One of the most fundamental attributes of good, individual outfield play is a player’s ability to “get to the spot” where the baseball is going to land on a routinely hit fly-ball. Players that have the ability to judge where the ball is going to land will invariably have a better chance to catch it. It can also create a secondary ability that will help outfielders be in the best possible position to throw runners out who are trying to advance to another base. It is a very simple and logical concept that can at times be difficult to grasp for some younger players (and older ones too). This is a skill that all of the best outfielders master and make look easy.
A baseball is much easier to catch when the ball is in the air and the player is not moving. Once player movement is added, the degree of difficulty increases. The body starts moving and everything attached starts to move with it. This includes a player’s head and more precisely, eyes. A bouncing body and eyes can create an illusion of a ball also “bouncing” in the air while the player is tracking it. The ball, of course, is not. The goal should be to try and catch every ball (that doesn’t have the possibility of a runner advancing) with as little motion as possible. “Camping” under the baseball, as it is sometimes called, should be the ultimate goal for an outfielder. Obviously, not all catches can be made in this manner and some catches have to be made on the run. In fact, some catches are actually easier on the run, once proper form running is developed.
There are a few players who like to catch the ball while on the move, rather than hustle and work just a little bit more to get to the spot where the ball would come down. This is called “drifting,” and it is a very bad habit. It’s not the worst thing in the world to catch the ball on the run when necessary, but if it starts to become a habit when it is not necessary, the player will be continually putting themselves in a bad position, especially if there is the potential to throw a runner out.
As in any endeavor, small details can have the ability to make a great impact. Attention to small details can make the game much easier, while disregarding them will make it much more difficult to achieve success. Here are some drills to help:
- Basic partner pop-ups – between two partners or a coach and a group of players.
Starting 2-3 feet apart, one partner/coach tosses the ball up high in the air so it would land about 2-3 feet alternating in front of and behind the other player. The receiving player will move to get under the ball and catch it just in front of their head/face slightly off to the glove hand side ending in a still position. The glove-side foot should be in front. Start off with no glove to soften the hands. You can use a tennis ball or Lite-flite ball for younger kids.
- Ball between the legs/behind the back – This is another partner drill requiring one partner to toss a ball in the high in the air to a partner outfielder. The catching partner works his body in position to reach behind him and through his legs catch the ball in front. Or, players can work on catching the ball behind their back letting the ball come come down right behind them over the head. These last two are very difficult and a softer ball should be used to start.
By doing some of these drills players will begin to realize the importance of reading the ball (tossed or batted), moving quickly, and get into a position to make the catch easier.