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Softball's play-calling wristbands signal change

Wristbands become commonplace in the higher levels of high school softball

Posted: April 22, 2013 - 9:14pm  |  Updated: April 23, 2013 - 12:14am
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Frenship's Miley McKee makes a catch with a visible wrist band of calls during a game against Monterey this week. (Stephen Spillman)  Stephen Spillman / AJ Media
Stephen Spillman / AJ Media
Frenship's Miley McKee makes a catch with a visible wrist band of calls during a game against Monterey this week. (Stephen Spillman)

Frenship softball coach Robby Dickenson stood just beyond third base Friday night as Miley McKee took a reprieve from her at-bat and stepped out of the batter’s box.

Dickenson touched his chest, hat, forearm and clapped his hands.

McKee glanced at her wrist for a second and nodded. She took a ball, which made the count 3-1, then stepped out again. Dickenson again performed the ritual, grazing his stomach instead of his forearm.

Again, McKee looked at her arm and nodded. On her left wrist rested a list of play calls, color coded into three sections with a dozen combinations under each.

McKee wasn’t alone in her glances at her wrist when stepping out between pitches. All of the Tigers did it after Dickenson signaled.

In the past half-decade, wristbands with plays on them have become commonplace in the higher levels of high school softball.

“We were just having some problems picking up the traditional signals,” said Dickenson, who implemented team-wide wristbands last season, “and I was watching some other teams that were doing it. I’d seen some that were doing it just with their coach and their catcher. I said, we can do that real simple.”

As Frenship’s starting catcher, McKee is used to getting a signal from her coaches every play.

She said Dickenson was “a little picky” with his signs, so the implementation of the wristbands have made it easier for her to pick up on things without making a mistake.

“It’s hard when you’re trying to get used to it at first,” McKee said, “but once you get used to it, it’s really simple. It’s easy — I like it better than the old way.”

Every player who took the field Friday in Frenship’s District 4-4A clash with Monterey wore a wristband with play calls, including the visiting Lady Plainsmen.

First-year Monterey coach Brian Cronk went with the armbands for the first time this season after experiencing missed signals in his previous stops, much like Dickenson.

“I think that they have adapted well to the armbands,” said Cronk, who uses the plays for offense, still sticking to signs on defense. “It’s pretty simple; as long as you can read and you can understand numbers, it’s a pretty simple deal.”

Dickenson remembers seeing football teams using armbands, so he took to the transition quickly, much like other coaches on the South Plains.

Cronk sees the wristbands as a natural evolution of signaling, as teams are always trying to find the easiest way to do something while remaining effective.

“You’re always trying to figure out the easiest way to best get it done and get something transferred over to the kids,” Cronk said. “You’re always going to change it, remake it and try to make it better.”

Both Dickenson and Cronk said the bands can make it easier to conceal play calls, although there aren’t too many cases of teams trying to steal signs on this level of softball.

Cronk added that using overly complicated signaling or simplified depends on the group of players. He recalled having only two simple signals during his time playing in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization.

“I think it depends on the type of kids you have and the type of program you have,” he said.

Estacado coach Stan Countryman said he started seeing the influx of the wristbands in the past four or five years, giving them to his players last season.

While signs have been a part of baseball since the game was formed — and players are indoctrinated at an early age into reading a complicated series of signals — some softball players in the Lubbock area won’t really start playing at a high level until high school.

Having play calls on the wrist makes it easier to morph into the game, Countryman said.

“It kind of opened us up for us, especially for some of the kids who didn’t play as much as others,” said Countryman, who started seeing colleges using the bands several years ago, using them for defense and giving them to the catchers.

Countryman said the bands add more variety to the game, especially when using the short game when bunting is a key part of the game.

Like his Frenship and Monterey counterparts, Countryman spoke about the simplified nature of the bands, which is what it really boils down to.

“It’s hard to mess up when you got it right there on your wrist,” Countryman said.

thomas.magelssen@lubbockonline.com

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