“Outfielders and Pitchers; get to the Outfield!” Two hours later, when BP is finally over, they do a quick infield/outfield before the practice ends. If your son’s an outfielder you are probably used to this. The infield get 300 grounders while outfielders practice consist of what flies caught during batting practice and the 4 or 5 flies during infield/outfield. There is more to playing the outfield than being able to catch a fly ball. In fact, the same footwork most teams practice over and over with their infielders is just as critical in the outfield. Most teams just fail to practice it. I would be the first to tell a player baseball is a hitting-pitching game, but the paradox comes into play by assuming we know how to play defense –We know how to play the outfield. So, rather than get upset because your team doesn’t practice outfield play, I recommend you spend 15 minutes before a game or practice improving your footwork. Simple drills such as: Surrounding the Ball – Hit to your Right; Hit to your Left This is one of the most critical drills an outfielder should do daily! It’s simple, yet counter intuitive to the sports/games we normally play [e.g. football, basketball, soccer (yep, I said the “S” word; what the heck, might as well add in Lacrosse). Even the basic game of “keep away” involves catching the ball and keep on running. Outfield play is different. Whenever possible you want to be facing the infield and in position to catch the ball on your throwing arm side and in position to make a throw quickly. Recognizing a runner cannot advance until after you have caught the ball and by facing the infield provides you the opportunity to redirect the your throw if necessary. Drill:
- Outfielder positioned in-line with two cones – approximately 5 feet apart
- In-line, approximately 3 feet away, and facing the Outfielder, a coach or another player presents the baseball chest high.
- In a fluid motion, the coach or player drops down and lightly tosses the ball up to one side (right or left cone), throwing 5 on one side, then switching to the other side.
- Since quick feet and surrounding the ball is the purpose of the drill the ball should only go about 7-8 feet in the air.
- In parallel with the person tossing the ball, the outfielder should REACT quickly to first movement:
- Take a stagger step backwards and come around the CONE; mentally and physically positioning them to catch the ball on their throwing arm side.
FOCUS: – The quicker the stagger step, the more likely you will catch the ball up high and on your throwing arm side. After 5 on one side, switch to the other side. Over your head, but staying in the park – Sneak-a-Peek Catching a ball over your head in many cases is a difference maker, but I have witnessed too many times these spectacular plays are really the result of playing the ball incorrectly. The majority of outfielders are so afraid of losing sight of the ball they run sideways after it. They are also the outfielders who have witnessed “circus music, turning with their shoulders and spinning around and around…” Yet when I ask them “would they run sideways if I offer them a million dollars to run from here to there in a specific time,” almost laughingly they said, “No!” This is further compounded by the fact most outfielders forget they have a neck. They use their shoulders to position them versus Sneaking-a-Peek just by turning their neck. Your brain is pretty good. So, when a ball is crushed over your head, turn and run. As you are running turn your neck and sneak a peek [which side? You pick.]
- If you DO NOT see the full ball, turn the opposite side to catch the ball.
- If you DO see the full ball, turn that way to catch the ball.
Before you think it, I have been asked, “Coach, what happens if I don’t see the ball at all?” DUCK! Could this happen? I am guessing it has, but most outfielders start off running at an angle they feel the most comfortable catching the ball, positioning them self either to the right or left of the ball’s trajectory. So, let’s get to the drill. Drill:
- In-line, approximately 3 feet away, and facing the Outfielder
- Say go and the Outfielder takes off running.
- Two to three steps into their stride, underhand the ball in the air to either their right or left side
FOCUS: Establish a New Habit of using their Neck versus their shoulders to Sneak-a-Peek and find the baseball. The more you do this drill the more it will become second nature and the closer you will become a person who knows how to play outfield. Playing the Wall Too many outfielders, especially the side-runners, fail at playing the ball at or near the wall. They collide or slow down before they get to the wall allowing a catchable to drop. You can give credit to the hitter, or even lay blame on the pitcher, but the difference maker is the one who catches the ball versus letting it drop. Which type of outfielder are you? Playing the wall is exactly like a ball hit over your head; with one exception; there is a chance this ball may be a homerun. With that knowledge the approach is really quite simple. Sprint to and grab hold of the fence with your throwing hand, then find the baseball. Once at the fence you are faced with three options:
- Jump or climb the fence to make a play on the ball [everyone likes to steal a homerun!]
- Move to the ball, catching the ball in front of the fence, to your left, right, or in front of you
- Play the ball off the fence by backing off 5-6 feet, fielding the carom, turning and throwing the ball back into the infield
- In-line, approximately 30 feet away from the wall, and facing the Outfielder
- Say go and the Outfielder takes off running towards the fence. Grabbing the fence with their throwing hand
- Two to three steps into their stride, underhand the ball in the air. Mixing them up; offering each of the three options. Focus is to grab a hold of the fence and become comfortable to make the right decision.
- Coming off the fence: Ball in the air to their left, right, and in front of them
- Jumping or Climbing the Fence. Throwing the ball high they have to jump or climb the wall to make the catch
- Playing the ball off the wall: Throw the ball to the top of the fence, or even over the fence, teaching the outfielder to recognize it and move off the fence in preparation to catch the carom.
FOCUS: Each outfielder needs to recognize getting to the fence places them in total control and allows them the opportunity to react and make the right decision. Integrating the wall drill into their pre-game, pre-practice warm up will create a comfort feeling allowing every outfielder to make big time plays versus hesitating, or worse, colliding with the wall. At the end of the day every player needs to become their own coach. This prepares you for college, but more importantly, this mindset prepares players when it matters the most, minor league baseball. My statement still rings true, “if you want to play college baseball, BE GOOD.” If you want to play college baseball, be a player “Who knows how to play the Outfield!” Uncertain, then I recommend you CLICK Here to get Evaluated and find out what you need to work on.
Until next Blog,