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It's catching!

Some of the nuances of the toughest position in baseball

Catching is generally called the most demanding position in baseball: a tough, gritty, blue-collar occupation that, paradoxically, demands a huge store of knowledge, great nimbleness, and the highest level baseball intelligence.

It isn't a coincidence that the five greatest catchers in the history of the game all played on dynastic teams: Mickey Cochrane (Athletics and Tigers), Bill Dickey and Yogi Berra (Yankees), Johnny Bench (Reds), and Roy Campanella (Dodgers).

P.S. It didn't hurt, of course, that none of them was a No. 8 hitter. All of them could win a ball game with their mitt, arm, or bat.

A wise coach will work with his catchers regularly to improve their skills, sharpen their minds, and build their confidence.

What we would like to do here is pass on some of the nuances of the position that catchers take on after learning the basics.

1 The only way to become a good receiver is by catching as many pitches as you can in the bullpen, on the sidelines, in batting practice, and in games.

2 As the general of the defense, you have to earn the respect of the players through your knowledge, work ethic, and fire.

3 Always show your pitchers a lot of enthusiasm and confidence in them - make them believe in you.

4 Play long toss regularly to develop your arm strength.

5 Set up close to the hitter with the glove about four or five inches from the hitter's back elbow. Avoid interfering with the batter when he swings. Your positioning under his back elbow will enable you to catch more foul tips and increase the number of called strikes.

6 Check the hitter's alignment in the batter's box before calling the pitch. Check to see if he is back in the box or up in the box, is using a closed or an open stance, whether his hands are held high or low, stride short or long, swing down, up, or level.

7 Do not give away the pitch location to the hitter. Give the signal and location, but don't move to the target area until the pitcher starts to deliver the ball.

8 When receiving the pitch, keep the elbow relaxed and slightly bent - enabling you to slightly give with the pitch, softening the impact.

9 With runners on base, place your bare hand behind the pocket of the mitt with the thumb curled under the fingers. This will aid in two ways: It will enable you to pick the ball out of the mitt and get it back into throwing position quicker and it will protect the thumb from foul tips.

10 With the bases empty, you may put your bare hand behind the ankle or the mitt, protecting the hand from foul tips.

11 Upon catching a pitched ball, hold it for a complete second to give the umpire a good look at the pitch and its location. (Note: It is not intended to show up the umpire.)

12 As a rule, get the ball back to the pitcher quickly to enable him to get ready.

13 Hold the ball back a little when your have pitchers who tend to deliver too rapidly.

14 Do not insult the umpire's intelligence by pulling the pitch over the plate or framing it on the outside. (He's never going to like it.)

15 Upon catching the pitch with no one on base, you may drop to your knees and throw the ball back to the pitcher. If you choose to stand up to return the ball, you will force the umpire to move out of his comfort zone. You should make every effort to keep him relaxed and in a "strike" mood.

16 With the bases empty, you must back up first on a throw from an infielder, getting close to the fence or as deep as possible in case the ball is overthrown. If you are in the right place, you can prevent the runner from taking an extra base.

17 With a runner on first in a bunt situation, you must cover third base whenever the ball is fielded by the third baseman - preventing the lead runner from sweeping around to third.

18 In sacrifice-bunt situations, signal for the high strike - getting the hitter to pop up.

19 Remind the pitcher to break for first base on any ground ball hit to the right side.

20 Make your defense aware of every possibility whenever you have runner(s) on base - outs, inning, score, anything of consequence (like going for two, getting the lead runner, ensuring the out at first, etc.).

21 Let your catching come first. If you do not play defense, you won't get a chance to hit. (But you might also remember that a good hitting catcher can be very special to the rest of the team.)

22 On pop-ups in the infield, go after every ball you can reach but always give way to the first or third baseman when in doubt.

23 When going after a pop-up behind the plate, locate the ball before you begin running. Once you find it, discard your mask in the opposite direction (to avoid tripping over it) and go for the ball.

24 On pop-ups, locate the ball and turn your back to the infield, allowing the ball to drift into rather than away from you.

25 Catch the ordinary pop-up with both hands about on line with the bridge of your nose (so that you see it all the way).

26 Whenever a runner attempts to steal, come out of your stance like an airplane - hard, low, and fast. Don't stand up or otherwise waste moments.

27 First thought on a would-be stealer on the move: I'm gonna throw the guy out (not I hope I can nail him). Gripping the ball across the four seams will help make it travel in a straight line.

28 Since the pitcher must deliver the ball in 1.1 to 1.5 sec. in a steal situation, you have 1.8 to 2.2 sec. to get the ball out of the glove and make a strong, accurate throw.

29 When you have runners on first and second going with the pitch, you will want to nail the lead runner. But, remember, if the lead runner has you beaten, think about the back runner. As a rule, he won't be running as hard as he should - and you can get the out that way.

30 About the tag at the plate: Grip the ball tightly with all five fingers in the middle of the glove, and make the tag with the glove - not the bare hand.

31 With runners on first and third and the back runner on the move, take a quick look at the lead runner before throwing to second. Make sure it isn't a double steal.

32 Anticipate a wild pitch on every ball thrown by the pitcher. It will prepare you to pounce on anything thrown into the dirt - avoiding the passed ball or wild pitch.

33 On a pitch into the dirt with runners on base, you have to block the ball - preventing it from going anywhere. Drop to your knees, put the glove down on the ground between your feet, and haunch your upper body forward. Don't try to catch the ball. Let it come up into your chest and drop in front of you. You don't want the ball bouncing off the side and letting the runners advance.

34 In fielding a bunt, bring your chest over the ball, line your shoulders up with your target, scoop the ball into your bare hand by bringing the hands together on the ground, and throw without straightening up (unless you have the time to do so).
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Title Annotation:some of the nuances of the toughest position in baseball
Author:Hardin, William
Publication:Coach and Athletic Director
Date:Apr 1, 1999
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