First and foremost when discussing blocking, we need to understand blocking is much more of a mindset than it is a physical skill/act. People are naturally inclined to move out of the way or catch an object that is going to hit them. Blocking comes in direct contrast with this instinct, as blocking in its simplest form is getting hit by the ball, in order to prevent the ball from getting past the catcher. It takes considerable repetition and practice to train the mind to put the body in harms way in order to stop the baseball. New catchers should start by practicing with soft balls (i.e. tennis ball, rubber ball, etc.) in order to eliminate the pain of getting hit by a baseball. Once a new catcher gets used to blocking with a soft ball then they can progress to a real baseball. No matter what ball is being used, it takes consistent and deliberate practice in order to create the mindset needed to become an elite blocker.
The first thing catchers need to understand is what blocking position actually is. The fundamental blocking position consists of the catcher having both knees on the ground/wide with their shoulders leaning forward in front of the knees with a broad chest and the glove in between their knees (5 hole).
The first/most fundamental that I start catchers with is having them get into blocking position and then bouncing/short hopping the ball into the catcher’s chest. This can also be done alone by bouncing a ball of a wall and letting it hit you.
The next step in blocking is learning how to get from the receiving stance into blocking position. The first and most important thing to remember is that the glove should lead to all blocks. Once the glove flips over then the body will follow into position. Where the glove/body goes depends on how far away the ball is going to hit the dirt. If the ball is going to bounce far away from the body then the glove/body needs to gain some ground to get closer/tighter to the ball. If the ball is going to bounce close to the catcher then the glove/body needs to go straight down into the ground. This is the idea that no matter where the ball is bounced the catcher wants to be tight to their block or they want to create a short hop to the glove/body on every block.
Once a catcher blocks the ball, the next step is to get the ball or “recover”. Once the ball is blocked the catcher needs to get to their feet and into a throwing position, in case the runner tries to advance. In order to recover the catcher should drive their hips up and bring their feet under the hips into an athletic stance. Next, the catcher should get to the left side of the ball with their front shoulder in line with the base they want to throw to. Once the catcher is on the left side of the ball, then they should bend at the knees and reach down to the ball with both the glove and bare hand to pick the ball up. The glove should be used to help get the ball into the throwing hand and to ensure the catcher bends at the knees, not at the waist in order to pick the ball up (do not pick the ball up with the glove and then transfer to the hand). As the ball is being picked up into the hand the catcher should shuffle their feet right-left towards the base they want to throw to. Catchers should always recover and be ready to throw, so that they don’t get caught napping by a good runner.
Overall, blocking requires the catcher to be as tough as they are skilled. Blocking often goes unnoticed because if done correctly the runners stay right where they are. Missing a block or making a good block all depends on being able to keep the runner from advancing to the next base. Elite blockers will block even without someone on base because they want to keep the ball from hitting the umpire. This is an even more thankless job, but has a huge impact on the umpire/catcher relationship. Essentially if the catcher doesn’t let any balls in the dirt hit the umpire then the umpire is more likely to call more strikes for them. Blocking is a dirty job, but a necessary skill for every catcher to possess.