in your backyard or pitching in the rain at home and see how well you adapt with the rosin. Girls whose hands sweat a lot also swear by using a rosin bag.
3. Keep a towel on your person, not just for the ball, but for your hands and fingers. Sometimes we focus so much on getting the ball dry that we ignore keeping our fingers dry. This is sometimes impossible, but keep in mind that a dry ball is still going to slip if your fingers are wet.
4. Use the seams (even more than usual). Using the seams well is an integral part of pitching in general (if you need help in this area, contact me), but even more so in bad weather when the seams are going to provide you with purchase on an otherwise slippery surface.
5. Don’t be afraid to ask for a new ball as often as you need to. A very common problem when pitching in the rain is that every time the ball gets hit and makes contact with the grass, it becomes soaked. When the batter is fouling off several balls, it usually gets soaked again after every time she contacts it. Ask for a new one and then towel it off and use the dirt or rosin to help create traction.
The other problem that you are going to encounter in the rain is that you are probably going to have a little trouble with your push off on a muddy rubber or (just as bad), you might slide in your landing. In order to help adjust, I would suggest adjusting your push foot so that the toe is in contact with the top of the rubber (even if that is not how you normally push off). You can’t push against something that is sliding, and therefore pushing off from the mud in front of the mound can be aggravating at best. At worst, it can set you up to slip, and we want to make sure that you don’t get hurt! Planting is also obviously a huge part of the pitch, and if you can’t plant well because it is muddy, you need to adjust. First, try to lift your land leg a little higher as opposed to striding out further. If you slip, you don’t want to end up in a split position, and coming down on your front foot will leave you steadier than trying to reach really far out. Depending on how bad the weather is, though, you might need to actually shorten your stride. If you know me well, you just fell off of your chair because you know I am obsessed with leg work. I will wait for you to come back. Okay, good. There you are. The truth is that you might not be as explosive for that one time out, but if you overstride, slip and can’t plant at all as a result, your ball will be all over the place.
In the wind: The most important thing about pitching in the wind is knowing which direction the wind is going in so that you can adjust your breaking pitches accordingly. Stand in the circle and throw some grass in the air. If there is a strong wind blowing back at your face, your fastball is not going to feel really quick that day. Additionally, you should stay away from rise, since the wind is already going out with the ball and it is going to be really hard to get your rise to cut up against that wind. On the other hand, it is probably a great day for change up, since the wind will help to slow the ball down. If the wind is at your back, you have hit the lottery. Everything will feel fast and smooth. If the wind is blowing to the outside corner, be aware that your curve and your outside pitches will probably trail a little that way. Screwball, on the other hand, will be harder to locate inside. If the wind is blowing hard to the inside corner of the plate, then be careful that you don’t hit a bunch of rightys with your screw. You also have to be careful that your curve doesn’t end up getting too much plate.
In the cold: Pitching in the snow is not really terrible since the ball doesn’t get very wet. You need to be more concerned with keeping yourself warm. Though I notoriously hate the cold, I find it is easy to adjust to. Keep a hand warmer on your person at all times (you need to break it about a half hour prior to the game in order for it to be very warm when you are pitching). You should go to the hand warmer in between pitches to help your circulation and improve your grip. Make sure that you layer and that your layers are tight to the body. You will need that to make sure that a sweatshirt is not compromising your range of motion. Make sure that you wear a sweatshirt in between innings (you should do this when it is warm too) and if you are sitting for more than five minutes or so, you should probably start throwing again. You might also have the problem of your hands being too dry and getting cut up. Remember, you can put your hand to your mouth as long as you don’t do it while standing on the rubber, and as long as you “wipe it off” (read the innuendo please).
In the humidity: For the record, humidity doesn’t bother me, but I know a lot of girls whom it does affect. Mainly, you need to keep your hands dry (see the part on pitching in the rain), but you also need to be aware of how it will affect your pitches. You might have to push harder in the humidity because the area has more water in it (so generally, your ball will feel slower). It is also very difficult to throw rise well in high humidity unless you throw really really hard. Drop tends to be great under these conditions, though. Keep your spins on the corners tight and they shouldn’t be a problem either.
Pitching is a position that requires constant adaptation. I would recommend trying to pitch in ALL of these conditions when you are not in a game so that you are ready for it when the time comes. One of my coaches even suggested trying to pitch with a little olive oil on my hands to adapt to the slickness of pitching in the rain. I’m not going to lie here. I totally never tried it. I do think it is a pretty good idea, however. Perfecting little details like this will put you head and tails above the competition. Get to it, girls!