Coaches Box: Andy Porta
Step into the coach’s box with St. Xavier High School head coach Andy Porta, whose Tigers from Louisville, Kentucky, have won
three of the last five state championships and finished the 2018 season ranked fifth in the country by MaxPreps.
Baseball Youth: What advice would you give to youth players who want to keep playing in high school, college and possibly beyond?
Andy Porta: If you’re not playing other sports, great, focus on this as much as you can. If you are playing other sports, continue playing other sports, especially at a young age. Develop other muscles. Give your shoulder a rest. We tell our guys if you’re just going home and playing video games, then come on, we’ve got some workouts that we can help you with that are going to improve your baseball skills.
I’m still a fan of having at least twice as many practices as you do games. And then working on those fundamentals. Just constantly. If I’m watching kids play, I want to see a pitcher backing up third and home, I want to see a pitcher covering first on a ground ball to the right side, I want to see outfielders either throwing at their cutoff man or through their cutoff man.
If I’m looking at kids that want to come to St. X that’s what I’m looking at, and I know when I talk to college coaches if they’re watching our high school games, those are the things that stand out.
BY: Let’s say you have a kid, he’s a good player, he tries hard, but he’s just in a slump. You know he’s a better hitter than he’s been demonstrating. How do you address that, especially when you know it’s something mental?
AP: That’s the thing — you can have a kid that’s incredibly talented, but he’s in a funk, and isn’t handling the failure that’s built into the game of baseball. And you just constantly preach, ‘It’s your next at-bat, it’s your next opportunity in the field.’ We talk about body language. I know you just roped a ball to left-center, but the guy laid out and made a great catch. You can’t show negative body language. You did exactly what you wanted to do in the box, and when it left your bat you can’t control what happens. I think that mental side — sometimes we’ll talk to some kids and say there’s some tremendous athletes playing basketball, playing football, tennis, soccer, but they can’t handle how much failure is built into our sport.
BY: Right, along those lines, Joe Girardi — we mentioned this in our last issue — while on MLB Network, recently advised parents and coaches not to admonish kids for swinging at bad pitches. Big leaguers, he said, swing at bad pitches. It’s part of the game. You are going to fail. And you know that going in. And sometimes pitchers make a good pitch and you swing at it.
AP: Right, and when you’re in the coach’s box, at that point, you can’t be negative, you’ve got to be a cheerleader. A kid just swung at a ball over his head that would’ve been ball four, you can’t just publicly embarrass him. He knows he shouldn’t have done that. In practice, sure, you can talk about that, but in the game, let’s get ready for the next pitch.
*This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity