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When you coach as long as I have the things that drive you crazy can easily add up. I’ve said it before. We have to keep reminding ourselves that we are coaching kids 8-12 years old. The infield, like everywhere else, seems to have the same common mistakes that come up over and over again. I am going to go through five that I keep seeing year after year and discuss how to alter these errors on the field into outs.
1. Going for a double play and getting no outs
This happened three times a few years ago and drove me crazy. The situation usually occurs when there is baserunner on first base. The batter hits a hard grounder right at the shortstop or a little bit to his left with his momentum carrying him toward second base. The shortstop is thinking “two” when he should only be thinking “one”. In his haste to hurry with the throw, he lifts his glove too soon and the ball goes right beneath it. Instead of getting one sure out, there are runners on first and second with no outs. This is very frustrating for coaches. This happens at all levels of play, even in the pros. And this is a tough one to alter. Young players love to practice the double play just as young basketball players who take the court to practice almost always start beyond the three-point line. What we do is practice the double play, but I insist the shortstop’s job is to get one out. I reinforce over and over again to catch the ball then flip it. You must constantly reinforce to your infielders to watch the ball go into their gloves. In youth baseball, I find the 6-4-3 double play rare, just because of the shorter base paths with the same number of handles in the field. The double play that does seem more common is the 6-3 double play. The shortstop fields a ball going to his left and steps on second himself before throwing to first. The bottom line is to keep teaching your infielders to watch the ball go into their gloves. The initial goal is to get one out.
2. Overhand toss in close proximity
How many times do we see young infielders at second base make a play on a ground ball going to his left, only to throw the ball overhand, and very hard, to the first baseman, who cannot control it. The baserunner gets on by an error. Coaches must have our infielders practice throwing the ball underhand when they are in close proximity to the player receiving the baseball. This is not practiced enough and it should be. When the player flips the ball underhand, make sure it is not what I call a “volcano flip” that goes almost straight up (and too high) and then comes down while the baserunner gets in safely to the base. An easy drill to practice and set up is to have the coach throw ground balls to a line of players going toward the base. The fielders catch the ground ball and flip underhand to the player covering the bag. Make sure the player leads the receiver with the baseball. It is okay to mention how football passes are always leading the receiver.
3. Not moving their feet
It is amazing how young kids love to run around non-stop forever, but put them in the infield and hit a ball a little to their left or right and the players will not budge their feet, just reach out with their glove. You can practice having players move their feet until you are blue in the face. When it comes to the game they still like to reach with their glove hands. Coaches should start from the first day of practice reinforcing to their players to move their feet. One drill that helps is the “Goalie Drill.” In this drill two cones are set up about 10 feet apart. The fielder stands between the two cones. The coach will flip balls continuously, changing each side. The player doesn’t have to catch the ball, but must stop it with his glove or body. This drill gets players moving their feet. I also used to do a little drill with my kids in the backyard called the “Dive Drill.” It is the same concept as the previous drill. The player has to leave his feet, dive to stop the baseball, get up, and get ready to dive for the next baseball. These two drills are excellent, but the most effective method is to practice repetitions for hitting or throwing ground balls, and reinforcing to players to move their feet.
4. Not aware of the baserunning situation
Oh my God! I would have won 50 more games in my coaching career if my fielders only knew the baserunning situation when the ball was hit to them. I always tell the players when there are players on base to say to themselves, “What do I do if the ball is hit to me?” But even with this, the infielder will throw to the wrong base or not get the lead runner when this is the easiest play. This is most common with pitchers on a ball hit right back to them. Rarely do they remember to turn and get the lead runner. The only remedy for this is to yell, and yell loudly, to each infielder what to do if the ball is hit to them. With pitchers, I also like to include them in fielding practice from the mound, which many coaches don’t do.
5. Not aggressively calling infield pop ups
How many times do we see an infield pop up right behind the pitcher’s mound. One, two, and sometimes three players will call it, and no one gets it. The ball hits the infield grass with a thud. What coaches can do is tell their best infielder to get every infield pop-up. This is not fool proof. Another method is the “second and loudest” method. With this I tell the players that the first person doesn’t necessarily have to be the one who catches the baseball. I want the second person who calls it to catch it. And this may also be the first person if he calls it twice, With this, the ball might have started to come down, and the second “I got it” might be closer than anyone else.
There are more infield fielding situations that come up again and again. These are only five that I see every year. Coaches need not get angry at the kids, and must make sure that these situations are practiced. Remember, these players are only kids!