I always knew the Orioles took their locker room ping pong serious, but had no idea just how serious until I read that reliever Darren O’Day is working with a table tennis coach. That’s right, apparently O’Day started meeting with a trainer in early November to improve his skills with the paddle.
Seriously, how awesome is this team?
Larry Hodges of TableTennisCoaching.com (yup, that’s a thing) visited the Orioles clubhouse in May to coach shortstop J.J. Hardy, former centerfielder Brady Anderson and the aforementioned O’Day. Since that time, O’Day has “signed up for regular lessons” once a week.
Darren had copied this tip-up technique from JJ, so the first thing we worked on was keeping the racket tip down a bit. He also had a tendency to roll his racket over at contact (i.e. close it), by raising his elbow. So we also worked on that. On the backhand he tended to reach for the ball rather than move – in contrast to his forehand, where he was more mobile. So we did some side-to-side backhand drills where he had to step with his left to move left, step with the right to move right. We also worked on a slightly wider stance so he’d be lower to the table, with more stability when moving and stroking.
He had learned to put some spin on his forehand serve, probably by watching JJ, who has pretty good serves. But he was using the same grip to serve as he played, and so wasn’t getting much wrist into the serve. So I showed him how to change the grip to maximize the spin on his forehand pendulum serve.
So the focus of the first session was forehands (including a lot of smashing drills), backhands, footwork, and serves. Like most professional athletes, he was great at focusing on one topic to perfect it, and picked things up quickly. He, JJ, and Brady all that the same “Get it right!” attitude, and were willing to do any technique over and over until it was perfect. He was surprised at how physical table tennis was.
Hodges says that Hardy is the best player in the O’s clubhouse, “pushing a 1900 level” — whatever that means. Apparently Anderson is right behind Hardy, followed by Steve Pearce and O’Day.
After these lessons though there might be a knew ping pong champ in Baltimore.
I love this stuff. It’s important to have fun throughout the grind of the 162 game schedule, it’s great that the Orioles are using competitive ping pong to take the edge off.
O’Day has always been known to keep things loose. Remember his solowheel prank video with Buck Showalter?