Interview with Coach Mike Rozema

top-imageBy Nunzio Signore (BA, CSCS, NASM, CPT, PES, FMS)

Today my interview is with Mike Rozema with Rozema Baseball and Director of Hitting at RPP.  Mike joined us earlier this fall to work with our players and has helped expand our operations from strictly strength training and pitching to hitting as well.  I am really excited about this interview.

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Nunzio:  Good morning Mike.  We are very excited to have you here with us at RPP.  I think our players are going to benefit a great deal from your presence and instruction.  And Thanks for taking the time to talk today.

Mike: Good morning Nunz.  Thanks and it’s a pleasure to be here.  I am very excited.

Nunzio:  For starters, can you please tell us a little about yourself.

Mike: Sure, I am from New Jersey and my baseball history began with high school at Fair Lawn, where during my final year I was awarded with All-State Selection as Shortstop.  I played at St. John’s University for four years with a full scholarship.  While at St. John’s I was selected 1st Team All-Conference, 3rd Team All-American Selection and I was also a 2 Year Captain of the team.

I was drafted by the Atlanta Braves in 2004 in the 14th round and spent five seasons with them reaching the AAA level.  A couple of years after leaving the Braves organization, I started Rozema Baseball and I have been in business working with baseball players ever since.  It’s my passion and I take great joy and pride in watching young players mature and excel at their game.

Nunzio:  A while back you explained to me the differences in hitting vs. pitching.  I found the conversation extremely enlightening and I was wondering if you could talk about that briefly.

Mike: Sure, the difference in analyzing pitching mechanics vs. hitting is simply all about control.  Pitchers are in control of everything they do from beginning to end.  However, as hitters we are only in control of everything up until our swing.  We try to have a great deal of control on the swing to get to the ball but our movements can’t be predetermined; we are simply reacting to the perceived movement on the ball.

It’s a completely different mindset and approach.  In this game, hitters need to focus and excel at the elements in our control.  As a hitter when it comes to swinging the bat, we need to be in a strong athletic position and short and direct to the ball at contact.

But the pitchers always have the advantage.

Nunzio:  What has changed over the years with respect to hitting that you didn’t have access to or know as a player.

Mike: Through the years, I think what has changed is the player’s access to technology, including video and the availability and measurement of hitting metrics. In many ways hitting has remained the same but technology now allows us to evaluate and analyze everything.  You get to see what you have done as a successful player and what others are doing as successful players in much more detail.  It’s not necessarily that we are doing things differently or doing new things with hitting.  What we have today is a tremendous amount of detail about what makes a great hitter and how hitters do what they do.

I also think that when you are training players, you should never forget what it’s actually like being a player and to be in the batter’s box.  All hitters know how difficult it is to hit the ball.  It’s easy for instructors to tell a player what is wrong with their swing and/or mechanics but it’s a whole other level when they can actually see it for themselves.  Today, the technology is there in high speed video.  Now we get to see more and analyze more.  But I also want to say that you need to strike a balance between what you can work on versus working on every single movement when it comes to hitting.

Following this thought, I want to point out that beginning in January we are installing a big screen TV here at RPP which will allow us to see everything in super slo-motion at 120 fps.  This will be huge for our players.  It will provide us with an amazing tool to analyze, study, review and improve during a session.  We will be able to really dissect and see what each player will need to work on and how they need to address their deficiencies in their approach and swing mechanics.  I am very excited about this.

Nunzio: I have been getting involved in analyzing hitting mechanics myself and I have been looking at the loading and un-loading phase.  You mentioned something to me in regards to the pattern changes from player to player.  I was wondering if you can talk about that a little bit.

Mike:  Ball players are all individuals and they all need to be treated that way.  When it comes to loading for young players, every time you hear the word “load” you think about going backwards.  In reality everybody functions differently.  Some players do a little bit more of a conventional load where they have their body moving backwards.  Some players don’t load at all.  They just trigger and go forward.  Having said that, the real important point during our swing is when the player’s front foot hits the ground.  At that moment, we want to be in a very strong and athletic position to hit the ball.

The one thing you should be careful with hitters is that you don’t want someone who is 16 or 17 years old changing their load completely.  It’s extremely difficult to change.  So you have to work within the confines of what a player is comfortable with and what they are good at.  As long as a player is getting into a good strong and athletic position to hit I think they are going to be ok.

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Nunzio:  What mechanical inefficiencies do you see when you initially assess an athlete that comes to you from another hitting facility.

Mike:  As I mentioned earlier, I think players are individuals, with each having a distinct swing all their own.  I would never say that there is one thing that players lack when they first come to me.  I would also never try to cookie-cutter players.  I treat each player as an individual and develop a plan for each player given their abilities.

Most young players are just starting to get their body to work together.  They have all heard the speeches about their lower half and their upper half.  But few have learned how to put it all together in a seamless manner.  Hitting is so individualized, there really isn’t one thing that kids are doing wrong all the time.  When I look at a swing I am looking at:

  • How athletic a hitter appears to be in the batting stance,
  • What position their body is in when their front foot hits the ground,
  • Hand position,
  • Bat angle, and
  • Where their weight is balanced.

And then, I review the strengths or deficiencies when the swing is executed.  I would say that getting players to learn the different aspects of their swing is extremely important.  And then it’s my job to get them to learn how to put all those parts together.

Nunzio:  How do you teach and work with your players on the mental side of hitting.

Mike:  Mental side is a huge piece of the puzzle.  As players grow up and play high school and later on in college, the mental side of the game becomes more and more important when they are training during their off-season.  A lot of our conversations are about the mental aspect of the game and what we are thinking about and trying to be very simple in our approach. As players grow, I progressively speak more and more about this topic with them.

Approach is a word that gets thrown out there a lot. When you know the game of the baseball, and you know what your responsibilities are in a given game or situation, you know that a percentage of the time you are going to have a job to do, versus seeing how far you can hit the ball.  This is especially true at the higher levels, in high school and in college, and definitely at the professional level.

It’s really important that you have a plan for each game and each at bat.  I know the best laid plans always go out the door when the ball leaves the pitcher’s hand.  But you have to have a plan.  Having said that, I think a plan should be super simple.  I don’t care how good a player you are, at some point you are going 0 for 10, or 0 for 20, if not worse.  For a hitter, those are really difficult times.  It’s strictly mental at that point.

My advice generally is to keep it simple and stay consistent and they should go hand-in-hand.  By simplicity I am speaking of a clear mind, focused on the baseball and timing. “Simple” also refers to “what we are trying to do with contact”, not trying to do too much and consistently trying to stay short and direct to the ball.  When working with players I discuss in detail what we are looking for in regards to pitches and location and what we are trying to do with specific pitches, all the while keeping it simple. Knowing what you have to do at the plate and staying with that through the ups and downs is a big part of being successful in this game.  Of course all this is easier said than done.  But we work on it every day.

I also try to speak to my players about how they need to take the bad days and the good days.  But we always have to put ourselves in a position to succeed.  As a hitter you can’t think and hit at the same time.  In my opinion, having a simple approach is a huge part of being successful in this game.  I am in the process of writing a 2 or 3 part series on what I call “Approach” and how baseball players should prepare for their “at bats”.  I will be discussing this in greater detail in those articles.

Nunzio:  What are you looking forward to the most as far the work we will be doing together here at RPP.

Mike:  For me, I think it’s all about putting forth the absolute best product.  With RPP and Rozema Baseball being under one roof and using you guys as a resource should be very significant for our players.  I am constantly trying to learn the other side of things about how the body works.  It’s a part of the game that is too often overlooked and I think whether you are 12, 15, 18 or 22, the bodies are all different.  I am looking forward to learning as much as I can about the body to help my clients.  I am really excited about what we are going to be offering our players together.  It’s a much more comprehensive approach.

Nunzio:  I totally agree and I am really looking forward to getting this show on the road and seeing the results of our combined work.  It’s a unique way to prepare ball players for the season.  Thanks for your time Mike.

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Mike Rozema can be reached on his cell at (201) 247-6793 or on email at rozemabaseball@gmail.com.

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