Philosophies abound regarding hitting. Ted Williams was fond of saying, “Hitting is the hardest thing to do in sports.” Another Hall of Famer, Rogers Hornsby said, “A great hitter isn’t born, he’s made. He’s made out of practice, fault correction, and confidence.”
Norberto “Paco” Martin realizes how difficult hitting can be at any level of the game. A professional infielder for nearly two decades, including seven seasons in the major leagues, Martin batted at a .299 clip during his five campaigns with the Chicago White Sox. He has been teaching the art of hitting since he retired in 2002 and has seen numerous players succeed and some experience frustration with a bat in their hands.
“It’s hard to do it, but you have to have a routine,” said the native of the Dominican Republic. “Yogi Berra once said that hitting is 90 percent mental and 10 mechanical or physical. We don’t rely so much on the physical part; we concentrate instead on the mental part. If you don’t have the hand-eye coordination, you can’t play baseball. That’s basically it. But hitting has so much to do with the mental aspects.”
Martin had success at the game’s top level by employing his quick wrists and short swing to put the ball in play consistently. He also used the entire field and went with the pitch to find an opening in the defense. Yet, according to Martin, the productivity he had would not have been possible if not for the correct approach he took to the plate for every at-bat.
“You have to have a plan when you go to the plate,” Martin said. “Otherwise, it’s like going to war without your rifle. If you don’t have the right approach or the right plan, you are going to be in trouble. That’s one of the things I am always trying to emphasize to our players.”
Currently in his first season as a coach in the Colorado Rockies’ organization, Martin arrived in Asheville with a vast amount of experience in honing the hitting prowess of players of all shapes and sizes. He served as the hitting coach for the Helena Brewers in 2004 and 2007-08 and also worked with the Milwaukee farm system’s infielders. From 2002-03 he was an instructor at the Academy of Pro Players in Garfield, New Jersey, and for the past 11 years he has been a hitting and fielding instructor at Grand Slam USA in Raleigh.
He says the game is the same at every level in that a batter must make consistent contact to be successful. Working at the professional level presents its challenges, however, based on the philosophies and other types of instruction players have received prior to their arrival at the Class A level.
“Hitting is hitting but it’s a little bit different with these guys because they all come from different backgrounds,” Martin said. “They have worked with different coaches earlier in their careers, but they all have to get it down to one point—see the ball and hit the ball. Guys have different swings and different philosophies, thinking that they have to do this or do that or go through a particular routine. Sometimes, though, they make the game harder than it really is.”
That’s where the mental aspects of hitting can either help or hinder a player. Martin stresses the importance of being confident when a player steps in the batter’s box, thereby echoing the words of some of the game’s best hitters. Hall of Famer Joe Morgan said, “Confidence is everything,” while former all-star first baseman Will Clark said, “Confidence is as important to hitting a baseball as the bat you’re holding in your hands.”
“We try to keep them positive every time, to go to the plate with confidence,” Martin said. “That is what will give you better results. If you go to the plate not believing that you can hit the guy on the mound, you are going to have problems.”
Martin admits that hitting was always his favorite part of the game when he played. The process is a constant work in progress, but the correct adjustments and proper amount of preparation can make the difficult chore much easier. According to Martin, the primary key is to keep everything as simple as possible.
“That is the best approach,” Martin said. “If you put too many things in their minds, they are going to go crazy. You practice in the cages, but once you get in the games, you have to remember to simply see it and hit it. All of that practice has to transfer to the game. And that’s basically what I’m trying my best to do, to get all of the hard work the players do in the cages to transfer to the games.”