For a member to be an effective, consistent infielder, he must have strong, flexible legs to keep him balanced and in control of his upper half and, most importantly, to keep his eyesight level. It’s called a ground ball for a reason … you must be able to get as low to the ground as possible without losing the balance necessary to get off a good, strong throw to your target after the catch. Strong calf and thigh muscles and hamstrings are vital for such quick, lateral movements.
There are several different physical moves that must be in sync when fielding a ground ball. A member who attempts to field a ground ball but cannot rely on his legs for support tends to compensate for his weak lower half by bending at the waist. This is common and absolutely the wrong way to field; you will have more trouble seeing the ball coming at you because of the descending movement of your field of vision. Your eyes must be steady and low to the ground, and you must always be on the balls of your feet to smoothly catch and throw the ball with accuracy and force.
Before the pitch is thrown, set yourself up in a good athletic position—knees slightly bent and feet spread apart a little wider than shoulder length. As the pitch is thrown, begin creeping in toward home plate. Always be on the balls of your feet and keep your feet moving; this allows you to be in a better position to react to wherever the ball is hit. Being flatfooted requires more time and energy to move to the spot that you need to be to catch the ball.
In this demonstration, I will field a few easy ground balls—rolled to me by Coach Jorge Hernandez of the Bergen Community College Bulldogs—to display proper form. Notice that I do the following:
- I get in front of the ball.
- My glove is to the ground, wrist up.
- My knees are bent.
- My rear end is down.
- I am on the balls of my feet.
- I use two hands while bringing the ball into my gut.
Also notice that when I begin to move from side-to-side, I shuffle my feet instead of crossing them; this keeps my eyes level and keeps me from being caught out of position when I move to catch the ball. Proper footwork is essential to any athletic move, and this is no different for softball. I am now in a position to make a good, accurate throw.
Playing the outfield
Perhaps the easiest thing to do in softball is to catch a fly ball. Although there is a much smaller margin of error in fielding a ground ball, misjudging fly balls can sometimes inflict even greater damage should one fall in front of or behind an outfielder.
In this demonstration, I will exhibit the basic techniques of catching an easy pop-up and how to go back on a ball hit over your head. In both instances, my first move is to take a step back; this is done to prevent a ball that is initially misjudged as being hit at you from sailing over your head. It is much easier to recover from a misjudgment on a ball that drops in front of you than a ball that you will have to chase forever, resulting in extra bases for the other team.
Also, as a mentally prepared outfielder, you must always be ready to RUN to the spot where the ball is going to fall. It is a common habit for outfielders to DRIFT to the spot instead of getting under the ball, which can result in dropped pop-ups or being out of position to make a throw back to the infield. Finally, always be mindful of one of baseball’s golden rules: TWO HANDS!
The “Crow Hop”
Yes, it’s funny looking. But, it will certainly help a member with a poor or even average throwing arm improve his accuracy and arm strength, especially when he needs to charge a ball that gets through the infield and make a long throw to nail a runner at home plate.
This quick demonstration shows the proper technique of the Crow Hop, in which the outfielder uses leg drive to create a forward momentum that will result in improved throws.
Cutting the bag
As I mentioned in my last article, because softball’s general rules do not allow stealing or moving up on wild pitches and passed balls (you are not allowed to leave the bag at all until after the pitch is thrown, and you cannot begin to advance until the ball is put in play), there is very little to cover here with regard to base running. However, we can talk about the proper way to “cut the bag” while advancing on the base paths. This refers to taking the shortest possible route between bases—allowing slower runners to get around the bases more quickly than they would normally.
In this demonstration, I will explain the purpose and proper technique of this important baserunning skill.
Hitting is, according to both Ted Williams and Coach Hernandez, “The most difficult thing to do in sports.”
In this demonstration, I will throw Coach Hernandez some “soft toss”—a type of hitting drill where you stand off to the side of the hitter and feed him hittable balls to his front knee, usually while standing in front of a hitting net. Coach Hernandez takes a couple of hacks and explains the intricacies of hitting a round ball with a round bat.
The mental approach
As Yogi Berra once said, “Ninety percent of this game is mental. The other half is physical.” As humorous as that saying is, in his own way, Yogi was right. There is a mental preparation that is needed, both in the long and short term, to play the game that, in many ways, is more important than having the mere physical attributes.
Softball/baseball can become very individualized; when all eyes are on you, such as when you are at the plate with the bases loaded or when a line drive is hit at you with two outs and the winning run is on third, there can be a tendency to freeze under pressure. Why? Because your mind has not been prepared to take action when these key moments arise. If you are not ready for the ball to be hit to you, it absolutely WILL be hit to you, and you will be too shocked to catch it.
On the day of a game, take time out at the firehouse to sit and visualize in your mind all of the situations you will expect to be in during that night’s softball game. Imagine yourself in the batter’s box, staring down the pitcher, focusing on the ball as it arcs toward home plate. See yourself hitting a line drive in the gap. See yourself rounding first and heading for second, cutting each bag just right, stretching a double in to a triple.
Do the same when on defense. Considering that you have more time between action, visualize between each pitch, and expect every ball to be hit to you. If you are playing the infield, anticipate making a diving play; expect the ball to be hit where you need that quick first step to get there. If you’re playing the outfield, imagine yourself sprinting back to take away that extra-base hit that normally would get over anyone else’s head. Expect the ball to sink in front of you, and visualize yourself making the diving catch that snuffs out a rally.
Anticipate all of these things, and you will be prepared to perform in each and every one of these situations. These are the little, unseen methods that will complete your all-around game. Simply put, if you are not prepared mentally, your body will not react physically.
Derek Rosenfeld is an associate editor for Fire Engineering. He is beginning his sixth season as the assistant baseball coach at Bergen Community College in Paramus, New Jersey. He is also an infielder for the semipro North Haledon (NJ) Reds. During the mid-90s, Rosenfeld was a three-year starter at second base for the Ramapo College baseball team in Mahwah, New Jersey, where he earned all-New Jersey Athletic Conference honors and was a two-time New Jersey Collegiate Baseball Association (NJCBA) all-star selection. He was named MVP of the 1997 NJCBA All-Star Game. He has a bachelor’s degree in communications from Ramapo College.