As I’ve mentioned in previous articles, there are three traits shared by all successful hitters:
1. Good mechanics
2. Solid mental/aggressive approach
3. Good timing
Without even one of these a hitter is going to struggle. Although this article is about the ATEC T3 Batting Tee I use with my hitters, it is important to understand the reason why tee work is so important to the #1 trait of good hitters—proper mechanics.
When I was a player in High School, my Grandpa was the GM of the Dodgers. That brought along a lot of cool perks like being bat boy. I would arrive at Dodgers Stadium very early for a 7pm game to get things ready for batting practice.
I would often arrive around 2:30pm and begin the routine of getting the BP balls out onto the field. The route from the club house to the dugout was along this long and sloping corridor under the stands and right there was a small batting cage used primarily for tee work.
Even though the game was hours away, there were always players hitting off the tee in that small cage. I liked to stop, watch and listen to Manny Mota or Ben Hines work with a player. What I saw was quite the opposite of what many of my high school teammates thought. Many of my teammates felt that the tee was for little kids who couldn’t hit a pitched ball. They felt they were beyond the use of the tee. Well, when I told them that I saw Ron Cey or Dusty Baker hitting off the tee for an hour before batting practice, they were confused. They didn’t realize that tee work is the foundation for establishing and maintaining proper mechanics.
Over 30 years of training hitters, I have honed down a routine that takes the hitter through a series of movements that help to sync up the timing between the lower half and upper half of the body. These drills each serve a purpose and that is to get this player ready for batting practice where the ball is in the air and timing becomes a factor.
Before the tee, I use a tool called the ProGlider which instantly identifies any mechanical issues. A special Wiffle Ball is slid down this tool and it rests just above the hands on a slider. When the batter swings, it reacts to motion of inertia in that swing. Cast out early and ball flings to the right. Pull the front shoulder or don’t rotate back side and the ball flings to the left. GREAT tool to use first.
Once the hitter has been able to control the flight of the ball with the ProGlider, it time for the tee routine.
First of all, I love my ATEC T3 tee because it’s collapsible and guaranteed for 10 years. The base easily screws into the tee and is quite durable. It’s a bit too light so I slide a 10 pound Olympic size weight down the tee so it won’t fall over as easy if the tee is hit with a swing.
Let’s talk for a minute about tee alignment. When I first start to work with a new hitter I ask them to set the tee up where they like it. Almost all of the time, they set up the tee too deep in the swing. The proper alignment of the tee for a pitch down the middle of the plate should be where the front foot lands when they stride. For the outside pitch, the tee should be aligned just BEHIND the left foot stride point and IN FRONT of the inside pitch. This is critical because these are the points where the hitter has his optimal bat speed for each location.
The routine begins with a bat that is heavier than the one they normally use and 15 ounce heavy balls. There are several brands of heavy balls out there to choose from. I use the grey colored heavy balls from SKLZ and they run about $10 each.
I set the tee up high for this drill. The height is at the top of the strike zone. Why? There is an old adage that I heard way back from my days hanging around the Dodgers batting cage—“You can take a good swing down, but you can’t take a bad swing up”. So what does that really mean?
Once the feet are solid, I’m looking for a palm up / palm down attack. This is where a bad swing with the bottom hand dominating the swing or the top hand rolling over makes it impossible to hit the heavy ball teed up high especially using my 34” 32 ounce Chandler Maple bat.
What I’m looking for in this drill is for the player to connect with the high tee heavy ball and create backspin with the heavy bat. Since these heavy balls are filled with sand and the rubbery cover is flexible, the perfect heavy ball swing off the high tee actually stretches the heavy ball and it gets long and skinny as it rapidly spins. This indicates the batter made proper contact with the high pitch and their hands fired palm up / palm down at the proper time. This is not so easy with the heavy bat.
I ask the hitter to hit long shots to centerfield with the high tee heavy ball and once they have successfully accomplished that we switch to baseballs but keep using the heavy bat for this part of the routine. Again, I’m looking for the hitter to create backspin with the baseball hitting long shots to centerfield.
Once the hitter has used the heavy bat and hit about 10 balls off the high tee to centerfield with back spin, I start to move the tee around.
I have the hitter switch to their WOODEN bat for this part of the routine. Switching from my heavy 32 ounce bat to their lighter wood bat is not as drastic a switch as if they were going to their aluminum bat with the light barrel weight.
I emphasize the following:
• Drive to deep center field
• Emphasize palm up/palm down upon contact
• Emphasize LOOOONG follow through
The long follow thru insures that the barrel path is in line with the path of the ball in flight for a long time which greatly enhances the margin for error in timing.
At this point, the batter switches to their aluminum bat or sticks with wood depending on what league they are playing in at that time. Now we work on pitch locations with a strategy of what they are going to do with the ball.
o High outside
– Drive to opposite alley with back spin
o Medium inside
– Get inside the ball and drive it up the middle or shade to pull side of field with back spin
– Get inside the ball by violently slamming back elbow into the ribs and hitting this pitch location over the shortstop’s head
o Low away
– This is where we talk about the two strike approach
– I train my hitters to look low and away with strikes and NEVER get beat there.
Toward the end of the routine, I have them visualize breaking balls and hit them in various locations. This helps with the foundation of their mental approach…another of the pillars of great hitters.
My tee routine usually is about 75 swings. Every swing is evaluated and I “split hairs” about mechanics at this phase of the batting session because if there are mechanical flaws in the swing off the tee, these flaws will only be amplified when we go to front toss next.
Since I 100% believe in tee work first, I stepped up to what I think is the best tee on the market. The versatility of the ATEC T3 tee ($99) allows me to work high, low, inside, outside and it’s bulletproof. Even the hitters with the fastest and strongest swings can’t break this thing. I love the rubber material on this tee because it durable but very flexible and doesn’t leave black marks on the bat like the old hard rubber tees do. It also easily breaks down and packs up nicely in to my bag. This is what makes it a better tee than others with the same design like the Tanner Tee.
I work with a player from Canada who has set up a tee and net in his garage. He hits in there when it’s below zero outside! There’s no excuse for neglecting tee work. If your hitter does not have a tee routine, get on it! Having a solid tee routine is critical for players at every level to insure proper mechanics before seeing pitches in the air.