The Science of Hitting

June 1, 2010

By Matt Winkeljohn
RamblinWreck.com

Whether or not Jen Yee today becomes the first Georgia Tech student-athlete named USA Softball Player of the Year, she’s already the Yellow Jackets’ first doctor of softball.

It’s just a title, actually, and if all the school and ACC records she set this season while hitting .568 with a 29 home runs, 93 runs, 88 walks, a 1.270 slugging percentage and a .732 on-base percentage – all No. 1 in the nation or tied for the lead — don’t make the case strongly enough, then take a gander at some of what goes on in her head.

Yee, whose goal from the time she went as a child to see the Canadian national team play near her home was to play for that squad, began to refine her remarkable hitting skills at age 16. She took – or rather saw – a flier, and went to hitting coach Dave Paetkau near her home in North Delta, British Columbia.

They even stayed in touch from afar during Yee’s college career, and to this day she subscribes to so much of what Paetkau preaches (chiefly that the key to a swing is in hip rotation) that he’s asked her to blog on the website (pzoneacademy.blogspot.com) for his softball academy back home.

A sample of Yee’s writing seems PhD dissertation-ready. She merges physics, kinesiology, psychology and more into a script that by comparison would leave the erstwhile “LOST” story downright elementary.

“Someone having inverted elbows will be more likely to slot their back elbow incorrectly. As your hips start to rotate and your elbow starts to slot, your back elbow should come in close to your body with a small gap between your elbow and your torso.”

Or, try this:

“This downward momentum thus makes it harder to hit higher pitches. Since momentum is a vector quantity (mass x velocity), Hitter 2’s hands must overcome a greater downward momentum than Hitter 1 in order to adjust to the higher pitch.”

Is it any wonder that Yee ended up at Tech? Paetkau applies science, and Yee has soaked it up.

“He had these fliers at the local sporting goods shop where I always get my batting gloves and stuff,” she said. “I was looking for somebody else to train with. He was having a winter clinic and I decided to go with a friend, and decided to go back for private lessons. I found that everyone else that I had gone to train with emphasized your hands and never really talked about your lower [body] half.

“He was the first to really emphasize using your legs more and getting your power from there. It’s more of a smooth feeling, effortless feeling. You don’t feel like you’re muscling the ball.”

Yee reached base in all 62 games this season for Tech, which bowed out of the NCAA tournament with a 51-11 mark. Yet she had to muscle her way into the collegiate elite. First, the left-handed hitting second baseman went to Niagara for a year because no matter her skill set, she played in obscurity while growing up in western Canada.

“Being Canadian, we’re at a big disadvantage because we don’t get to those big recruiting tournaments, and coaches aren’t willing to come up here,” she said by phone from B.C. “We didn’t even know what college was at that point. It’s a cost issue, too. A lot of parents here are afraid to send their kids away.

“Through a friend of a friend I got into Niagara. I got most of my stuff paid for, but it was still pretty expensive.”

The parents, Peter – a retired high school teacher – and Maye – who works at a catering company – came on board more quickly than mom did as her daughter adapted her hitting style in high school.

“I started training with [Paetkau] in the winter and that spring it wasn’t a great season because I was in transition,” Yee said. “To take this new style of hitting from the tee to live pitching was not easy. It’s just repetition. Mom was frustrated. She’s into numbers.”

Countless hours spent hitting off a tee and in batting cages honed a new swing. “Eventually, it becomes muscle memory. Whether you’re working by looking in a mirror or whatever when you pick up at bat it will begin to feel the same,” Yee said. “It’s repetition.”

Yee was discovered at Niagara and recruited by former Tech coach Ehren Earleywhine. She transferred in shortly after Earleywhine left for his alma mater, Missouri, and then took 2008 off from college softball to play for Team Canada in the Beijing Olympic Games.

After playing in the world championships in Caracas, Venezuela, she will return to Tech to finish work on her material sciences degree in the fall.

“I always wanted to play for Team Canada. That was a big goal for me. We have the Canada Cup here. We always used to go, and I thought it would be the coolest thing ever,” the leadoff hitter said. “I went to junior tryouts and all that stuff, and college was just something along the way.

“I knew that I would need to get into a good school to make the Canadian team. Coming to Georgia Tech from Niagara was a good move for me as far as playing against better competition.”

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