Date: March 8, 2019
By: Eric Leary
If knowledge is power, then knowing where the baseball is on the diamond while running the bases could put players into genius status. It is a critical element in making decisions and taking advantage of opportunities. This sometimes requires coaches and players to overcome long standing and often misunderstood or misguided standards of the game.
Players must be personally responsible for the whereabouts of the ball at all times when on the bases. Assuming who has the ball or where it is will create problems. Often relying on information from someone else as to where the ball is or what decision to make can rob base runners of the chance to take advantage of a situation or even become victims of ignorance. The ability to run the bases while accessing this information requires some understandings and practice.
Consider a few Do’s and Don’ts regarding the skill to run the bases and simultaneously being responsible for the location of the baseball.
- DO know the ball is what the defense needs to get the out. Its location is important.
- DON’T assume the base coach is going to tell a base runner what to do in time.
- DO run with the head in an up position so to glance the field and see the ball.
- DON’T run with the head down or conversely run while staring at the ball.
- DO have an idea about the arm strength of the defense and its ability to make a play.
- DON’T assume balls that should be hits will be down. Defensive gems can kill a rally.
- DO keep the head up even after the play appears over while returning to the bag.
- DON’T walk back to a base thinking the play is over with the head down.
Here are a few situations to know where the ball is in order to round the bases efficiently and effectively:
- Leaving the batter’s box …
- Skill: Quickly identify while exiting the batter’s box if the ball has stayed in the infield or made it to the outfield grass. A glance in the first three steps should allow the batter-runner to gain this information and determine whether their route to 1B is through the bag or to make a challenge turn.
- Drill: As runners leave the box have them identify the number of fingers the coach is holding up as he is positioned at various spots in the infield. A nuance is to have coach either take a fielding position (ground ball – through the bag) or turn his back (ball to the outfield – challenge turn).
- Reaching 1B …
- Skill: Whether running through the bag or making the challenge turn, the runner needs to attempt to find the ball again. Errant throws from an infielder could provide an opportunity to advance to 2B. When executing the challenge turn, forcing the defense to secure the ball to the infield can only be taken advantage of if the batter-runner keeps his head up to re-identify the ball’s location.
- Drill: While executing the route through the bag, have a coach positioned in the coach box to randomly throw a ball back toward the fence simulating an overthrow as the batter-runner strikes the bag. As the runner breaks down and looks right he must decide if the distance and angle is enough to advance. While working on the challenge turn have a player/coach from the outfield make good and bad throws into the cut-off or to 2B.
- Taking 2B leads …
- Skill: Taking leads at 2B requires confidence in the distance a runner is taking in their primary lead as well as listening to the coach about threats from the middle infielders attempting to hold the runner. Runners must keep their head up and on the pitcher who has the ball. Looking back to check distance from the bag is an opportunity for the pitcher to make a pick without being seen by the runner.
- Drill: Runners take primary leads while the defense (pitcher, SS and 2B) work on holding him. The 3B coach provides simple verbal cues for the runner to extend or contract the lead. Runners have their eyes on the ball/pitcher and assume a move to be a pick if contracted in their primary lead. If the pitcher goes to the plate, runners can work on secondary leads or steal breaks.
- Tagging up at 3B …
- Skill: The decision to tag up on a fly ball with a runner at 3B with less than two outs can become a combined effort from the runner and the coach. The runner should work quickly back to the bag once they see the ball up and track it to the outfielder. They are responsible for the break to home once the catch is made. Coaches should position themselves in the runner’s line of sight once he has released to go home. Throws from an outfield depth and with enough carry that are determined to be able to get that runner at the plate must be identified early and signal to stop the runner. The runner is always thinking score, and the coach must act at the brake to the attempt if it appears he will be out.
- Drill: Have runners in primary leads and respond to balls being fungo-ed from the plate. Runner should tag on balls to the outfield and respond to ground balls in a predetermined fashion (make it go through, ground balls in the middle, etc.). Either have a player/players in the outfield for the runner to read on the catch or place buckets/cones in OF positions so proximity can be determine for routine balls. If using outfielders, tag on the catch; if no outfielder, have coach clap on the “catch.” Be sure to practice having the coach timing the STOP on the tag-up depending on depth, speed of runner, or timing of break.
Decision making is based on acquiring the necessary knowledge and applying it to the situation. Knowing where the baseball is is critical to making decisions while on the base paths.