Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Hoka Hey Part 2

This morning, Dejan Kovacevich of the Tribune Review took the Bucs to task for running a "Hell Week" during the Pirate City instructionals. It's supposed to be a continuation of Pittsburgh's SEALS training, although it seems to us to be more closely related to the old fifties fraternity hazing. At any rate, the episode has created a tempest in a teapot among us Bucco blogger types and the fans who follow the club, with twitter and comment post zingers being lobbed back and forth among web aficionados.

Our take? The purpose is team building, and there's nothing wrong with that, but it appears that the design could be considerably more player-friendly, with more baseball emphasis built into the fun and games.

GW went through boot camp during the old Vietnam era (yep, he is old school!), which is above and beyond what the puppy Pirates got a taste of last week. Sadly, it did not improve his arm or batting eye one twit, though he did learn to run out every grounder - or else.

The Bucs woke their guys up at 5AM and had them doing various zany things, like run relays with buckets of sand, slosh through ice-watery pools and slide into bases before the sun came up with their coaches hopping over them. Now we're not sure of the specifics, although sleep and physical deprivation don't really seem to bolster any baseball related skills.

And that's where you have to be careful about integrating military team-building into other professions. A soldier, cop or fireman may depend on his homies to keep him out of harm's way, but rest assured that no matter how often the cliches are mouthed, no baseball player ever shared a foxhole, took a bullet or pulled a teammate out of a flaming building. Additionally, the army process often made its recruits resent the DIs who put them through it, and that doesn't bode well for the coaches who run the drills.

Having said that, there are certainly aspects of military training that can be successfully superimposed onto sports. One is certainly PT, within reason (baseball guys generally don't have any rationale to crawl under barbed wire with live ammo whizzing over their heads, unless the guy happens to be a GM).

Running a bucket race or carrying a telephone pole are examples of team building that sound off-the-wall but are generally harmless and call for a group purpose and effort. So is shaming someone who screws up by having everyone who did a drill right do it over, which reinforces the weakest link philosophy shared by both the military and sports teams. In fact, that's often done in practices across sports' gamut when everyone on the team runs after an individual goofs up.

Maneuvers under blank fire are the military version of practices that blare mega-volume crowd noises over the speakers. The army also made some drills competitive, among squads, platoons and companies. The Pirates could easily do this by breaking the players into like groups - infielders, outfielders, rookies, whatever, during their drills.

And as for the injury factor, well, how many times have you heard of a player that missed a week because he slept funny? They happen, and none incurred during hoka hey days seem to be more than a minor sprain. Do mommies and agents complain? Well, sure, but that's part of their job description.

We have no problems with coloring outside the lines, and colleges, Olympians and other pro sports have adapted military training to suit their needs. And that's the key - adaptation.

The Pirates seem to have taken SEALS training straight off the shelf, and the one-size-fits-all isn't the way to go. There's no need for early wake ups, obstacle courses, ice baths and other such things. But there are plenty of exercises that can be incorporated that require team work and foster competition. If they're handled in the spirit of breaking up the monotony of daily drills and games without the life-and-death overtones, they could actually be sorta fun while building some esprit de corps and yes, leadership, among the farm hands.

We understand that baseball and hidebound go together, and anything non-traditional is looked at as if it's rabid. We also understand that the current Bucco braintrust has a rep for their way or the highway, so in a sense we're pleasantly surprised that they tried something so unorthodox, and at the same time aren't surprised at their unbending defense. But for it to succeed, they'll have to adapt the military-style training to make it mesh within a baseball system. That's their challenge: to use the right mix of drills to turn out ballplayers, not troopers.

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