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Pirates help coaches with virtual clinic

November 16, 2020

PITTSBURGH -- Speaking on a Zoom call last Friday evening, Pirates coaches and staff couldn’t limit themselves to just one answer when asked a simple question: Growing up, which coach had a big influence on your life and career? For manager Derek Shelton, it was his father as well as

PITTSBURGH -- Speaking on a Zoom call last Friday evening, Pirates coaches and staff couldn’t limit themselves to just one answer when asked a simple question: Growing up, which coach had a big influence on your life and career?

For manager Derek Shelton, it was his father as well as longtime Yankees executive Mark Newman. For first-base coach Tarrik Brock, it was Dwight Lowry and Reggie Smith. For scouting assistant Kinza Baad, it was her father and godfather. For bench coach Don Kelly, it was his father, Point Park University coaches Mark Jackson and Al Liberi and, of course, Jim Leyland.

“We all have so many mentors in our lives, whether it’s baseball or life in general,” Kelly said.

It’s hard to overstate the impact that coaches can have on and off the field, which is part of what drove the Pirates to host their “Play at Home” virtual baseball and softball coaches clinic over the weekend. The three-day online event included two question-and-answer sessions -- one with Pittsburgh’s coaches, another with four prospects -- and a series of instructional webinar sessions hosted by Pirates coaches and staff.

Pirates' virtual baseball and softball coaches clinic

With in-person activities and camps canceled or postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Pirates tapped into the baseball knowledge present throughout their organization to create a virtual clinic designed specifically for coaches and parents. Baad and community outreach manager Joel Gray led the way, starting on Friday, by hosting an hour-long chat with Pittsburgh’s Major League coaches.

During that session, Gray and Baad guided Shelton, Kelly and Brock through a discussion that touched on everything from how they handled coaching during the pandemic and their overall coaching philosophies to how they can increase youth participation in baseball and the value of playing multiple sports.

They touched on the importance of inclusion as well, with Shelton appropriately noting that Friday -- the day the Marlins made Kim Ng the first female general manager in Major League history -- was “a monumental day in our game.”

“Today is a special day, and I want to make sure that as we go forward in youth sports, we realize that and embrace that and talk about that,” Shelton added.

Play at Home baseball and softball drills

Pirates Play Ball: Learn from the pros

Shelton and Co. also fielded questions from parents and coaches attending online, ranging from the best way to quickly improve running speed (Brock suggested bike riding and, more adventurously, holding a piece of meat while a dog chases you) to improving mechanics (Kelly: “When we focus so hard on mechanics, we lose athleticism.”) to the application of analytics in youth sports (Shelton: “For kids, don’t use it. Let the kids play.”).

On Saturday, the Pirates hosted seven skill sessions that lasted 20-30 minutes each and included a brief Q&A session: softball pitching with Jaime Stumme; baseball pitching with Minor League manager Kieran Mattison; catching with Triple-A manager Brian Esposito; hitting with special assistant Sean McNally; defense with Minor League coach Blake Butler; analytics with assistant director of baseball informatics Andrew Gibson; and scouting with Baad.

Those sessions, which are available to watch at, included foundational skills, mechanical recommendations, drill ideas, teaching tools and simple but comprehensive explanations of what they should try to teach young players.

Esposito, for instance, stressed the importance of glove placement and mobility behind the plate. McNally broke down the three components of hitting and the five fundamentals of a good swing while also explaining to parents the positive ways they can coach hitting during a game and advising coaches on how to evaluate young hitters.

Pirates' Play Ball programs

Butler explained how playing good defense can help young players get on the field more often and recommended a bunch of different drills to make defensive work fun. Gibson offered simple, understandable reasons for the use of analytics: finding relationships between processes and outcomes, and using those findings to change processes to create better outcomes. And Baad explained how scouting departments work, what makes a good scout and the characteristics they look for in players at different ages.

The virtual clinic wrapped up on Sunday, when Baad hosted a Q&A session with four of the Pirates’ top prospects: pitchers Quinn Priester and Max Kranick and outfielders Matthew Fraizer and Matt Gorski.

They ran through a number of topics related to how each player got his start in baseball, their multi-sport backgrounds, how they stay sharp during the cold winter months, their college recruitment, the Draft process, becoming a professional baseball player and lessons learned during their first season of pro ball.

Answering the final question, Fraizer -- the Pirates’ third-round pick in the 2019 MLB Draft -- shared a message that felt appropriate for coaches and players at all levels of baseball.

“You’ve got to love the game,” Fraizer said. “It took me a while to realize, but once I got out there, the biggest part was going out there and having fun. When I’m at my best is when I’m out there having fun and competing, not really worrying about my stats, not worrying about anything else. It’s a game. Control what I can control, then have fun and try to help my team win any way I can. That’s where my best baseball comes into play.”

Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and read his blog.