Fielding a baseball
Fielding is my passion. I can hit. As a hitting coach, you would think that I would focus on that more than anything else, but I love fielding. I will never forget the cold day in April 1987 when Coach Foley called me into his office. He was the varsity baseball coach at my high school. I was a sophomore trying hard to make a very upperclassman-laden varsity team.
There was a lot on the line. My uncle Topper who is also my Godfather went to that high school and got a full ride scholarship to play baseball at UCONN. I had the family name riding on my shoulders. Coach Foley looked at me and said, “Congratulations you made the varsity team. Not only did you make the team but you are starting in right field in our first game.”
It may not sound that important but what followed stuck with me to this day, and it is how I coach. “You made the team because you are the best fielder I have at any of the eight regular positions. Defense is important if the other team doesn’t score we can’t lose.” That gets into philosophy, and that is another article on this website. So back to fielding.
A lot of leagues are preaching the philosophy that every player should have an equal opportunity to play all the positions, and I agree to some degree. You do have some kids that just don’t belong in the infield though. They are not good enough to have that little time to react to a ball coming at them yet. That is the only reason that I would not allow a kid to play in the infield though. When it comes to safety, sportsmanship, and respect my players come first.
Up the middle
We will start up the middle because that is how to build a great team. Start with a great catcher. Add a superb shortstop and a second baseman then find a center fielder. Fill in on the corners. Again philosophy.
Your shortstops need to be excellent athletes. You need to find players with good baseball instincts to play up the middle. They have a lot of ground to cover. If you have a player that seems to know where the ball is going before the batter hits it, you have a middle infielder.
Your shortstop should have a strong arm and leadership skills. He is next in line after your catcher. Your second baseman needs one of two things. Either a pair of really quick feet or a great arm. Double plays are not easy at the youth levels of baseball. Your team will turn them though if you have the right combination up the middle and a lot of practice.
Corner infielders are not as hard to find. You just need kids who are alert. They don’t call third base the hot corner because it is boring.
The ball is hit hard down the line. They get there quick, and you don’t have time to contemplate what to do. A third baseman has to be aware and willing to catch the ball.
First basemen tend to play a little deeper than third basemen do so they don’t have to be as quick. They do need to be excellent with the glove. You will have good baseball players looking for something else to do real quick if every time they throw the ball to first, it gets dropped.
Fielding mechanics for infielders are easy. Remembering that the setup of the field dictates that there are only lefties pitching or playing first base in the infield, the footwork should always go right foot left foot to catch the ball. Right foot left foot throw the ball. Teach players that whenever possible take two steps in towards the ball judging the hop. I will get into drills and videos soon. After catching the ball, they should take two steps in the direction that they want to throw the ball. You don’t want to take to many steps because the runner is moving up the line at full speed. One step for the defense is usually two for the offense.
Outfield is a little easier to explain and a lot harder early on to find good players. Outfielders need to be able to see a ball hit, sometimes hundreds of feet away and figure out where it is going to land. Let that sink in before you try to coach it.
Professional athletes make it look a lot easier than it is. A lot of coaches early on don’t spend enough time working on this skill because how many 5-9 year old’s are hitting deep fly balls in the gap. Make the time get your kids up to speed early it will pay off in the long run. Pretty soon little Timmy is going to hit the ball out there, and it is no fun watching a pop-up drop in shallow centerfield for a double.
Outfields should always try to come in on the ball. Deep fly balls are fielded by getting deeper than the ball and catching it coming back toward the infield whenever possible, especially when there are runners on base. It is a lot easier to make a strong, accurate throw if you are moving towards your target.
The two steps for one rule applies to outfielders too. Try to get them to throw the ball in two to three steps if possible. Any more than that and you are just giving the base runner too much of a head start.
Fly balls should always be caught in front of the throwing shoulder whenever possible this will cut down on transfer time as well.
Outfielders field a ground ball by squaring it up and fielding it in the center of their stance. Kneeling down in front of a ball when it is rolling is a bad idea. Youth baseball fields are just not that smooth in most cases.
The one thing I always remind my outfielders is that if an infielder misses a ball, the outfielders are there to back them up. If an outfielder misses a ball the only thing behind them are extra bases.
This post is a get you moving in the right direction post. I will be adding drills, video and much more content soon.
Check back often,
Here is a good video to get you started with fielding skills. I am also adding the links to 3 different gloves. Infield, outfield, and first base