"Catching is by far the most difficult and challenging position to play."
Catching may be the most demanding position in baseball, both physically and mentally. To be a quality catcher, you need to know more than how to catch the ball and how to throw the ball to second, you need to know the game of baseball. When we talk about knowing baseball, we mean knowing it as a coach tries to know it. As the catcher, you're the onfield coach. You have the entire field in front of you. Your team depends on you to make split second decisions that can determine runs vs. outs, wins vs. losses.
To illustrate this point we will set up a game situation:
Late in the game
Your team is up by one run
Runner on second
Number 3 hitter is up
What goes through the mind of the catcher before calling a pitch? Here are some possibilities:
Each of those questions determines which pitch you call and the location of the pitch.
After the pitch, the possibilities in just one play are numerous and the catcher must prepare to handle each of them.
A catcher likes being in the middle of the action, likes to think on his feet, and is not afraid of making split second decisions. Physical skills are also important, but a catcher who can handle the mental part of the position rises above the catcher with stronger physical skills.
Just take a look at the Major Leagues. Major catchers start who do not have great physical tools. You find better athletes sitting in the minor leagues. But these catchers have developed their physical tools to the point where they can make it at that level and have developed their mental skills to the point where they play over other players with better physical skills.
We hope this section will give you some of the information necessary to improve your ability to play this difficult position.
The Field General
The catcher needs to exert him or herself as the field general. Communication on the baseball field is necessary and a good catcher will take control. The catcher has the view of the entire field and can make the proper call for throws to each base.
Learn about the catchers:
Prepare yourself to take charge. As the catcher you must be a strong leader. Catchers must know how to calm a pitcher who is upset about a certain call, an error made in the field, or his performance. In short, you have to handle the pitcher. You make sure he stays focused on the situation and the pitch he is about to throw. You must keep him focused and in the game. Even though pitchers are unique and you handle them differently, always show them that you have confidence in their ability to get the job done.
One of the first requirements as a catcher is learning as much about your pitching staff as possible. You need to know each pitcher's strengths and weaknesses. You must also learn how to call a game. Many times a coach may be calling the pitches from the bench, but you still must be in tune with the flow of the game and it's up to you to make sure the pitcher hits different locations by giving a good target. Learn as much information as you can about pitching. You need to be on the same page as the pitcher.
Talk to the starting pitcher after he has completed his warm-up. How does he feel? How is his control? What pitches is he having trouble with? What pitches are working well? Compare that with your impression from his warm-up. Use the information above to come up with an approach for the first time through the line-up. After a couple of innings you may notice that things that weren't working during the warm-up are working now.
Although the catcher must poses a number of skills to be a complete player, the fact is the catcher spends most of the game receiving the ball from the pitcher. Many young catchers don't realize the impact of what they do behind the plate and the affect that is has on the pitcher and the umpire. You will have an affect on the pitchers ability to be effective. Be determined to make that influence a positive one.
As a catcher you will have two basic positions from which you will receive the ball.
Your catching arm should be slightly bent at the elbow. Make sure you don't get your elbow positioned inside your left knee. This will inhibit your ability to move your arm to catch the ball.
CATCHING THE BALL
The proper position of the body and glove is as important to a catcher as any other player on the field. The catcher must not only field the ball cleanly, but if the pitch is a borderline strike or ball, he must try to give the illusion that the pitch is a strike (a technique called framing). The goal is catch each pitch between your shoulders and to not move your glove quickly to the ball. One way to get set up to frame a pitch or to simply catch the ball is to shift your body smoothly toward the pitch as it comes toward you.
Let's say you set up to catch a ball over the center of the plate and the pitch is actually thrown on the outside corner. The umpire could call the pitch a strike or a ball, but your own actions can influence that call. If you stay in your position and flash your glove out quickly at the last second, the umpire will be inclined call the pitch a ball. On the other hand, if you slowly start to shift toward the location of the pitch as the pitch is delivered, the umpire will be more inclined to call it a strike.
The position of the glove is also important to promote the illusion that a pitch is a strike. For instance, you learned to catch a ball with your palm facing the center of the plate. But, on a low pitch (a borderline strike), if you catch the ball with the palm down, you give the umpire the impression that the pitch is too low. Always try to catch pitches that come across the plate at the knee or lower backhanded. Catching a low ball on your catching hand side is difficult backhanded, so make sure you shift toward the pitch; if it clearly isn't going to be a strike, shift and catch the ball with the glove fully opened and your palm up as shown in the diagram below.
Slightly bend your elbow when you catch the ball. Catching the ball with your elbow locked often causes the ball to bounce out of your glove because there is no give. When you bend your elbow, you absorb the blow of the pitch and can hold on to the ball.
GIVING A TARGET
A catcher who places his glove thigh high in the middle of the plate for every pitch is doing nothing to help the pitcher.
Help the pitcher be successful by positioning your glove as needed for each pitch. Because pitches, batters, and innings are unique, so too will be the position of your glove.
How do you give a target to help out the pitcher?
Move yourself, not just your glove. If you want the pitcher to hit the inside part of the plate, shift yourself over in that direction. Don't move the target after the pitcher has started his motion. It can be very distracting for a pitcher to be in the middle of his motion and he looks to the plate to pick up the target, only to find the catcher moving his body and target into position. Many catchers want to wait to set up so the hitter cannot pickup the pitch location. This is fine, but there is no reason to wait until the last second. Get in position before the pitcher picks up the target.
Pitchers, catchers, and coaches want the ball down in the strike zone. You can help the pitcher focus on this by giving him a low target with your fingers, facing forward toward the pitcher. This gives the pitcher a target at the bottom of the strike zone.
As the pitcher releases the ball, move your glove so it's in a vertical position. This allows you to: (1) open and turn your glove down for a pitch thrown down and in; or (2) close your glove and turn it down for a pitch thrown down and out.
A good defensive catcher can block balls thrown in the dirt. That skill keeps runners from advancing and saves your team runs.
Once you determine that the pitch will bounce to you, aggressively go after the ball and try to shorten the distance between you and where it bounces. The closer you get to the point where the ball is going to bounce, the better chance you have to catch it. This doesn't mean that you want to lunge forward uncontrollably but don't sit back and hope the hits you. Waiting allows for larger hops and reducing the probability of blocking the ball.
TO YOUR RIGHT
If the pitch bounces to your right, shift in that direction to prepare and then drop your right knee to the ground. Put both hands in front of you and close to the ground to prevent the ball from bouncing between your legs. With your hands in front of you, round your shoulders, place your chin close to your chest, and try to keep you back straight. This provides the largest area for the ball to bounce off of; rounding your shoulders helps keep the ball in front of you after you block it.
If the pitch is outside and bounces to your right, step out with your right foot, then sit down on your right knee with your left leg extended out along the ground. Your upper body is in the same position as above.
One of the most common mistakes in blocking this "off to the side" ball is allowing your body to turn in that direction when you drop to block it. This causes the ball to bounce away from you instead of staying in front of you. In most cases this allows the baserunner to advance.
TO YOUR LEFT
If the pitch bounces to your left, follow the same directions as above, only to the other side.
STRAIT AT YOU
The ball coming right at you is the easiest to block. Simply drop both knees to the ground with both hands in front of you and in position. Remember to keep your knees apart and your back straight to provide the largest target.
A fastball is the easiest to block since it bounces more true than a breaking pitch. With a breaking pitch, you must take into account the spin on the ball and the trajectory of the pitch. For example, a Curveball breaks down from a higher trajectory than a fastball. This results in a higher bounce than the fastball. The spin of the ball causes the bounce to go to one side or the other. To successfully block a Curveball, be aggressive in getting close to where it will bounce and position your body off center to account for the bounce. On a right-handed pitcher, position your body so the majority is to the left of where the ball will hit. That way when the ball hits and kicks back to the left because of the spin, you are in the correct position to catch it.
Your ability to throw out a runner is influenced not only by the speed of the baserunner, but also by the ability of the pitcher to hold the runner close and deliver the ball quickly to the plate. While it's important to work with the pitcher to make sure this is done, once he has started his delivery, it's out of your control.
To have a chance to throw out runners on a consistent basis, work on delivering the ball quickly and accurately to the base. This requires good fundamentals on transferring the ball from your glove to your throwing hand, footwork, and throwing mechanics. Sound fundamentals can make up for a lack of arm strength.
Adjustments will need to be made depending on the location of the pitch, but for now assume the pitch is a fastball down the middle of the plate.
PRIOR TO CATCHING THE BALL
As the ball approaches, start setting yourself up for the throw by pointing your right knee toward the first base dugout. This causes your hips to rotate to the right and gets you closer to having your hips closed when you throw the ball.
As with all positions, try to grip the ball across all four seems. Throw the ball with a 12 - 6 rotation (use digital camera to demonstrate the 12-6 rotation). Why is this essential? When throwing the ball, any tail pulls the fielder off the base and into the line of the runner. This is not only a dangerous situation for the fielder but the ball often ends up in the outfield.
There are three primary methods for throwing the ball from the catchers position.
SHIFT AND THROW
As you catch the ball, pop up and forward to throw the ball. As you do this, shift your feet from parallel to the mound to perpendicular to the mound. Land your right foot first and complete your throwing stride toward the base with your left foot.
PIVOT AND THROW
This method takes a very strong arm and because of this, shouldn't be used by younger players. Simply pivot on your right foot, step with your left and throw. While it is faster than the Shift method, it's more difficult because to achieve that quickness, your weight can't be transferred fully to your front leg. You end up using your arm primarily to throw the ball without getting your body behind it.
STEP AND THROW
Younger players tend to use this method due to lack of arm strength as required for the Shift method. With this method, take a small step with your right foot towards the target as you transfer the ball. This gets your momentum moving in that direction. Once you have planted your right foot, point your left shoulder toward the target step with your left foot and throw. This method is slower but helps younger player make a stronger and more accurate throw.
When catching a pop-up in foul or fair territory, it's essential for you to realize that the ball will curve towards the infield as it comes down. Once you have located the ball, you want to make sure you run to where you will catch the ball and then discard your mask. If you drop it immediately, you may end up tripping over it as you track the ball.
Except for a pop-up, when fielding balls out in front of the plate you want to get your mask off and out of the way as quickly as possible.
BUNT OR SLOW ROLLER DOWN THE THIRD BASE LINE
If the ball is stops just a few feet in front of the plate, you will want to round the ball keeping yourself facing the field and getting yourself in a good position to scoop the ball and throw to first. If there are runners on base, this is also the ball that will give you the opportunity to throw out the lead runner. As you approach the ball, you will want to scoop the ball with both your glove and throwing hand. This will give you a better of fielding the ball cleanly over using your glove hand or bare hand alone. Since you are fielding it between your legs and you have rounded the ball, you're in a great position to scoop the ball and throw accurately.
If the ball is farther down the line, you will not have the time to round it. In this case you will take a direct line towards the ball. As you reach the ball, step over it and plant your right leg. You are then in a good position to scoop the ball, turn, step and throw.
BUNT OR SLOW ROLLER DOWN THE FIRST BASE LINE
If the ball stops a few feet from home, you will use the scoop method described above to field the ball. The main difficulty with the play is avoiding the runner as you throw the ball to first. A good baserunner will run down the inside part of the baseline making it more difficult to get the ball by him. The first baseman can help you out by standing clearly on the inside of the bag to give you a good target. You may still find that once you have scooped up the ball you need to move farther into fair territory to have a better angle to throw to first. Make sure you throw the ball overhand to eliminate the ball from tailing in toward the runner.
One of the most difficult plays is the ball that is hit or bunted farther down the first base line. Not only will the runner be closer to the base by the time you field it (making it more difficult to throw the ball without hitting him), but you may not have the time to scoop it and set up to throw. In this case you will need to barehand the ball and throw it sidearm to first base.
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