Direction and distance are two topics we often discuss with our infielders. Proper footwork is incredibly important, just as, if not more important than how a player is with their hands.
What we will be discussing in this article is how infielders can use proper footwork to put themselves in a position to direct their energy towards a target and cut distance towards that target.
In previous articles, we talked about the first thing an infielder must to once they have fielded the baseball, even before making a movement towards a target. We call it getting the ball to the “home” position.
The home position refers to the part of the body where players should begin the throwing process, which is between near the letters on the uniform to the belly button. We want to get our hands and the ball to that position because is affords for a natural position for us to begin our throw as an infielder. Every throw that we make in the infield, whether it be throwing on a cut off to turning a double play, comes from that position.
Now, in order to get to the home position once we field the ball, we have to ensure that we field and transfer the ball out in front of the body. Once we transfer the ball out front, we must get the ball directly to the home position before we begin to take steps towards our target. This ensures that we can keep our shoulders square to where we fielded the ball and can create a direct path to where we want to throw the ball. While bringing the ball to the home position, it is important that we get them directly to the body and not to bring them between the legs and up. Bringing them too far between the legs and up will cause our shoulders to face down towards the ground making it more difficult to create a direct and efficient path to our target.
When a player gets to the position, proper footwork becomes much easier, thus making the rest of the play more efficient. From the home position with the hands, we want to direct energy to a target. Take the shortstop position for example. On a normal ground ball that we need to throw to first, a player must get lined up to throw. An easy way to teach this is to simply replace the feet instead of crossing the feet. Both ways can be done, but foot replacement is easier to teach and often provides more rhythm to the fielder.
On a foot replacement, you want to teach the fielder to take their right foot to the left foot, and then direct the left foot towards the target. Lefties would be just the opposite, taking the left foot to the right foot and the right foot towards the target. Once the feet have been replaced, the player can take a shuffle or two – depending on the type of ball hit and the speed of the runner – to cut down the distance towards the target. This takes practice as we want fielders to become smooth.
In practice, as a drill, have the fielders start with the ball on the ground or in their glove and just work on the footwork required with the foot replacement. As the fielder gets quicker add in a rolling ball from a short distance and have them finish the play. Once that is mastered, then add in a ball hit off the bat. Players can also work on just the footwork during catch. With the ball in the glove, have them simulate fielding the baseball and replacing their feet and continuing their throw to their partner.
Both getting the ball to the home position and beginning to create direction and distance can be done simultaneously, but it is important to remember that securing the ball is the most important thing.
Teaching a foot replacement technique is an easy way to help fielders of all levels create direction and cut distance towards a target.