The Game of Pepper

The game of pepper has been around for as long as I can remember. I cannot remember at what age I learned the game, all I remember is playing it for hours upon hours after school, before practice, and any chance I got. For those of you who are not familiar with the game, here is a very brief explanation.

The game is simple. There is a hitter and at least one, but usually 4-8 fielders, who stand approx. 10-20 feet from the hitter at an arm’s length apart. One of the fielders tosses the ball to the hitter, the hitter then hits the ball, usually on the ground, to one of the fielders. The fielder that catches the ball then tosses the ball back to the hitter. The idea is for the hitter to move the ball around so that all the fielders are involved. After the hitter has hit for a while , the hitter will then change places with one of the fielders. This continues until every one has hit. There are a number of variations of the game that make it more challenging for the fielders and the hitter. The most common is known as ‘Penalty Pepper”.

In penalty pepper, a group of fielders stand in a line 10-20 twenty feet away from a batter, one end of the line is the ‘front’ and the other is the “back.” As usual, a fielder throws the ball to the batter who attempts to hit a groundball back to the fielders. When a fielder cleanly plays the ball, he throws it back to the batter, generally as quickly as possible. If the fielder fumbles the ball or makes an error they must move to the back of the line. This is only one of many rules that vary from team to team and culture to culture.

In professional baseball and many college programs across the United States, pepper is quickly becoming a game of the past. This is, in part, due to the fact that many fields and stadiums have banned pepper games being played due to the risk of balls flying in to the stands and potentially injuring spectators. It is becoming increasingly more common to see “NO PEPPER” signs posted behind or near home plate.

In youth baseball today, kids don’t even know what the game is. They have never heard of it or seen it played. There are several reasons for this beyond those mentioned previously in this article.

  • Coaches today feel that if they are not throwing batting practice then they are not contributing to development of the player.
  • Young players often will not take batting practice unless a team coach is throwing.

This is how kids are being conditioned to think. Believe it or not, you can get better without the aid of a coach for all your baseball activities.

Coaches, let your players use this exercise prior to games and at practice. Let them make the game as hard as they want. Let them get a little crazy with the rules, all while creating a more challenging game for themselves and their teammates. Ultimately this will improve their bat control, instincts, defense, and throwing accuracy. Contrary to popular belief, allowing your players to challenge themselves does not make you any less of a coach.

I remember playing pepper with my club teams, representative teams, and even in college. Coaches of all ages and levels would be wise to include pepper in their overall coaching philosophy.

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