For youth baseball coaches at all levels who wish their players would spend as much time learning the game as they do playing with their smartphones and other devices, Elmhurst’s Neal Johnson has a solution.
It’s an app called Thinking Baseball that presents more than 8,000 defensive situations and asks the user to provide the correct answer for each one, depending on where the ball is hit and what the user’s position is at that moment.
For instance, with runners at first and second and one out, what does the second baseman do on a groundball to third base?
On a full-field diagram with all nine defensive players displayed, the user would touch the screen and drag the second baseman to second base to receive the throw from the third baseman and then click to relay the ball to first for a double play.
Coaches with the app can send individual players a package of situations specific to their position and monitor their answers. The app will record how many questions have been answered correctly. As an incentive, points and virtual awards are earned for correct answers. While the app is geared toward young players, it also can be educational for coaches.
Perhaps the most appealing feature of Johnson’s app is the multisensory learning experience that allows users to see the play develop from beginning to end, hear the situations and the correct decision and maneuver position players by touch.
Local users and Chicago Cubs fans also get the added bonus of hearing every situation described by legendary baseball broadcaster Pat Hughes. The radio voice of the Cubs calls the play and, after the user answers, Hughes offers congratulations for a correct response or describes how the play should unfold.
As high-tech, innovative and graphically attractive as Thinking Baseball appears, Johnson doesn’t want it to be confused with Candy Crush or Pokemon Go.
“This is not a video game,” he said. “It’s a learning tool that can supplement actual practices.”
Thinking Baseball comes with a motto: “The app that gets your head in the game before you ever step on the field.”
While Johnson is focusing on marketing Thinking Baseball to house leagues, travel teams and high school teams, for a $20 annual subscription per player, it also can provide a one-on-one activity for families.
When purchased by a league or team, the price is discounted based on the number of players.
The app has been 20 years in the making.
Johnson describes himself as a good-field, no-hit middle infielder in his playing days at York High School, but he always has been fascinated by the mental part of the game.
As Yogi Berra famously said: “Half the game is 90 percent mental.”
To Johnson, it’s even more than that.
“As a kid,” he said, “my dad taught me to say to myself on every pitch: ‘What do I do if the ball is hit to me?’ ”
As an offshoot of his focus on the cerebral aspect of the game, Johnson first had the idea for Thinking Baseball in 1997 — in a print version with flip cards or in book format — but meetings with potential publishers were unproductive.
Fast forward to a few years ago. Thinking Baseball still was just a good idea but on the back burner until two of Johnson’s four children, Chris and Matt, urged him to modernize his idea.
“You have to do an app,” they told him.
Both sons have been instrumental in the process of making Thinking Baseball a reality. After three years of trial and error, research and development, Thinking Baseball is ready to launch, making it easier than ever for players to keep their heads in the game.
You can find Thinking Baseball at www.thinkingbaseball.com and try it for free.