Ambres pits mental game vs. technology

Chip Ambres

It's an old saw: The more we embrace technology, the faster it moves. In business, at school, in our personal lives, we're obliged to keep up or lose out.

But while in banking, for instance, it was out with the pneumatic tube and in with electronic funds transfer, all in the matter of a couple of decades, baseball still features more or less the same ball, the same bat, and the same timeless struggle of hitter versus pitcher.

Between the lines, the game remains essentially the same and has for more than a century. That said, baseball finds itself in a rather unique position. In baseball, technology is generally employed as a prelude to the game itself.

And that begs the question: Does technology, in the service of a non-technological end, make sense?

In short, I wanted to get a sense of how much technology has insinuated itself into the preparation of the average ballplayer, and how much can still be chalked up to good old elbow grease, mental preparation—and quick hands.

I asked Beavers outfielder Chip Ambres to help me out with some insight.

Do you keep a journal? You know, pitchers you've faced? Is it something you write down? Do you use a computer, or do you keep it more mentally?

"Our hitting coach [Max Venable] passes out tablets for all the position players to jot down some information about the pitchers that they face, what they throw them, what they did each at-bat. It's kind of like your own little journal. Some guys like to do it, some guys don't. I'm more of a mental guy. I can't just look at a tablet and have it register. I like to see what a guy's throwing on that day."

How many times do you usually face a guy before you feel like you know his "stuff"?

"Each day is different. Sometimes you step in, and after the second pitch you're like, ‘Okay, I'm on him.' Other days you don't feel well, and that's when you've got to kind of battle it out. Some days you're on, some days you're off—hopefully more on than off."

How about video?

"In the big leagues, sometimes they'll have the [opposing] pitcher of the day on all the TVs in the locker room so they can see what's going on. I don't like to look at that. I like to watch video of myself, of my at-bats. When I was going good, this is where my hands were…"

Do you think it can be a distraction?

"Not necessarily a distraction, but you can put too much into it, make it more than what it is."

I remember maybe ten years ago I read about something. It was a big, life-sized video screen of a pitcher, and it could be adjusted to the actual release point of the pitcher it was showing, and the ball would actually come out of that spot. You know what I'm talking about?

"I hate it. It's so distracting."

So it's still around?

"It's still around. I've seen it being used, but I will not jump in there. You got a pitcher up there, I don't know, maybe Randy Johnson. He's up there, he's going through his motion, and you see a ball just come out all of a sudden. It's just very bizarre."

Have you ever been in a slump and done something out of your routine, something totally weird?

"Weird? I don't know…I used to keep my batting gloves in my right pocket, then I switched it over to my left pocket, and that wasn't working. And one time I put a penny in, and I started getting back on. And then it wore out, and I was like, ‘You know what…' [Ambres throws an imaginary penny away.] Hey, whatever it takes to get you going."

Indeed. Whatever it takes. Whatever it took, Ambres had a single and a double in Monday night's win over New Orleans, and hit the eventual game-winner on Tuesday with a three-run homer in the top of the ninth, so I guess we can take him at his word.

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