Plate Stance Specifics –The Davis Stance
Scott Ehret on Umpiring
About nine or 10 years ago, while headed home after a Gerry Davis Umpire Clinic, Gerry and I were talking about plate work. He’d just spent the weekend “in the cages” helping umpires develop or improve their plate stance, and quite a few needed a lot of help. The most common problem was movement during a pitch – the old “moving camera takes a blurred picture” cliché confirmed and repeated in three living dimensions.
“I started putting guys in their base stance,” he said. “Hands on knees, get set and lock in before the pitcher commits, and stay put until the ball reaches catcher. It worked so well I think I might try that stance in Spring Training.
”Now, if you’ve ever spent any time with Gerry you probably know two things about him: He’s very serious about umpiring and he loves a good practical joke. I knew from our conversation this “hands-on-knees” stance had been a great teaching tool during that weekend’s clinic, but I could not believe Gerry would completely alter his own stance in front of Major League players and managers. I didn’t KNOW I was being set up, but let’s just say I’ve been in too many places with too many umpires to show anyone my plate stance in a bar.
Fast forward a couple of months. Late March. Gerry was back in Wisconsin after his Spring Training work and everyone in Appleton was wondering how many more times that winter the snowplows would wake them up at four AM. On his first day back in the office Gerry was raving about his new stance.
“You’ve got to try this,” he said again and again. “You won’t believe how comfortable it is, let alone how well you see pitches!”Sure, I thought: “One more round, then I gotta’ go!” But just in case he was serious I had to ask a few questions. Here’s the easiest plate stance lesson you’ll ever read.
- Put one foot directly behind the middle of the catcher. With a right handed batter it’s your right foot.
- Step into the slot by spreading your feet a bit more than shoulder width apart.
- Lean forward slightly and place your hands on your knees. It’s the same stance you’re probably using on the bases with a runner on.
- Watch the pitcher. As he commits to the batter drop your rear end a couple of inches so your line of sight is horizontal. This takes stress off the muscles in the back of your neck. You’re now locked in.
- See the ball at the pitcher’s release point and stay locked in until after the ball reaches the catcher. Move only your eyes and try to keep the ball near the center of your field of vision.
Frankly, I still was not quite convinced. Seeing is believing and I had not seen a thing. Loud laughter and predictable wisecracks lingered at the edge of my imagination. Then Gerry left for opening day and friends started calling, asking me about Gerry’s new plate stance. After 10 or 12 calls I had a chance to watch one of his plate games on television. There he was, hands on knees …
A few days later I had a non-conference double header with two teams I knew pretty well and a partner I’d never met. I figured the partner wouldn’t know if I was doing something different and I knew the teams would never notice. Perfect chance to try this new stance. At least for an inning.
It took about four batters for me to realize how easy it was. Each pitch looked big as a beach ball coming toward the plate. Outside corner? No problem. Low zone? Easy. My biggest difficulty was patience – I saw the ball so well that after a couple of innings my timing started getting quick. Slow down! See the pitch all the way to the glove! Okay, that’s fixed.
We’ve spent months talking about the five fundamentals of a great plate stance. They’ve never been easier to establish or master.
- Head height. It’s automatic when you put your hands on your knees. Keep your elbows straight and, unless your arms grow during the game, your head height will be consistent for nine innings or 19.
- Location. One foot centered on the catcher, feet spread a bit more than shoulder width. You’re in the slot! If the catcher and batter squeeze you, just adjust up a bit – but only if you have to. With this head height it’s rarely necessary.
- Balance. Already there.
- Comfort. Even better than balance. In fact, there’s almost NO FATIGUE! Face it. How often are you tired after working the bases? Now you’re in the same stance, just standing behind the plate!
- Lock-in mechanism. Put your hands on your knees and drop your rear a couple of inches. You’re set; you’re stable; there’s no place to go.
If there is a drawback it lies in the fact that your forearms feel exposed. They are. You will get hit. I do, but no worse and no more often than when I used other stances. The good news is that when I have a bruise I still get the pitches right.
Almost a decade after that Gerry Davis clinic, whether you call it the “Davis Stance” or the “Lock Box” or the “Hands on Knees Stance,” umpires across the country and around the world are using it at every level of baseball – and softball! If you haven’t at least tried it you’re falling behind the curve. Give the Davis Stance one game and if you don’t like it go back to what you’ve been doing.
Just don’t go there when you’re in a bar – you may wind up buying a very expensive round of drinks.
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