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World Baseball Coaches' Convention moves very successfully online due to COVID-19

Pete Walker, entering his ninth season as pitching coach for the Toronto Blue Jays and a part of professional baseball for 30 years, is still learning, he said.

"Any good coach, to be honest, is constantly learning," Walker, a Waterford resident, said this week. "Everybody has stolen ideas. You evolve over the years. You realize as you get older how much you picked up from particular people.

"It's almost like a brotherhood in professional baseball. Guys are trying to better the game and understand it. Complacency is bad. In any business you should always be trying to better yourself, changing with the times, evolving and wanting to get better. The best coaches in the game understand that."

The co-director of the World Baseball Coaches' Convention, traditionally held at Mohegan Sun, Walker made sure that concept — the sharing of ideas — made it to this year's convention despite the event being held virtually beginning Monday night ... and perhaps more than ever before.

More than 1,000 coaches were scheduled to tune in to the convention using Zoom video conferencing — a move precipated by being held in a pandemic — including 20-or-more coaches in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization and 20-plus from the Blue Jays organization, in addition to coaches from Holland, France, Germany and Korea, Walker said.

Over 30 informational sessions were slated to take place over four days, Jan. 11-12 and Jan. 18-19, including live question-and-answer sessions with the presenters. Presenters this year include major league managers Rocco Baldelli of the Minnesota Twins, Derek Shelton of the Pittsburgh Pirates, Chris Woodward of the Texas Rangers and Charlie Montoyo of the Blue Jays.

Registrations are still being accepted at www.baseballcoachesclinic.com and, because the sessions are virtual, they will be available online through June 1.

"We had such a good event over the years, we wanted to keep it going in some capacity," Walker said. "The market has been flooded with a lot of different opportunities. With a virtual clinic, we still had some of the best presenters in the world and coaches are still able to interact with them, still feel like they're a part of it.

"We started in early summer time, doing a lot of work gathering presenters. We're really excited about the finished product. We have three sessions going on at a time at certain times and then there are five or six months where they can go back and look at things.

"This gives them the opportunity to see it all, not miss anything, or see it again."

Walker said the convention, in its 18th year, is truly a world event.

"We've had the title. This year we were able to reach overseas and get some response from different countries around the world," Walker said. "That may be an avenue to grow the event."

The World Softball Coaches' Convention, usually held in conjunction with the baseball portion, was canceled this year.

One of the first sessions of the four-day convention was a 50-minute pre-recorded roundtable discussion Monday with major league pitching coaches Matt Blake of the New York Yankees, Dave Bush of the Boston Red Sox and Blue Jays bullpen coach and director of pitching development Matt Buschmann, moderated by Walker.

Walker and his fellow pitching gurus talked about their various coaching styles, different deliveries, offseason throwing programs, approaches to bullpen sessions and the virtues of velocity vs. command.

"I agree probably the most important thing I do is connect with my players," Bush said, asked to assess his coaching style. "I think the thing I've learned the most along the way is to be adaptable. My ability to connect to players is one of the things I work at. I try to be as well-rounded as I can, just a lot of different things. Today's coaches are well-rounded; they have to know a lot of areas about the game."

Walker, who said he is still scheduled to leave for spring training in mid-February, was set to moderate the convention's interactive sessions from home, something he said required a little practice.

"You have 1,000 coaches watching; you want to make sure you have your A game," he said with a laugh. "... The other event was a well-oiled machine. This is a bit of an unknown. We hired a platform, a virtual platform out of Canada (Event.Mobi.com).

"The sessions are good, honestly, better than we've ever had. The guys we've brought in: four major league coaches. And some of the college presenters we have are awesome. It's such a great platform. Coaches are going to be surprised at the amount of information."

v.fulkerson@theday.com

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