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No-frill infield defense.

Though we know that offense (hitting, baserunning) wins baseball games, the road to championships is usually paved with defense.

At Chandler High School, we really bear down on defense. We never want to give our opponents more than three outs; and to ensure that, we try to be fundamentally sound.

We want our players to execute the fundamentals the way they have been taught, meaning nothing flashy, no frills, and no deviations, such as rushing, extra steps, and the omission of the "little things" (balance, crow-hop, etc.).

We sell our players on the idea that consistently well-executed fundamentals is more productive than the flashy stuff they see on television. We encourage them to watch the great fundamentalists such as Cal Ripken, Jr., whose solid, no-frill soundness and consistency should be an inspiration to them.

To enhance our approach to infield defense, we have put together a list of 10 basic principles that should enable every infielder to maximize his efficiency.

GLOVE PRESENCE

In setting up for the pitch, the infielders should keep their glove about waist high out front over their glove foot, with the pocket completely open. This will enable them to catch the low line drive or get the glove down quickly for ground balls.

CHECKING THE SIGNS

The middle infielders are expected to check all of the catcher's signs in order to know the pitch selection, to set themselves accordingly, and which middle infielder will be covering second on a steal or double play.

The middle infielders are also expected to relay the pitch to the third and first basemen.

CHUG STEPS

We expect our infielders to be in motion as the ball is pitched, building a rhythm for the fielding action. We do this with what we call a "chug" or "motion" step.

As the pitcher's arm reaches the release point, the infielder must take a short step forward with the right foot and, then, as the ball reaches the plate, bring the left foot forward.

The infielder will wind up in a squared-off position with the feet about shoulder-width apart, the left (front) foot about 6 to 8 inches ahead of the right (back.) foot, and the weight evenly distributed over the balls of the feet-enabling the fielder to get a good jump on the ball.

Coaching point: Keep the shoulders square to home plate and the batted ball.

READY POSITION

The first and third basemen set up a little differently from the middle fielders. They spread their feet slightly wider than the shoulders, with the knees flexed, weight over the balls of the feet, and the hands at waist-to-knee level in order to deal with low line drives.

RELEASE (WITH A MAN ON BASE)

As the ball crosses the plate, the middle infielders must release to the second-base "cut" (where the straight-grass edge meets the curved grass edge).

The shortstop must stop at the "cut" with his left foot forward, while the second baseman must stop at the "cut" with his right foot forward.

They hold there until the catcher's throw impacts the pitcher's glove, then move back to their original positions.

By releasing to the cuts, the middle infielders are able to square up with the catcher's return throw and react in any direction to an overthrow. if there is no overthrow, the infielders return to their original positions -- watching the ball all the way.

APPROACH THE BALL

We want our infielders to use a crossover step in moving toward a ball hit to either side of them. On a ball hit right at them without too much force, they must charge the ball and break down into fielding position roughly 12 to 15 feet from the ball, depending upon how hard it has been hit.

Ground balls hit deeply to their right or left will require a drop step in order to get back quickly enough to field the ball in a balanced position.

We encourage our infielders to charge all slow rollers and to circle and come through the ball whenever possible. We call this the "charge-chop-settle approach".

FIELDING POSITION

We teach our right-handed infielders to field the ball out front just inside their left foot, off their left eye. They must align their hands pinkie to pinkie and field the ball with both hands.

The glove should be held out front at a 45-degree angle, with the back of the glove touching the ground. The knees are flexed and the body bent at the waist with the weight over the balls of the feet.

Coaching point: Balls should be fielded from the glove (ground) up, as the cardinal sin in infielding is for the ball to go through under the glove. It is always easier to move the glove up for the ball than to bring the glove down.

The ground ball should be fielded out front, with the back fairly flat, the weight over the balls of the feet, and the eyes totally focused on the ball.

The ball should be fielded with both hands in a smooth, rhythmic fashion and immediately funneled back to the body and up into throwing position.

The throwing action is a seamless part of the fielding action, with the player crow-hopping with his back foot and then stepping directly toward the target with the left (front) foot.

If the infielder has the time, he can straighten up and take a second step and throw with a full overhand motion.

The wrist and fingers should be on top of the ball with a four-seam grip. We stress a 1-2 fielding and 1-2 throwing rhythm on balls hit right at the infielders.

FIELDING HOPS

Our infielders are taught to field three kinds of hops: the hop that bounces up and is fielded at its peak; the hop that has already reached its peak and must be fielded somewhere on the way down; and the hop that has to be fielded just after it hits the ground.

The worst kind of hop is the in-betweener -- the kind that hits the ground and is on its way up before the infielder can put a glove on it -- the ball that attacks the fielder instead of being attacked by the fielder.

Fielders who lay back on these hops are going to make errors.

We encourage our infielders to circle and come through all ground balls they can reach. The closer the fielder gets to the ball, the shorter and choppier should be the steps -- in order to put the infielder into a balanced and comfortable fielding posture.

You can test for proper fielding position by putting the infielder in fielding position and having him allow his cap to fall off his head. If the cap falls into the glove, you can assume that he is doing everything right.

SLOW ROLLERS

Our infielders are also taught to charge the ball and take it with both hands off the instep of the front (left) foot, then bring the throwing hand up and back with the wrist and fingers on top and make the throw in one motion.

We do not want our players to submarine the ball to first. The underhand throw creates a sinking action that makes for inaccuracy, is difficult to catch, and puts stress on the arm.

We also warn our fielders never to throw off-balance unless it is the only way to make the play. We'd rather have our infielders straighten up, skip through, plant, and throw a bullet to the base.

FIRST BASEMAN

With no runners on base, we want our first baseman to play as deep as possible. We want him to draw a line in the dirt at the point from which he can comfortably sprint back to first and set up for a throw from any position in the infield.

When holding a runner on base, the left-handed first baseman should come off the bag after a pitch by crossing his left foot over into his ready fielding position.

The right-handed first baseman should jab-step into his ready fielding position with his left foot.

On a double-play ground ball hit directly at him, the right-handed first baseman should pivot on his right foot, point his front (left) shoulder directly at second base, step toward second with his left foot, and throw to the inside comer of the bag-making sure that he has a clear throwing lane to the inside.

The same thing applies when he is playing behind the runner, but from this depth, he must throw to the back corner of the bag-making sure that he has a clear throwing lane to the outside.

On a ground ball hit to his left (after he has been holding the runner), the first baseman should field the ball off his left foot, step forward with his right foot, reverse-pivot by turning his back to the infield, then step forward with his left foot and throw to the inside comer of the bag.

THIRD BASEMAN

The third baseman must play as deep as the situation or personnel allows. If the hitter is a good dragbunter, he may play him as many as five steps in on the grass.

DOUBLE PLAY

Standard double-play depth means even with the bag in position to receive the ball on its first hop off the grass. Our doubleplay philosophy is predicated on the principle of giving up something in order to gain something.

Too many infielders set up too far off the base in the hope of increasing their range and are, thus, often unable to get to the bag in time to receive the first throw.

It isn't enough to arrive at the bag just as the ball gets there, as it won't give the infielder the time to ensure a good pivot and throw.

Both the reception of the ball and the ensuing throw can be improved by setting up closer to the bag. We deploy our middle infielders about 25-35 feet from the bag. Our rule of thumb is: Be at the base waiting for the ball so that you can adjust your pivot according to where the ball is received.

With no one on base, we want our middle infielders to play as deep as possible, but not beyond the point that is most comfortable for them on the throw.

We have our second baseman play back on the grass and our shortstop two or three steps in off the grass, based on arm strength and the speed of the runner.

The speed of the runner, the hitter's tendencies, the situation, and the score will dictate our depths.

Infielder's Goals

1. Consistently make the play at you. The great play will take care of itself.

2. Pre-program every pitch. Anticipate based on the situation.

3. Learn how to catch and throw. if you cannot "play catch," you cannot play baseball,

4. No frills. Do not be fancy. Do not force anything. Don't play to impress -- play to win.

5. No extra throws. Don't put runners into scoring position or give away runs.

6. Know the hitter, his tendencies, where he likes to hit, whether he drag-bunts, etc.

7. Master all bunt plays and first-and-third plays. Work hard on the timing with every pitcher on your team. If the timing is off, it should not be the pitcher's fault.

8. Communicate on coverages: Be verbal (vocal) on pop-ups, relays, double plays, pick-offs, etc.

9. Field your position. Practice the fundamentals every day -- slow rollers, short hops, ground balls, double Plays, tags, relays, etc.

Always try to be better than you are, never settle for anything less.
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Title Annotation:baseball techniques
Author:Johnson, Michael A.
Publication:Coach and Athletic Director
Date:Dec 1, 1997
Words:1930
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