Major league baseball players are beginning to report to Florida and Arizona for this year’s spring training, and the World Baseball classic is underway.
Meanwhile, for players like PhD student and Varsity Blues pitcher Ryan Donnelly and I, baseball weather in Toronto is still at least a month away, and the urge to play is becoming unbearable. The streets of Toronto are covered in slushy snow, and the temperature sits just below freezing. Donnelly, contemplating how to at least temporarily satisfy the desire to throw baseballs, remarked, “So how about snowballs? Those are cool.”
In true Canadian fashion, we decided to embrace the cold, snowy outdoors, and warm up our arms for the season with a snowball fight. Before starting the winter baseball simulation game, however, some fundamental techniques had to be nailed down in order to succeed in our endeavour — we needed to learn the step-by-step process of how to throw a snowball.
The most crucial part of a snowball fight is your weapon: the snowball. “One of the most underlooked factors in throwing a snowball is the construction of the snowball,” Donnelly insists. “It should go without saying that you shouldn’t use anything except high-quality packing snow — no powder.” The temperatures that we have been subject to in Toronto lately create the ideal snow: it’s warm enough that the snow melts slightly, thus giving it a consistency ideal for molding.
Once the desired material becomes readily available, a snowball must be made. “Premium construction is partially personal preference, but universally, all snowballs should be packed to maximum compression; variable features include size and shape,” Donnelly explains. As baseball players, we chose to make snowballs the size of a baseball, which is also conveniently the size of a snowball created with one double-handedscoop of moist packing snow, when properly compressed.
Although each snowball will vary with personal preference, it is necessary that every snowball be compressed as much as possible. “I don’t care if you’re a major league pitcher; if you’ve got a powderball, you lose,” Donnelly notes.
Another important factor to consider in the initial steps of snowball throwing is handwear. “Gloves are optional, but recommended for two reasons: first, holding onto a snowball for a very long time can be uncomfortable, especially when finding the ideal time to attack your target,” Donnelly explains. “The second factor is force distribution. If you’re holding a snowball without gloves, you put more pressure on the snowball, thus allowing for the potential of mid-throw-explosion.”
After forming the snowball, an attack strategy must be determined, which Donnelly remarks can be ideally executed in two different ways. “The first opportunity is when your opponent is starting to prepare a new snowball. They will likely have to bend down to pick up more snow, and this leaves them in a vulnerable position with limited mobility,” he says. “The second is just after they have released a snowball. If the initial trajectory of their throw indicates that you will not be hit, you can counter-attack while they are off balance.”
However, your opponent may be aware of some snowball-throwing strategies as well, so you must have a solid defensive skill set. If you have played baseball before, you can most likely catch a ball; this is “yet another reason to wear gloves: just catch their snowball.” Donnelly notes that “if [your attacker is] small and weak, you might even be able to catch their throw with the snowball still intact, allowing you to add it to your own arsenal.” Assume that you are a middle infielder who needs to use quick, smooth hands to trap the ball while already moving your body into a throwing motion.
Now we can finally look at the throwing mechanics. “When you have a clear target and are not worried about a counter-attack, you can take your time to throw with proper mechanics that will maximize accuracy and velocity.” However, you still do not want to throw from a full windup; this will add around three seconds to your delivery, and during that time, your opponent may take shelter from your pitch. Rather, you should pitch from the stretch. “For righties, the first motion is a dropping of the right hand with snowball to your right thigh as you make a large stride directly towards your opponent with your left foot,” Donnelly explains.
If you are more pressed for time when fighting an opponent who is ready to attack you, act as a position player and remember to always follow through on your throw, ending with your leading foot’s toe pointing at your target, and bringing your lagging leg through to finish your attack.