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Frozen Ropes Uses Futuristic Concepts

February 1, 2003
Author: Lou Pavlovich, Jr., Editor
Source: Collegiate Baseball
Publication Date: February 1, 2003
Training Center: Corporate Office

REMARKABLE BASEBALL TRAINING 'LAB' HAS FUTURISTIC TECHNIQUES

Tony Abbatine Molds Nation's Most Progressive Teaching Center to Great Heights

CHESTER, N.Y- Tony Abbatine is the mastermind behind the futuristic Frozen Ropes Training Center. Players flock to his facility, including Major Leaguers, because such areas as vision training, mental training, body awareness training and a wide assortment of other items are delved into. His facility has crowd noise simulation. In addition, he has combined ballet and jazz in strength and conditioning workouts. Hitters are trained at one station on a gymnastic balance beam to work on balance. Many more remarkable ideas are integrated into his training center which has been called a baseball lab by many. Sit back and enjoy the first of a 2-part series on the most amazing baseball training facility in the nation.

CB:

Give a little bit of background about the Frozen Ropes Training Center. How long has it been in operation?

ABBATINE:

The training center has been operating since 1990. We started, believe it or not, in the basement of an iron factory in downtown New Rochelle, N.Y. It was a 1 -cage facility at the time. On the weekends and evenings, college and high school players would come in for some additional practice. One of the very first players we had train with us was Matt Morris, who was possibly the best college pitcher in the nation last year when he was taken as the 12th pick in the first round out of Seton Hall. Matt has been here since he was a junior in high school. Major Leaguers who have used our facility include Pete Walker (pitcher for the New York Mets), Mark Grudzielanek (shortstop for Montreal Expos), Darren Bragg (outfielder for Seattle Mariners), Mike Bertotti (pitcher for the White Sox). With the exception of Matt Morris, the other players have trained here while they have been professionals.

CB:

What is the main reason for your lab.

ABBATINE:

If a baseball player is going to make significant changes, it is very difficult to do during spring training and almost impossible to do during the season. With that in mind, the quality time is the off season. The off season for professional players is really October to March. That is why we have had a lot of success to think and change the way they swing and to change the way they are thinking about the game.Most of the better college and pro players are staying in shape during the off season. The question then becomes how do you define shape? If you are hitting balls all winter or lifting weights all winter, those activities are really not the best way to improve one's skills. More and more of the professional teams are realizing this. Most teams will provide players with an off-season strength and conditioning program. Within that program is a throwing and hitting schedule so the entire off season is not based strictly on strength work, and you are still doing sport-specific things to become a good baseball player and not look like Charles Atlas.

CB:

You are a big believer in quality workouts and not necessarily quantity work.

ABBATINE:

We try to limit the amount of time they actually have in one workout. In the past, the typical workout for a pro player might be the old hit until you believe mentality. That does not improve players. The first thing we will do, whether it is vision training, mental training or body awareness training, is to always recognize and reaffirm to the players that it is crucial to get the workout done in a quality fashion. We want it done the fight way. Don't be too concerned with the amount of time spent. Time spent does not equal proper execution.

CB:

You are a big believer that bat speed and pitching velocity can be increased through proper training and is not God-given for the most part.

ABBATINE:

Whether you are talking about bat speed or pitching velocity, you must have a good understanding of the lower part of the body. Proper hip rotation at the right time provides most of the velocity in throwing a baseball and is probably the most crucial component of great bat speed. All of this talk of overload and underload training are not really hitting the main issue. If one were to look at the better hitters in baseball, they are all pretty consistent in having hip rotation start prior to the upper body approaching the ball. If that's true, and we believe it to be true, any discussion on bat speed must start with increasing the strength and coordination of hip rotation.

CB:

There is a huge difference of opinion on feet placement in hitting. Some hitting coaches want the feet to be in a good athletic position like a basketball player. Other hitting instructors never want their batters to have open or closed stances, and on and on it goes. What is your philosophy of hitting stances?

ABBATINE:

We don't even get involved in the feet, and that's a little bit different. Whether you prefer an open or closed stance, that is a personal matter. We try to suggest a balanced position. But really the central issue is not how they are starting. More important is what their body position is when the bat hits the ball. What is the position of their body when the bat is in the hitting zone? We feel that it is crucial to have centrifugal stability. In layman's terms, one must hit around his spine. That's what it comes down to. All this back side rotation which starts the swing must culminate in centrifugal stability.In other words, all forward motion with the body pretty much stops once the stride leg lands.Withthat, you have probably 90 percent of the lower body problems with most hitters. You make sure the hip rotation is finished up around the spine. Not only does this make sense, but it is a kinetic and biomechanically correct principle when you talk about body efficiency. Why do we walk in an upright position? If the man upstairs built us that way, as a hitter you should be consistent with the way you were built and not have the upper body leaning over or attacking the ball with the body where you see a lot of hitting problems.

CB:

Your lab also uses vision training techniques which are on the cutting edge of technology. Explain what happens.

ABBATINE:

You almost have to break down vision training into three parts. You have what we call the brain-eye relationship where you can train a hitter's ability to recognize a moving object and take that information and be able to digest it and operate the body all in .05 seconds. You need to recognize the pitch and correspond your body to that particular pitch. We try to integrate a lot of things Dr. Bill Harrison has been teaching for years as well as Harvey Ratner, who has worked with pro players for years. What we have done at the training center is make these techniques part of die daily workout. A lot of the pro players have been exposed to the Ratner and Harrison teachings. But it is not done on a daily basis over a four or five month period. It is as important as their stretching every day. Harvey Ratner created vision rings where you are taught brain-eye coordination. Dr. Harrison has his eye chart which is an attempt to strengthen the peripheral eye muscles. There is a whole series of drills players do here on an every day basis where they are improving their baseball seam recognition skills and at the same time from a physical standpoint actually strengthening their tracking skills by strengthening their peripheral muscles in the eyes.

CB:

Have you seen athletes who perform these vision exercises daily for four months or more dramatically increase baseball tracking skills?

ABBATINE:

Studies we have done with younger players and even pro players show great improvements in tracking. Once they have undergone vision training exercises for an extended period of time daily, we will take out a series of baseballs which are color coded and have different symbols on them. We will test them early on. Then every two to three weeks, we will re-test them to see if their ability to recognize the seams and objects on the balls have improved. In over 60 percent of the time, we have seen better recognition and better visual acuity. We feel it helps test players better to see not only different colored balls but balls with different symbols. We have even changed the size of balls on players to see if they pick that up. We put different numbers on balls and different letters. We feel this helps with pitch recognition. It also improves concentration skills. Looking only at the ball might not be enough. You must focus and see what is actually on the ball.

CB:

As far as curve ball recognition, what do you do at the training center to help batters pick up this type quickly?

ABBATINE:

That is the million dollar question. Recognizing the curve ball early distinguishes a Major Leaguer from a Minor League hitter or a great hitter compared to a .250 hitter. Most hitters at the or pro level can hit a 90 mph fastball. What separates better ones are hitters who can recognize and hit balls, sliders and off speed pitches. Most of the training we have here is premised on that. If a player recognizes the bullet like spin of the slider or the 6-12 rotation of a good overhand curve sooner in the 60 foot sequence, you will not ' only be able to see it but be able to hit it. What happens with most hitters, unfortunately, is that they don't realize the seam pattern is different as the ball is coming toward the plate until the last 20 feet. If we can get the hitter to recognize the spin of the slider or spin of the curve in the 40 foot area in front of home plate, now you're talking about the .280 to .310 hitters in League baseball.

CB:

In this entire realm of anticipating curves, sliders, off-speed pitches, your training center delves into saccadic eye movement drills. Explain these drills.

ABBATINE:

Ted Williams talks about anticipatory saccadic eye movement in his book, but in a non-scientific way. Better hitters are able to keep their field of vision slightly ahead of the ball so they are looking more in front of the ball than behind the ball. The reason why you hit the slider and curve ball is not so much seeing it but knowing where it is going. If coaches taught this every day, hitters would be in a much better position to see those pitches. And if you see the ball,you are likely to hit it more consistently.

CB:

Hitters tend to use only the front eye when they hit instead of both eyes. How important is binocular vision in hitting?

ABBATINE:

I feel binocular vision is essential to hitting. Both eyes must be level and turned toward the pitcher to better track balls. Many of today's hitters have one eye tracking pitches. Their back eye is really not involved in the tracking procedure at all. Withbetter hitters , you see both of their eyes locked in and turned toward ball. So many Little Leaguers try to track the ball with the front eye. We spend a lot of time stretching the neck and shoulder area so athletes become more flexible , able to turn a few more degrees toward the pitcher so the back eye is involved in the tracking.

CB:

Several top-notch sports vision experts recommend hitters should focus on a portion of the pitcher's jersey prior to the release of the ball, then immediately fine focus on the release point. Is this something you subscribe to?

ABBATINE:

That is another over taught concept particularly at the Major League level. The so-called "book" says this is important because you want focus on the uniform and then quickly fine focus release point. Yes, the eyes will work better when not staring at something for a long period of time. But it becomes dangerous as an instructor when you preach what to look at and how long to look at it to your players. It really must be done on a trial and error basis by that individual who is hitting. If you can give the hitters the information about soft focusing and fine focusing, let them decide when and where to use these concepts. Particularly withthe professional players, we will not get discussion with soft vs. fine focusing. We will simply tell them that the later they can get their eyes to lock in on the so-called hitting window, they might be able to see and recognize the seams of the ball a little sooner. That's really it. Most hitters today have their eyes locked in window a little bit too soon. That window is usually just above the pitcher's throwing shoulder. Most of the adjustments being made are to keep their eyes away from the hitting window a little bit longer and to pick up the ball at a given time. There is one Major League organization that believes hitters must look at the pitcher's belt.