Women's Baseball Experience Part 1: Woo! Fun on the Field! (A.K.A the One Where They Actually Let Us on the Target Field Grass!!!)
Image courtesy of TC AnelleMany years ago in a land far, far away (at least three states), I played softball. I was not very good. I was a catcher when we played with a tee and an outfielder when there was little chance of a ball being hit to me. Despite this inauspicious history with a glove, bat, and ball I signed up to participate in the Women’s Baseball Experience in 2018 at Target Field. It was a good time and I managed not to embarrass myself.
The drills were fun and I realized that it’s harder than it looks on TV. The program really is for any skill level and turned out I wasn’t the least coordinated or the oldest participant. Marney Gellner joined us and had the FSN camera following her. Three Twins coaches participated – Jeff Smith (hitting), Garvin Alston (pitching), and Gene Glynn (infield). Correlation is not causation, as someone I used to know would say, but at the end of the 2018 season, all three were let go. I swear it wasn’t our fault and, fortunately, we still have Marney.
Despite not touching a glove or a bat since last year, when the 2019 session was finally open for registration, I decided to go again. I knew at least the coaches participating would be different and I was less nervous about how much my skill level actually mattered.
The day began similarly to last year. We signed a waiver, got our t-shirt, and headed down to the home dugout. We’re allowed to leave a bag/water bottle etc on the bench. If we need to use the restroom, it’s the same one the Twins players use. It’s not very fancy and has the same rubber flooring that’s throughout the dugout since the team wears cleats. There are a few guys who aren’t MLB coaches who actually run the session, led by Erik Lovdahl. If your kids have ever done the Twins Kids Camps, it’s the same guy, and the program the women do is really a condensed version of the kids’ camp minus the uniform, but with a better lunch.
When everyone was ready, we were sent out to the field to stretch. Katie Emmer, who was still with Fox Sport North at the time, joined us this year. The Twins coaches also joined us at this point and we got to meet Tony Diaz, James Rowson, Derek Shelton, and Tommy Watkins. Jeremy Hefner joined us a bit later. After the whole group warmed up, we were split into four smaller groups and sent to one of four stations for skill specific drills in hitting, pitching, outfield, and infield.
First up for my group was hitting. James Rowson led us to the home dugout batting cages to get started. The group took turns hitting off a tee and hitting soft toss from Rowson. After watching us swing a few times, Rowson paused and gave some guidance on how to use our legs in our swing. He wasn’t condescending and seemed to take this limited-time just-for-fun session as a real chance to guide us as hitters. It was easy to see why the players responded so well to him as the hitting coach. I wasn’t surprised to see the Marlins poach him from the Twins, but that doesn’t make me less sad his voice is gone from the team.
We moved on to throwing/pitching at the next station. We played catch for a bit and then we moved into the bullpen. Because Jeremy Hefner was late, Derek Shelton was the MLB coach for this station, despite not being a pitching coach. As a bench coach he’s certainly involved in distilling the pitching data and feedback from the pitching coaches. We did the “pitching” drill with one of the camp coaches and discussed the bench coach role with Shelton. His joke when asked what a bench coach does was “nothing.” Obviously, that’s not really true. He explained how he provides advice to Rocco Baldelli and how the tablet he uses on the bench works. They’re not allowed to use the tablet for any live in-game video, but can have historical video and data loaded on it. He cracked wise that he gets to give his opinion on everything, but none of it’s his fault. He’s interviewed for several manager positions with other teams, so it seems, sooner or later, he’ll get a chance for it to be his fault.
Next up was the outfield station. Tommy Watkins and Jeremy Hefner walked us through how to catch a fly/line drive ball across our bodies, turn, and make a strong, balanced throw. We did the drill in a controlled consistent pattern, you know, nothing like an actual game, and it was still hard to do the move properly every time. Last year it was the high pop-up drill that opened my eyes to just how hard it really is to make the plays I take for granted while watching. This year it was this drill. I’m sure if I’d done the drill thousands of times and played in hundreds of games, instincts and muscle memory would take over, but it’s just not as easy as the professionals make it look.
The final station for my group was infield with Tony Diaz and a camp coach. The drill was a quick catch-and-throw drill designed to improve speed in relays. We were split into two teams and then raced to relay the ball through the group and back to the start the fastest. My team got a point, but we lost the session.
Once everyone had been through all four stations, we met again on the field for a final Q&A session with the MLB coaches. Nothing earth shattering was revealed other than Tommy Watkins didn’t eat enough at the state fair and they aren’t going to talk Buxton out of running all out because then he wouldn’t be Buxton.
Our final stop of the day was lunch at Bat and Barrel and a panel from the Twins staff hosted by Katie Emmer. The panel consisted of Brit Minder, Amateur Scouting Coordinator; Andrea Hayden, Major League Strength & Conditioning; Kelli Bergheim, Massage Therapist; and Heather Hunt, Baseball Research Analyst. The panel was great. After lunch and the Q&A session with the panel, we were done for the day.
If you’re a woman and want to participate, sign up next year. There are women of all ages who participate. You have to be at least 16-years-old to participate, but there’s no upper age limit. I’m not sure if she was the oldest, but we had a confirmed 77-year-old in the group. All you need is a glove.
TOMORROW Part 2: Women Who Work in Baseball (A.K.A the One Where We Got a Panel of Female Employees Instead of a Player’s Wife)
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