Within the sport of baseball, the word “intent” has become a buzzword over the last couple of years. What is “intent?”

We should look to the definition of intention, which dictionary.com states as: purpose or attitude toward the effect of one’s actions or conduct. In the baseball world, we see “intent” as giving a certain level of effort in order to produce a desired effect. An example of this in baseball is the batter having the “intent” to hit the ball in the air as opposed to hitting the ball on the ground.

Over the last couple of decades, I believe that we have coached the athleticism out of young athletes by having them conform to artificial constraints placed upon them by coaches. Such artificial constraints in hitting are heard every weekend on baseball fields all over the country every time we hear, “just hit ground balls,” or “just put it in play.”

In the 1970’s, when I was a young kid with a desire to play baseball, my younger brother and I created a game that allowed us to be athletic and learn “intent” without the interference of outside influences.

The Ferry Silk Mill

The Ferry Silk Mill, Shillington, Pennsylvania

The Ferry Silk Mill was a large manufacturing facility that produced silk fabric to be used in garments. The mill was a short two-block walk from our back door through the alleyways of Shillington, Pennsylvania. During the summers of our youth, the alley next to the mill was our Yankee stadium.

We would wake up early and leave the house with the 50 cents we negotiated out of our father the previous night. With that 50 cents in hand, we would go to Grant’s department store to purchase four- 10 cent rubber Super Pinky balls and two- 5 cent Cokes in the returnable bottle.

The Super Pinky ball was widely used in youth games.

The pink rubber ball known as the high-bounce Super Pinky was inexpensive, durable, and did not do much damage when hit in to windows of cars or buildings. We were capable of hitting these balls without a worry of getting in trouble (most of the time). With the Super Pinky balls and an old wooden bat from Reeser’s sporting goods, we were able to work on our baseball game.

Using the factory wall as our center field wall, we used the different floors of the mill as a guide to determine the value of the hit. The first level of glass was a single, the second a double, the third level was a triple, the fourth level of glass was a homerun and a ball hit on to the roof was a grand slam. Any ball hit on to the ground was automatically an out.

Needless to say, we learned very quickly that hitting the ball as hard as we possibly could with the proper launch angle resulted in scoring the most runs and winning the game. In today’s baseball language, we were attempting to drop bombs on every swing.

Some days we could play the entire morning without loosing a ball, but, as we got better, sometimes those 4 balls were on the roof and gone within a couple of hours. You can only imagine the look on our father’s face on the evenings when we hit all 4 of the balls on to the roof and attempted to get another 50 cents for the next day.

So, how did this translate to the little league baseball fields of our youth? My brother Gary and I were pretty feared hitters on the baseball field. We would swing the bat hard, we would hit the ball hard, we hit a lot of homeruns, and we were able to put a ton of balls in play.

As a strength coach of young athletes, I have seen baseball players who have had the “intent” to hit the ball hard and in the air coached out of them. We have not allowed them to go to a park or to an alley and figure out on their own how to swing a bat in order to do damage and win. In my opinion, this is the biggest missing piece in baseball in the United States. This is precisely why ball players from the Caribbean and Puerto Rico are doing so well in American baseball. They fully know that they will not get off of the islands and to the United States to play if they don’t swing it hard and do a lot of damage.

I recently saw a short video of an 11 year old playing a hitting game with his father in front of their house. The only way that this boy could score a homerun was to hit the ball over the house in to the back yard. While watching the video, it was immediately apparent that the boy was attempting to hit a homerun with every swing. Needless to say, I was happy to see this simple game that allowed the young boy to organize his thoughts and action in order to achieve the desired effect.

We must also consider what we are doing to our youth outside of the sports world. I think that the same process of learning “intent” that we learned alone in that alley has also transferred to us as adults. We both learned that you only get a set number of at bats and you should swing for the fences every time. Anything less and you are setting yourself up for a life of mediocrity.