I explain to my students that the fielding of bunts requires the same skills that fielding a blocked ball does. When you master the skills you will be making yourself ready to make the play in either situation. The obvious difference in technique being you start from your crouch for bunts and you start from the ground for blocks. The proper fielding of a ball on the ground begins with the understanding of 3 main premises.
- I will never make a better, more accurate throw then one made when I am balanced, under control, and have my momentum going towards my target.
- I will approach the ball and get my feet set and my left hip towards the target before I pick up the ball.
- Until my front foot is set my hands never go below my knees.
Before discussing what I believe is a good way to field these balls I want to remind us of what happens when bad technique is used. I believe one of the main reasons for bad throws by catchers after fielding is that the catchers pick up the ball before being set up and aligned properly for the throw. Then, when they have picked up the ball the brain kicks into “throwing mode” and they make the throw regardless of how they are aligned to the target. Or maybe they try to align themselves as they are throwing. However it is done, the throw is usually off target, and an out is lost.
I break the skill into 2 distinct parts.
- a. Approach and setup
- b. Pick up and throw
A. Approach and set up
The basic concept here is that in the first part of the skill we are approaching the ball as quickly as we can, and getting ourselves set up over the ball aligned towards the target.
The first description will be for the bunt out in front of the plate.
We come out from behind the plate and take a route that follows a curved path to the ball. I tell the players that the path is a banana shaped route that starts out going to the left of home plate and curves back around to the right so we end up coming into the left side of the ball with our left hip towards 2nd.
As we approach the ball we set our back foot first, then set our left foot so we are positioned directly over the ball, our left hip towards the target. Our hands are out from our sides to keep them clear from our view, and to help keep them from going to the ball too soon.
We are over the ball, balanced and in control, our weight evenly distributed across the bottoms of our feet. As I said in my original premise only now that the front foot is set can my hands go down to the ball.
B. Pick up and Throw
At this time both of my hands head towards the ball. I “rake” the ball into the throwing hand using the glove and throwing hand.. At this time I begin to raise up, exchange the ball into throwing hand, hands and arms separate, and I make a strong, balanced, controlled throw to 2nd. Since my hips were already set towards the target as soon as I pick up the ball I can put all my effort into make a good strong throw, knowing I am properly aligned.
Whether a bunt or blocked ball, I use this technique when the ball is out in front of the plate. If the throw would be to first then I would adjust my approach to swing slightly wider so I come into the ball so my left hip is pointed towards 1st.
For a bunt right down the first baseline the technique has some variations. I’ll describe when the throw is to first base.
A. Approach and setup
When the bunt goes down the first base line we must still take a curved path to the ball when the play is at first. We again swing slightly wide again as we approach the ball. We set the right foot first then the left foot, with our hips pointed up the line to 1st.
B. Pickup and throw
Just as before we now bend down and rake the ball into our glove and come up with hands still together. We now have the problem of having the runner directly in our throwing path to first.
To compensate, we take a drop step backwards with our right foot. It is important that this foot go straight back, not up the line at all. The straighter back that step goes, the greater the throwing angle we will create for ourselves. If we make a slide step up the line so our right toe passes directly behind our left heel we will not get off the base line far, and will not create much of a throwing angle to first. At this point we are ready to make the throw. We begin by driving off the right leg towards 1st, hands separate at same time, and we make a strong throw to 1st.
Common mistake in this play is to use a slide step up the line instead of a drop step and not get enough of an angle to first base.