September 2014 - Tip of the Month

"Turn and Burn"

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The Fall season is a time of the year when coaches start to reflect on the previous Summer's season in an effort to make adjustments during the Winter months. Now, I believe that one adjustment every coach could probably stand to make should be dedicating more time during practice for your catchers to work on their skills. I know some of you out there already spend a decent amount of time with them, but trust me, it needs to be more.

One of the situations that is rarely talked about, let alone practiced, is the catcher backing up a throw to first base. It can seem arbitrary, but in some case it can completely change the course of a game.

During my senior season of American Legion ball we were making a bid for the NH State championship. In one of the preliminary games of the tournament I made a play that people still talk about...Okay, it might just be me that still talks about it, but it really was one of those "wow, did that just happen?!?" plays and probably the best play I have ever made.

Late in the game, with one of the fastest runners in the country at the plate, the batter hit a ground ball to one of our infielders. The moment I saw the ball hit the bat I immediately got out of my crouch, tossed my mask off and sprinted full speed up the first base line. The throw from the infielder sailed over our first baseman's head and caromed passed the first base dugout, up along the stadium wall. There was a lot of foul territory in this ballpark, so the runner didn't hesitate to head for second base. Because I was there, backing up the play, I was able to hustle to the wall, pick up the ball and make a strong throw directly to our shortstop who was covering 2B. Believing there was no chance that a play could be made, the runner had started to coast into 2B. It was right about the time when the runner started to look behind him that the ball whizzed by his head, right into our shortstop's glove. The look on the runner's face when our shortstop, sporting a huge grin, tagged him out was one I will never forget.

Now I am not telling this story to pat myself on the back here, but instead to hopefully help some catchers turn mistakes into outs, or at the very least help catchers prevent the big inning.

Catchers, if there is nobody on base (or little to no chance that a runner could advance to the plate on an error) your job is to bust your butt up the first base line to back up the throw. Honestly, your goal should be to run at an angle that gets you behind first base in line with where the throw is coming from, all the while trying to get in position before the runner gets to the bag. Now, is that possible? It depends on the speed of the runner, but if that is your goal, you'll won't ever be out of position for a throw.

This is the only play where I'm actually okay with my catchers tossing off their helmet immediately. Especially those with a two-piece setup. For those of you who don't know, attempting to field a thrown ball with a piece of equipment other than your glove or mitt is illegal in the game of baseball and softball. It is a dead ball and any runner on the base paths is awarded 2 bases. It can be tempting on a bad throw to use your helmet to stop the ball if you hold it in your hand, so I either want my catchers to wear it (hockey-style only) or toss it off their head as soon as they are running up the base line.

Thanks for reading this month's Tip of the Month!