Working with Cody

I met an 8 year old named Cody at Thanksgiving dinner over at Adam and Allan’s. He’s baseball crazy and was looking forward to playing catch with a real-live baseball player before dinner, but, unfortunately, our game got rained out. I went over to his house the following week, played a good game of catch with him, then took him the next day to Chuy’s cages to take a look at what he can do with a bat. The boy’s got talent, and his moms (he has 2) were definitely interested in me working with him.

That’s how I got my second baseball pupil.

I’ve worked with Cody 3 times since I last wrote about him (Christmas and New Year’s made it hard to get a steady schedule going), and maybe it’s selfish of me, but the first thing I gotta say about it is that I’m enjoying it. I like to think I’m good with kids – I certainly love my two nephews to death, and Melanie Kate says they think Uncle Hunter is about as cool as it gets – but it’s different when they’re not family and it’s different when their moms are paying you.

I’m kinda giving Cody the same ‘curriculum’ (that’s what Joyce calls it) I’ve been giving Lucas, only way less intense. That means catch and some drills in the backyard interspersed with visits to the cage. I’m afraid of overworking Cody’s young body, but he’s so eager it’s sometimes hard to tear him away from the batting cages so we can go have ice cream on the way home. (Simone has rearranged his schedule on the evenings I work with him, so he eats first, then we workout, then I get him dessert before dropping him off at home so he can finish his homework and get to bed. It’s gotten in the way of their family dinner, which I feel a little guilty about, but there’s no other way to make it work.)

Cody is as into playing ball as any kid I’ve ever seen. He’s the kind of kid who’d happily stay outside and play ball until it got dark and it was time for supper. (Not that I know any kids who were like that lol.) He’s got a little league game once a week and practice another day a week, so I give him a third day of baseball. That might be too much for some people…instead Cody’s disappointed when it’s time to quit.

But I don’t think I can have an 8 year old hitting balls in the batting cage for 30 straight minutes. His shoulder’d fall off, and he’s gonna need that shoulder for many baseball games to come.

I was right when I guessed that the kid can run, but I have him working on that some too. You can never run too fast in baseball, and Cody’s hero, Cody Bellinger, is the fastest guy on the Dodgers. So there’s a reason he wants to work on running 90 feet as fast as possible. I had some practice verbalizing my suggestions on running when I fixed the way Lucas used to run, so I’m able to give Cody some good suggestions on how his stride sometimes gets a little weird.

I told y’all I was a natural at most sports, especially baseball, so I can’t always explain what it is I’m doing. Cody can pick some things up by watching me, but he’s more analytical (even at his age) than Lucas, so I gotta work at explaining things in words too. It’s more of a challenge than you might think, since I’ve never really analyzed what it is I do with a bat. Remember that the best hitting advice I ever got was in high school when our coach told me that the whole thing is a natural motion and that I should trust my eyes and brain to get my legs and arms to do the right thing. Thing is, I got that advice after years of little league and batting drills that taught my legs and arms what they should do in the first place. That’s the only way that advice is gonna be any good to you: you can’t just tell a little kid who’s never held a bat before to trust his eyes and brain and have him hit one out of the park.

Cody’s still at the stage where he’s…I reckon you can say he’s laying the groundwork for trusting his eyes and brain later on his baseball life. (Meanwhile Joyce tells me I’m laying the groundwork for working with other kids.)

Cody loves to play catch, and I’ve already got us playing what me and Lucas call Kiké Hernandez catch. (The problem is that Kiké didn’t have a brilliant season with too many spectacular catches last year, and Cody’s pretty dang unforgiving when a player doesn’t play well. So he’s renamed the game Cody Bellinger catch lol.) In ‘Cody Bellinger’ catch, the object is to throw the ball so that the other player has to make a difficult catch, but you lose a point if he misses. In other words, you gotta make it hard but not impossible on the other player. That way you get to practice awkward throws as well as highlight-reel catches.

I made sure that Simone had Cody in something old he could ruin with grass stains the first time we played, since part of the game is learning to dive for balls…and Cody loves diving for balls. He says he wants to play both 1st and centerfield like Bellinger, but, from the way he’s shaping up, I think he’s more a natural outfielder. One of my favorite things playing was fielding (it’s not boring when you’re a shortstop and you have a lot of balls coming to you), so I think it’s a blast when Cody throws something at me and I’m the one who has to make the diving catch.

Oh yeah, we play some straight catch too. I think he’s got the makings of a good outfielder’s arm, but he makes a lot of wild throws. I’m already telling him a lot that that throwing it hard is a waste of time if it doesn’t go where you want. But he can throw hard and far for a kid his age, and he likes to show off. (Maybe I can’t blame him. Dad tried to keep me from being a show-off too…but it’s hard at that age when you’re discovering that you can do things other kids can’t.)

And don’t y’all worry…I’m limiting him to how many hard balls he gets to throw during one of our sessions.

The place Cody needs the most work is hitting. He did better in the cage that first time than he has since, and I’m not exactly sure why. I’m having trouble putting into words what I want him to do, since I was never the most systematic hitter. It’s a good thing that Travis returned my copy of The Science of Hitting when he got out of the hospital; I’ve been rereading it. I’d get Cody a copy too, but I think he might still be a little young for it. Cody ’s a little like Lucas in that he swings too hard in the cage, but I don’t think he’s like Lucas sometimes is and swings for the fences when he’s in a game situation. I think he may be trying to impress me, so we haven’t made a whole lot of progress there. I guess I need to work on my own teaching skills if I’m gonna do more tutoring. It was easier with Lucas, probably because he’s better at watching and copying what I do. I reckon it’s also easier to copy someone closer to your own size. Cody ain’t exactly a full-size dude yet lol.

Joyce said I need to practice explaining hitting, and took me out in the backyard so I could try and verbalize to her how some things worked. Although Joyce did play softball in college, that wasn’t exactly last year, and she’d forgotten pretty much everything she knew about wielding a bat. At least we got some big laughs out of it. Maybe I need to ask Keaton or Travis if I could practice teaching with them. Come to think of it, Keaton could use some help not swinging for the fences too lol.

But I reckon the important part at this point is that I like working with Cody and he makes it real obvious he likes working with me. I know I’m not his hero Cody Bellinger, but, ok, I’ll admit it, I like the way he looks up at me sometimes. We’re developing a relationship…and I’m learning something about my own plusses and minuses as a teacher. (Joyce keeps telling me how important that is.) I really enjoy doing it, but it’s not as easy with a little kid as it is with Lucas. It would be different if me and Cody were just playing catch for fun, but his moms are paying me good money, so I need to see that there are results. I don’t want to put Cody through baseball boot camp (or something like the place Lucas went this summer), but I do want him to learn something. So it’s a challenge for me as well as him.

And, know what?, that’s pretty dang cool.

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