NEW BRITAIN - One of the beauties of baseball is its widespread uniqueness.
Every ballpark contains different dimensions, different obstacles that balk at uniformity. The mechanics of the game also have a sense of exclusivity, with each batter taking a unique stance in the box or a pitcher using a motion or hitch in his delivery that rivals no other in the history of the game.
Rooted in these rare stances and windups is something not unique at all. Almost every professional hitter or pitcher began by imitating the form of an established pro that they considered a role model. Mocking batting stances and pitching motions was a childhood staple for almost any professional baseball hopeful. For some, it turned into a lifestyle, like ‘Batting Stance Guy,’ who spends his days filming himself copy the hitting tendencies of MLB players, which has led to appearances on national television programs and more than 50 thousand followers on Twitter.
For the kids who turn out to become the professional baseball players they mimicked as children, where does the line get drawn? When does imitation evolve into their own practice and become a unique motion future generations will try to replicate? Are the windups and swings of pros today a harmonious blend of what’s natural and what was natural for someone else?
Members of the New Britain Bees tried to explain how a batting stance and a pitcher’s delivery is born and developed.
There seems to be multiple classes of ballplayers. On one side of the Venn Diagram, there are those who spent their youth standing in front of a mirror and turning their back toward the glass like Luis Tiant before whirling a fastball, or violently whipping a bat back and forth like Gary Sheffield. Bees infielder Rando Moreno might fall into this category, as the Atlantic League veteran spent his life tweaking his stance to reflect his major league idols, and still does it to this day.
“All the time, I would copy Jose Reyes all the time,” Moreno said. “Now I imitate Francisco Lindor.”
In the middle of the diagram, there lies those who started like Moreno before slowly developing their own choreography, using those past idols as inspiration, but with the knowledge those stars eventually created a motion that was their own as well.
“Roy Oswalt was always a guy I liked to take from and so was Roger Clemens,” starting pitcher Cory Riordan said. “But I just took a bunch of little things from different guys. I loved watching Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright pitch. They were fantastic and Roy Halladay as well. You have to be your own guy, but also try and do what they do well.”
After graduating into his own form of originality, Riordan can now effortlessly detect those who try to clone other swings or windups.
“I don’t know what I look like,” Riordan said, “But you can always catch a guy that is clearly trying to imitate somebody else.”
On the other end of the diagram are those that started out like Moreno before learning the hard way that a batting stance is much like a fingerprint: everyone has their own, despite much of them looking like others you may have seen before. Infielder Ryan Jackson falls into this category.
“I used to try and imitate Ken Griffey Jr., but I’m not a lefty,” Jackson laughed. “Derek Jeter is a guy I would imitate with the hand movement, but now it’s about finding what’s going to be my thing and coming up with my own stance. But those two guys were big role models.”
Every baseball player had role models, and if you look closely, those role models can be learned just by watching those players on the field today. Almost everyone carries a piece of their past in the box or on the mound, but like baseball itself, there is beauty in being different.
Ryan Chichester can be reached at (860) 801-5094 or firstname.lastname@example.org