Baseball Ground Ball Fielding Fundamentals
My college baseball coach, Johnny Reagan, use to have a way of making a point to us. One such incident went like this. During infield practice, one of our infielders missed a ground ball. Coach Reagan walked up to him and asked why he missed the ball. The player said the ball took a bad hop. Coach Reagan, agreed and said, “Yes it did.” He didn’t stop there, though. “Son, we can go into any dormitory on campus and find someone who can catch the good hops, you are here to catch the bad ones, too.” The point was well taken by all of us, and we learned to focus more after that. It also gets back to one of the inspirational sports quotes I recently wrote about on this website that says, “Don’t be the same, be better.”
The only way to be better is to combine the mental and physical into consistency. Once that consistency comes in practice, it will show up in games more often, the ultimate goal. Like all aspects of sports, a mental and physical side exists to a great performance. One could argue as to whether the mental game of fielding is more valuable than the physical aspect. Everyone would probably agree that one without the other leads to failure, especially when it comes to the fine art of baseball ground ball fielding. Any false move will cause an error which hurts the team and the pitcher.
However, I could also make a good case that most physical errors are rooted in a mental mistake. Taking the wrong route to the ball, reading the wrong hop, and laying back on the baseball when one should have charged it are all mental gaffes that may show up as physical ones in the moment. The only way to be better is to combine the physical fundamentals of fielding a ground ball with the mental ones, so players even have a chance to catch the bad hops and all of the others.
As seen in the fielding tips below, the mental preparation before the ball is put into play is crucial. That is the reason I take pregame infield practice like I do. Instead of beginning the pregame routine by hitting balls in a predictable nature beginning with the third baseman and moving around the infield, I hit balls anywhere, at any time. That technique is much more game like and keeps players on their toes. In this manner, players are in ready position before coaches hit the ball and I often yell out, “Who wants the ball hit to them,” beforehand. Those two mental aspects of fielding are crucial for success, being ready and wanting the ball, not just expecting it. When players want something they have a greater chance of success and it builds confidence levels in them.
Another item I will add to this infield practice routine is the number of outs and where the baserunners are located. In this way, players must mentally figure out their options before the play and their responsibilities depending on where the ball goes. This infield practice method helps players learn the game quicker than regular infield practice. The next thing I do is insist that players practice reading the bat angle at contact, so they get better jumps on the batted ball. Coaches should analyze the player’s approach to the ball, how they line the ball up and the footwork through the throw. As mentioned, any wrong step may lead to missed balls, but coaches should not get upset when players do not do everything correct. However, when they mentally made the wrong decision on the ball, coaches should point that out to them. It is never a bad idea to reenact the exact same ground ball after a miscue to see if players can perform the actions the right way while the instruction is still fresh in their mind.
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Following are the mental and fielding tips to develop outstanding infielders.
Mental Game of Ground Ball Fielding – 5 Questions to Ask Before Pitch
- How many outs are there?
- Am I positioned correctly for the game situation and the hitter up to bat?
- Where am I to throw the ball if it is hit to me?
- What is my second option if my original intent is not there?
- What are my responsibilities if the ball is hit to someone else?
Keys before Pitch is Delivered
- Get to ready position as the ball approaches the hitting zone
- Expect and want the ball hit to me
Physical Ground ball Fielding Fundamentals
- Read the Ball off the Bat & Move to Ball, Base, or Backup position
- Approach ball low and under control, on balls of feet
- Decision Time – get in front of ball or play to side
- When can get in front – square ball between feet and eyes – feet even or glove side foot a couple of inches out front of throwing side foot
- Glove relaxed, out front, below the bounce height, bare hand directly above glove
- Hands soft, look ball into glove, feet aggressively crow hop when ball hits glove
- Eyes to target – Quick feet, time to get over the top or use sidearm release? Make strong throw
- When can’t get in front of ball, backhand or forehand, glove out front, stay low or dive to keep ball from going to outfield, landing on chest, push up to stand and throw
Baseball fielding requires as much repetition as hitting practice does, so coaches should remember that defense wins championships.
Jack Perconte has dedicated his post-major league baseball career to helping youth. He has taught baseball and softball for the past 27 years. His playing, coaching and parenting stories create better experiences for athletes and parents. Jack has written over a thousand articles on coaching baseball and youth sports. Jack is the author of “The Making of a Hitter” (Now only $5) and “Raising an Athlete.” His third book “Creating a Season to Remember” is in the works. Jack is a featured writer for Baseball the Magazine. You can also find Jack Perconte at YouTube with over 80 fun and innovative baseball instructional videos.