HOPE — “One, four, three!”
Before every pitch, Hauser softball coach Craig Sims calls out a three-digit sequence. His players immediately consult the pink armbands on their wrist in unison, as if synchronizing their watches, and then position themselves accordingly.
Four or five years ago, Sims would have scoffed at the idea that he’d be relaying signs to his team this way.
Formerly an old-school coach very much set in his ways, Sims has been giving signals to the Jets numerically since the start of the 2014 season — and it’s tough to argue with the results. After winning a sectional two years ago, Hauser went 26-4 and won the Class A state championship last spring. So far this year, the Jets are unbeaten.
It’s not likely you’ll see Sims using hand signals again anytime soon.
Hope and change
Hauser catcher Hailey Lange used to have to paint her fingernails with very bright colors so that her signals would be seen by the pitcher.
It was just one of the inconveniences that came with calling pitches the old-fashioned way.
But that’s just how it was playing for Sims, who had his way of doing things and by gosh that’s just how things were going to be, just because.
“I was one of those people that was kind of stuck in my ways with signs,” the coach admitted. “Everybody knew my signs and my system, and that’s just how we did it.”
But in the fall of 2013, Sims saw the light while coaching the Indy Edge travel team. Colleague Jeff Liter had been using a wristband-based signaling system and encouraged Sims to give it a shot.
Reluctantly, Sims did so — and he’s never looked back.
He tried using the wristbands just on offense at first with the Edge, then liked them so much that he started utilizing them for pitching and defense as well.
In the spring of 2014, Sims brought his new signaling system to Hauser. The players who had used them with the Edge — including pitcher Tessa Sims, who joined the Jets as a freshman last season — had no problem adjusting. For some of the holdovers that had gotten used to hand signals, including Lange, there was a bit of an adjustment period.
“I would just slowly read it, and I’m like, ‘Tessa, slow down!'” Lange recalled. “But we figured it out eventually, and now that we’ve got it, our rhythm’s pretty good.”
On the same page
According to Craig Sims and his players, there are two big advantages to using the wristband-based signaling system instead of the traditional signs.
One is that it’s easier for every player on the team to know what’s going on. With hand signs, the middle infielders need to relay the message to the outfielders behind their backs before each pitch — and there’s not always a guarantee that the infielders are able to see the catcher’s fingers anyway.
“Making sure everyone knows what’s going on on the field, that is very important,” Tessa Sims said.
“They want to know,” Craig Sims added, “because obviously if you’re throwing a screwball or an inside pitch to a 3-hole or 4-hole batter, the third baseman or shortstop better tighten up their britches, you know?”
Secondly, it’s a lot more difficult — even impossible, Craig Sims insists — for opposing teams to pick up on the signs.
“This is 100 percent pick-proof,” he said. “Somebody could sit there and write every single number down, I guess, but that would be pretty in-depth and take a lot of time.”
Especially considering how many different numbers there are. The wristbands that the players wear have a total of 300 different signal combinations on them — 150 for pitching and defense, and another 150 for offense.
With so many different possible calls, Craig Sims almost never has to use the same signal twice in the same game.
“I could call the same pitch about 25 times in a game with a different number,” he said.
In addition to all of the different pitches, Hauser’s codes cover just about every possible play that the team would use, including pickoff plays, bunts, fakes and steals.
Few players would be able to memorize that many hand signals.
“You can create so many more defensive things you can do,” Liter said of the wristband system, “because you’ve got so many more options that they can do, and they don’t have to remember by watching all of the signals.”
The system isn’t cheap — getting the software and enough wristbands to outfit a team can cost several hundred dollars — but with the Jets coming off of a championship season and ranked second in Class A again this year, one could certainly argue that the system has already paid for itself.
Whether Hauser can claim a second consecutive state title remains to be seen, but one thing is just about certain — if some team does knock the Jets off, it won’t be a result of signs being stolen.
The wristband signaling system that the Hauser softball team uses is produced by a company called Own the Zone, which bills itself as “the original pick-proof sign software.”
While it’s not seen often at the high school level, the system has become almost universally used at the collegiate level. The NCAA Division I baseball and softball champions in each of the last three seasons have been Own the Zone clients.
The base software package can be purchased for $249.95, with larger packages including different quantities of wristbands are available.
For more information, visit ownthezonesports.com.