By Natalie England
Big 12 Campus Correspondent
Blaire Luna throws, and Amy Hooks catches. This is the nature of the pitcher-catcher relationship.
Their give-and-take isn’t limited to balls and strikes. Those smooth exchanges are just the result of many others -- in the locker room, on the bus and in the bullpen.
“We have to be on the same page,” UT’s junior catcher Hooks said. “And that means a lot of communication.”
One of the most important things a catcher does is call the game, but that encompasses much more than just signaling for pitches.
“Every at-bat, there should be a thought process behind it,” Megan Willis, a former UT all-conference catcher who is now a volunteer assistant coach with the Longhorns, said. “Every pitch, you’re learning something -- either about the hitter or your pitcher.”
This process starts even before the game does. Luna tossed her eighth complete game shutout of the season last week, as the Longhorns run-ruled Baylor, but Hooks was figuring out the formula to Luna’s seven strikeouts in the bullpen during warm-ups.
Hooks joked, “My thumbs don’t line up today.”
Hooks motivated, “There it is. … Right there. … You’re hitting great spots. … All day.”
Hooks calmed, and this she did without words. Before the pair left for the field, Hooks offered a steady hand and patted Luna on the back.
“The more trust a pitcher has in her catcher, the more comfortable she will feel out there,” Willis explained.
From day one with the Longhorns, Hooks has possessed a great eye behind the plate. This year, with a roster of young pitchers, Hooks had to assume a role rooted in confidence and leadership. She had to figure out how to mature her pitchers into the season.
Younger pitchers have a tendency to want to throw only what feels good at the time.
“But we can’t throw her strikeout pitch every time, or everybody is going to figure out what it is,” Hooks said. “Keeping the hitter guessing is most important. You don’t want to live on one pitch too much.”
In that way, Willis has been an asset. During her UT playing career, Willis was a four-year starter behind the plate and twice earned Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year (2006-07). She helped UT to a Big 12 Conference title in 2006 and a Big 12 postseason championship in 2005.
She’s been in the World Series, she’s won the conference, and I just really want to know how she thought through a game,” Hooks said. “How did she set up hitters in a big situation? She’s been in big games, and I just want to know what it took to do all that.”
Willis has encouraged Hooks to use her knowledge as a hitter to become a better catcher. If a hitter has been in front of the ball, Hooks can react to that and call a change-up to set up a chasing swing or miss.
“Amy has done this for awhile, so it’s about exuding confidence to your pitchers that you know you’re calling pitches for a certain reason,” Willis said.
Earned trust, of course, is the key element.
“I want the pitcher to just be able to flow through the game and not wonder why I’m calling this or that,” Hooks said. “And then after the game, we can talk about why this worked or it didn’t. It’s just all about having that relationship.”