Matt Belisle: Rag ball king

Rockies manager Jim Tracy presents Matt Belisle as Rag Ball King.jpgAs early as tee ball, coaches learn quickly that it’s a lot easier to teach when the drills are fun. It’s no different teaching the children-at-heart in the Majors.

So the Rockies have this drill to help pitchers develop their fielding that they call “rag ball smash.” A coach hits one-hoppers or line drives hard at a pitcher from close range. To keep from filling the disabled list, soft-cover balls are used.

Each day, they keep score, talk trash and generally laugh as they work. But manager Jim Tracy pointed out recently that a number of big fielding plays by pitchers last season were attributable to the reactions developed in the drill.

“You see a ball coming off the bat like that and you have to react to it,” Tracy said. “Obviously, it’s not a hard ball. But how many of those in-between-type comebackers have you seen where a guy flinches.

“How many two-out, man-on-second-base groundball base hits through the middle did we save last year? How many of those cases could have been a game-changing hit?”

Tracy brought the drill to the Rockies last season, when he helped organize Spring Training as bench coach under then-manager Clint Hurdle. Just before games began, he organized a tournament that right-handed prospect Jhoulys Chacin won. The team also includes clubhouse staff in the event. It’s a rollicking good time.

It was a great time for righty reliever Matt Belisle, who won this year’s championship — and took home the purple robe with $20 bills totaling $200 pinned to it — by catching 15 smashes in a row in the final. Lefty reliever Franklin Morales finished second by catching 13.

Belisle was all smiles.

“I think we have made it fun, and all the guys pretty much agree it does help,” Belisle said. “The genius is to incorporate some competition. That’s where we all come together and enjoy it.”

It would have been nice for Belisle to have been able to wear the championship robe to, say, dinner in Tucson. But after seeing him don it on the field, someone decided that it wouldn’t have been a good fashion statement for him to wear it anywhere else.

“I don’t know where my robe is,” he said. “That’s a good question.

“But I got the money, and I’m going to go find the robe.”

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