How to Catch a Baseball – Wall Ball Style

When I think of my younger days of playing baseball, years 5 to 12 years old, two memories come to me. Both have to do with how to catch a baseball. The first is having a baseball catch with my dad. I remember it being just like Kevin Costner at the end of the movie, Field of Dreams. Playing ball with dad is a priceless memory that had a lot to do with developing my skills and with falling in love with the game. Some 60 years later I am still throwing a ball and having a catch with my baseball and softball students.

My second memory was one of beating the drum in my house, providing no rest for my family members. That is not true because I had no musical talent or desire to pound the drums. It was similar though. I wasn’t beating the drum but throwing a baseball off the wall in my basement. Hours upon hours when I couldn’t be outside playing ball due to the weather, I would be bouncing and throwing balls off the basement walls. I did that even throughout my high school, college and early pro years, too. Thank God for an unfinished basement and an understanding family.
I’m not sure what I would have done without that basement baseball game of catch. Without a wall to throw a ball off, I am not sure I would have made the major leagues. Because of that practice and skill development, I inform youth how vital a wall can be for them learning how to catch a baseball correctly. Yes, wall ball is crucial for their baseball development, especially when other kids or parents are not available to play some baseball catch with them.
One of the first things I tell my students is “Find a wall,” if you are serious about the game and learning how to catch a baseball. It is one of the best ways to learn to catch and to develop quick, soft hands. Of course, it is not always easy finding a wall to work, especially in the winter time and when players have a finished basement. Kids may be able to use their school gymnasium to practice when no other place exists. Some indoor baseball academies may provide a wall and space to practice these drills, too. When they cannot find something sufficient, kids can use an extremely light ball to practice with, one that could do no damage to any wall. Anything that helps develop their hand-eye skills will be beneficial down the line, whether it is done with a glove or without one.

Baseball Catch Development  
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The best part of wall ball catch is the high number of repetitions that can come in a short amount of time. As seen in this video, I was able to make 17 catches in 24 seconds. Doing the math, just five minutes of practice on the wall can provide great advancement. For kids in cold weather states, having a barrier to bounce balls off of can make all the difference for learning to catch a baseball.
These wall ball drills may appear easy, but for inexperienced players, much practice flipping balls in a consistent manner and catching them is necessary. The best news is that one only needs to practice a few minutes each day for many more repetitions than playing catch with a partner outside. In no time, players improve and enjoy wall flips. Wall ball is suitable for players of all ages and is a practice I continued in many big-league stadiums throughout my big league years.
For youth, it is also a great way to teach a young fielder to catch a ball without the fear factor that exists when playing catch with a friend or with mom or dad. Using a softer ball like a tennis ball also allows players to use the garage or basement wall. When parents are around it is a good idea to stand behind players and help them retrieve missed balls because chasing missed balls are what gets tedious for kids.

How to Catch a Baseball – Without a Glove at first 

As seen in this video, it is good to begin with no glove and a tennis ball. A tennis ball, being smaller and lighter, will not hurt and helps kids, who usually have little hands. Moving to a regulation size softer ball or a regulation hardball is the next step. Once they become adept at catching with no glove, they will find catching with a glove quite easy.
What is important when receiving balls off the wall, as when playing catch correctly, is to have the hands out away from the body with the catching elbow out to the side. A slight give of the hands as the ball reaches the glove is crucial to creating the necessary soft hands.
Until players consistently learn how to catch a baseball correctly with one hand with the elbow out to the side, they should not add the second hand. When adding the two-hand catch idea too soon, young players often bring their elbows in, which is not the correct catching technique.  Notice with two-hand catch the throwing hand is out front and slightly under the glove and not behind it or to the side of the glove, an often-made mistake by players. Also, notice how the glove delivers the ball to the bare hand with a quick downward movement of the wrist. Fielding ground balls off the wall is done with hands out front and with the throwing hand now slightly above the glove.
As players get more proficient with catching and flipping balls during wall ball catch, they should work on different speed flips and the transfer of the ball from glove to hand quicker. Two of my most often used statements to young players are “I would rather see you boot the ball in practice trying to be quick than make the play doing it slowly,” and “If you are not dropping balls occasionally, you are probably not working fast enough.”
It is hard to notice but essential to teach young players to go into the glove with just two fingers in a throwing grip position, so they don’t come out with a palm ball.  Getting the ball back to the throwing side hip as quickly as possible is crucial for a quick release.

Other ways to use wall ball baseball catch

  1. Players can throw groundballs, line drives, and flyballs off the wall. To throw flyballs and line drives, the fielder throws the ball off the ground before hitting the wall, thereby creating a ball in the air to themselves. Players can work on balls over their heads, to the right and left, etc. Players can work on crossover steps and then move to get in front of balls, as well as charging the softer ones.
  2. Have a coach or parent stand behind the player and off to the side of them slightly. The coach throws the ball off the wall, and the player must react to it, as they do not know the speed or direction or type of groundball, line drive or a fly ball that will come off the wall. This drill is probably best with a softer type ball unless the thrower is hugely accurate and off to the side of player enough.
  3. Players can play a defensive game. They can have three outs a side as with real baseball innings, and throw balls as mentioned in number one above. Using their imagination some, runners get on base for any missed balls and advance as in real baseball. Any balls that are uncatchable can be considered a foul ball. For ground balls, players must complete the throw to first by bouncing the ball off the ground first and ending the putout as the first baseman.
  4. As implied above, the wall is excellent for working on the transfer of the ball from the glove to the throwing hand. While closer to the wall, players flip fast line drive flips off the wall in an underhand manner and see how many times they can make the catch and flip in a row before missing the ball.
  5. Using two balls, one in the glove and one in hand, players throw one off the wall before transferring the gloved ball to the barehand and catching the thrown ball. As they receive the moving ball, they do the same thing over and over. This drill works on the ball transfer and catching balls with the glove only.

In future videos, I will show other uses for the wall as well as adding footwork to these catching and fielding drills.
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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”  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 on YouTube with over 80 fun and innovative baseball instructional videos. 

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