Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Outfielders - Charge the Ball

By Steven Michael

Recently, a friend of mine who coaches high school baseball told me he learned something new about outfield play, and it was the concept of charging the ball. He went on to say that his outfielders had thrown out more base runners than ever before in his 20-plus years of coaching after emphasizing this fundamental.

It's not surprising that my experienced friend did not know about his aspect of outfield play. After all, he was an infielder when he played competitively. Also, most coaches are primarily concerned with teaching their outfielders to merely catch, or at least stop, the ball. Unfortunately, this angle of coaching is a glass half empty approach. What I mean is it relieves the player from being aggressive in the outfield. The outfielder's mindset is to let the ball play him, not the other way around.

Outfielders have a lot of ground to cover. They have 360 degrees of field they must roam to catch a myriad of batted ball possibilities. But when balls are hit directly, or nearly directly, at them, they may be timid and wait for the ball to come to them. This puts the player in a "defensive" frame of mind -- and usually results in a missed chance. I say this because if the outfielder lets the ball come to him, most times he will not get a good hop. Most times he gets an in-between hop that is very difficult to glove.

By charging the ball, the outfielder does two very important things for himself and his team. Firstly, he can position himself, and time the catch, much better. Good fielders are taught to catch a ground ball after the ball has reached its apex -- as the ball is descending back to the ground. As one of my old coaches told me, "There are no bad hops in the air." Even if the ball is not bouncing very high off the ground, the outfielder can still time the catch while the ball is in the air, and as it comes down from its high point.

Secondly (and no less important), the outfielder cuts down the distance the ball travels. By reducing this distance, the outfielder also trims the distance of his ensuing throw. Now if the ball is bobbled or missed, the throw is much shorter to a base or cutoff man. Base coaches have two indicators they evaluate when deciding to stop a base runner, or wave him through the base. This especially pertains to third base coaches and their decision to send runners home. Base coaches first look at the distance the outfielder is away from the throwing target, then they look for the catch. If the outfielder catches the ball but has not charged it and is farther away, the coach will send the runner. But if the outfielder catches the ball and is much closer to the throwing target, they will probably hold the runner. And here's a bonus: if the outfielder aggressively charges the ball, the base coach may hold the runner anyway! We have all seen plays where the runner is stopped, but the outfielder bobbles the ball. By the time the coach and runner realize this, the outfielder has recovered the ball and has made the throw.

So by outfielders charging the ball, they go on the "offensive". By being aggressive and charging the ball, the outfielder greatly increases their chance of catching the ground ball (after the apex), and of throwing runners out -- and preventing runners from even trying to advance. In my playing career, I threw out a lot of base runners. But, I stopped many more from even attempting to score by closing the distance of my throw by charging the ground ball. This puts grave doubt in the minds of base coaches. Coaches: teach your outfielders to be aggressive, not timid. Coach them from an offensive standpoint, not a defensive one. Thanks for reading!

Steven E. Michael played seven years of professional baseball in the Montreal Expos, Detroit Tigers and Milwaukee Brewers organizations. He played collegiately at Arizona State University in Tempe, Arizona earning All-Western Athletic Conference, All-College World Series, and Sporting News All-America honors.

His new book, "How To Play Baseball Outfield: Techniques, Tips, and Drills to Learn the Outfield Position" is available at http://www.stevenemichael.com

Article Source: http://EzineArticles.com/?expert=Steven_Michael

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Hello Baseball Friend,
I welcome any comments or suggestions. If you have a question or a topic that you would like to read about, please leave a comment and I will try to address that topic as soon as I can. Good luck in the coming season!
Have a great day, Nick