Major League all-star Bill Madlock comes to Park City for Skullcandy Crushers clinic
On Sunday, four-time National League batting champion Bill Madlock was not particularly interested in talking about what he was teaching during his three-day stay with the Skullcandy Crushers. The 67-year-old, who won the 1979 World Series with the Pittsburgh Pirates, was more interested in talking about what drew him to the team, and to Crushers coach Brent Milner’s garage – which, with its highly sophisticated batting cage, is a baseball player’s dream even when there isn’t a hall-of-fame quality hitter standing in it.
“The kids that I deal with here are so different than the kids I teach in Las Vegas,” he said, standing outside the garage. “One thing about kids here is, they are so polite, and so perceptive to what you’re talking about.”
Madlock went on to describe the virtues of representing a brand, the philosophy that Milner and the Crushers embrace in caoching both the local Park City team and the statewide team, and how much opportunity the audio company has provided the seven youth club teams it sponsors (all called the Crushers) across the U.S. Madlock coaches a Skullcandy team in Las Vegas, where he has lived for the past 27 years.
As for what the kids are so perceptive of, Madlock’s only real hint was that it wasn’t about stats. “I’m from the old school,” said Madlock. “I like to pitch; let kids see balls in different positions.”
Then he was back to extolling the virtues of the Park City kids and Milner’s graciousness.
Madlock played in the MLB for almost 15 years, over which he had a batting average of .305. Since retiring from the professional game in 1988, he’s gone on to coach players from Little League to the majors.
To understand Madlock’s approach, it’s best to pull up a ball bucket beside the mesh batting cage, next the parents who have come to the Sunday afternoon clinic to see their kids hit, and watch Madlock throw pitches to a few of the 16U and 12U Crushers.
Logan Findlay, up to bat, was decked out in a Pirates uniform, which was no accident.
“After (Crushers) practice on Thursday, I went and told my dad (Madlock was coming) and we both freaked out on the way home,” said Findlay, a longtime Pirates fan. “Couldn’t believe it. Then, meeting him in the dugout, it’s kind of surreal, because he’s one of my heroes.”
Findlay’s hat was a replica of the one the Pirates wore when Madlock’s team won the World Series, and Findlay said Madlock was happy to sign it.
Standing behind the pitching screen, Madlock threw some balls and watched how Findlay swung the bat.
“Take that bat head out just a little further now,” Madlock advised. “You tried to pull it, didn’t you? Can’t pull, but still have to explode to the ball,” he added after the next pitch.
Garrett Vaccaro, one of the 16U players, described Madlock to his father as “chill.”
“I don’t know if thats the way I’d put it,” Preston Vaccaro, Garrett’s dad, said, “but it’s just how relaxed and willing he is just to talk to Garrett, to joke around. Its been great for him and it’s been fun to watch.”
From a technical perspective, Garrett Vaccaro said the veteran has a nuanced eye for batting.
“He sees things we can’t with the naked eye, so we don’t need a slow-motion camera,” Vaccaro said. “He just sees it and says ‘Do this instead; try this instead.’”
According to Milner, Madlock also taught batting psychology over his three-day stay. “How do you prepare yourself mentally on a 3-1 count, versus a 0-2 count,” Milner explained. “What are the things that you do to be in the moment?”
Milner said those questions are in lockstep with one of the Crushers’ fundamental tenants: Recognizing the difference between history, which is of interest to others, and the past, which is only relevant to the person who experiences it, and is probably not relevant in a game.
“The problem with youth sports, and baseball in particular, is when a guy misses the play, he lives in the past; it sticks in his head for a long time,” Milner said. “We try to get these players to get out of the past — don’t worry about history because (for Little League players) it’s still in the future — and stay in the moment.”
“Every level lower I coach, I have to talk a little bit more,” he said. “The lower you go, the more you have to communicate with the kids, and that’s the fun thing about it.”
One thing he notices with the players in Utah is they don’t play nearly as many games as Las Vegas teams, so they are often more raw, though he said in youth baseball, there is no one area of their game that kids need to improve upon.
“You always have to work on everything,” he said. “I was talking to one of my kids in Las Vegas, he said he had played 90 games since September — a 12 year old.”
In Las Vegas, Madlock explained, players can find leagues that play year round, because of the climate, and for some the season only stops between December 15 and Martin Luthor King Jr. Day.
But Madlock said that kind of schedule is intense, and added that one reason he liked coming to Park City to work with the Crushers was that the team managed to keep things in perspective.
“It’s just fun watching the kids here really enjoy the game,” he said. “(Milner) doesn’t put a lot of pressure on them; he doesn’t make every game seem like a matter of life and death.”
And while kids in Las Vegas have the advantage of year-round play, Madlock said he didn’t want to give the impression that playing in Park City was fruitless for players who might want to take their talents to the next levels.
“I want them to know that because this is a small city, don’t think they can’t make it in a big school or big way,” he said. “Sometimes, when you’re in a small city you might not think you have the same chances as a kid in Las Vegas, you might not have the same people watching you, and that’s just not true. You work hard and you’ll always have someone watching you.”
Milner turned on the pitching machine and set it to throw curveballs while Madlock critiqued batting from outside the mesh of the batting cage.
After all of the players had batted, Milner said he was going to set the machine to throw fastballs, hoping it would keep the players on their toes and force them to adjust their bat speed.
“What do you think, Bill – 82, 80 (miles per hour)?” he asked.
“78,” Madlock replied.
Then, quietly, he explained the slower speed.
“I want them to leave with confidence that they can hit,” he said.
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