First time out
With players at almost any level, one of the most difficult aspects of the game is maintaining focus during an entire game. One way to combat this issue is to use the focus circle concept. Players use their hand or glove to draw a circle in the grass. This is their focus circle. When they start their pre-pitch routine, they enter the focus circle and stay "hard focused" for 7 seconds. After the pitch, they get out of their focus circle and stay "soft focused" until their pre-pitch routine begins again.
Pre-pitch position and stance may be some of the most important, but mostly overlooked aspects of being able to field a baseball. Good pre-pitch routines can give the fielder that extra split second that they may need in order to keep a ball from getting to the gap or the difference between safe and out on a play. The best pre-pitch stances allow fielders to move any direction in the quickest and most efficient way possible. Some aspects of having a good pre-pitch stance:
- Feet are slightly more than should width apart in an athletic position (similar to the athletic positions of football, basketball, wrestling, tennis and countless other sports).
- Weight is on the balls of the feet preparing to hop.
- Hands are near the middle of the body. Some coaches suggest that they are already in fielding position at this time, but if a fielder needs to move in any direction then they would need to reposition their hands and body to move.
- Head is up and eyes are focused on tracking the baseball to contact.
- All of these aspects should be achieved before the ball is halfway to the plate.
This is THE MOST IMPORTANT aspect of the pre-pitch routine. This hop should be no more than a couple of inches in height. The top of the hop or the maximum height of the hop should coincide with the exact time that the contact is made by the batter. A late hop can lead to slower reaction times and an early hop can lead to a player being "flat footed".
The split step is a technique at the landing of our hop that gets fielders to the ball in the quickest amount of time. This is a technique most commonly described in tennis but has great applications in baseball. A baseball off a bat and a tennis ball off a racket have about the same speed and can have the same unpredictability as to their location. After the top of the hop, a player can then predict where the ball is hit. Instead of landing with equal weight on both feet, the player can land with more weight on farthest foot from the direction of the hit ball and push off more quickly to get to the baseball as quickly as possible. Landing with equal weight distribution after the hop would mean that the player would have to shift their weight after the landing which would make them slower to the ball.
Fielding a ground ball "at you" with no runners on base
The safest and most effective way to keep a ground ball in front of an infielder is through this technique. The outfielder gets a comfortable distance away from the ground ball, gets a wide base and takes a knee with their throwing side leg. The glove is placed in the hole this creates. This allows the most room possible to keep the ball in front. Once the ball is fielded, the player then gets off the knee quickly and throws the ball to the infield. This is only done with no runners on base or with a runner at third base.
Fielding a ground ball "at you" or "side to side" with runners on
This is the most common scenario that outfielders will face during the course of the game. This technique is used on any ball where the outfielder has to travel any distance or when there is a ground ball with runners on where the possibility of throwing a runner out is low. Outfielders should use exactly the same technique as an infielder fielding a ground ball in this situation. Whatever technique you prefer to use with your infielders should be used with your outfielders.
Do or die
This is the least common scenario that outfielders will face. Outfield assists are extremely rare. During the course of a 30 game season in high school, 5 total outfield assists would be considered a great year. This technique should be used ONLY in a situation with a rolling ground ball hit right at an infielder with runners on base. The outfielder should field the ball with his GLOVE HAND leg back as if in a sprinter's stance. This is to ensure that if the ball does take a bad hop, it will roll up into the outfielder's chest. The outfielder will then take a step, crow hop and throw.
Fielding Fly balls "at you"
Fielding fly ball directly at the outfielder is a 3 step process.
- Outfielders must strive to catch the ball on their glove hand side. If the fielder tries to catch it on their throwing hand side, this may interfere with the player's line of sight to the baseball, which may lead to dropped balls. As the player gets more coordinated, this is a ONE HANDED process.
- The fielder should catch the ball with maximum forward momentum. Players who catch the ball moving forward have a better opportunity to throw runners out and can throw the ball harder which may keep runners at their bases.
- The fielder should strive to crow hop as the ball is being caught instead of after the ball is caught. A thrown baseball will ALWAYS move faster than any person can run. Doing the crow hop while catching minimizes the amount of time the baseball is not being thrown.
Fielding fly balls in any direction
If the fielder has performed an adequate split step, getting a jump on a fly ball should be an easier process. Once the fielder has taken the proper angle out of the split step, the fielder should continue to pump their arms until the last possible moment in order to be able to run as fast as they can. If a player gets a bad read, they should turn their back away from the ball to get their body most efficiently and safely turned back to the flight of the ball. If caught on the glove side while still running, fielders should also turn their backs to the infield while turning around to most effectively conserve momentum.
"No Fly Zones"
Outfield can be a place where players who hit well but struggle to field are put but we take pride and reinforce the skills it takes to be an outfielder. Emphasize that your 3 outfielders create a "no fly zone" for any ball hit in the air. They are a unit and take pride in the unit's performance.
Outfielders should be encouraged to "make a field goal" through the infield cutoff man's hands every time they throw the ball. This gives infielders an opportunity to make a cut on a ball if they need to, keeps the ball on line, and helps to avoid any overthrows of bases.
Keeping the runner off second base
On any ball where the outfielder has to run a medium distance in order to make a clean field, they should be instructed to throw the ball right to the cut in order to keep the runner off second base. This ensures that the double play is still in order and also keeps a base hit from scoring a runner. This decreases the chances of big innings happening.