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Fair er Foul Ball???

by Dave
Friday, April 30, 2010

I have seen and heard about some rather confounding incidents on the field.   Most of the worst ones involve balls called fair or foul incorrectly.   Apparently some umps operate only within their personal experience, however limited that might be when making these calls.   I say that because too many of these calls have been rather, well, wrong.

I am going to kick off this discussion with a pop quiz for you.   A batter hits or bunts a ball which strikes the plate and bounced skyward.   The balls comes down and stops right on the plate where the catcher then standing wholly in foul ground picks it up and fires to first ahead of the baserunner who is stumbling and staggering around, uncertain of whether she should run or not.   What's your call?  : Fair or foul?

Let's answer this by stating that homeplate is very much a part of fair territory.   So are, as a matter of fact the so called "foul lines."   So a ball resting on the plate or the foul lines that is picked up by a defensive player is a fair ball.

Further, the positioning of a player has absolutely no bearing on whether a ball is fair or foul.   The catcher being entirely in foul territory, while a physical impossibility when she reaches for the ball on the plate, is completely irrelevant to the discussion.   The only item which matters is the location of the ball.   In other words, a player can at least theoretically be completely in foul ground when she touches an otherwise fair ball and that ball is fair, plain and simple.

The reason I state this as such is I have seen countless examples of balls being poorly hit or bunted and coming to rest right on the plate.   Invariably, those balls are called foul.

Secondly, there was a play the other day in which a high infield pop was hit in front of the 3B right on the line with the wind blowing all over the place.   The 3B strolled into foul ground and then began drifting back towards fair territory.   She stepped over the line and then the ball drifted back into foul ground.   She reached clearly across the line, into foul gropund by about 2 feet, and just barely missed catching the ball.   It hit the outside of her mitt.   What was the call?   You got it.   "Fair ball!"   That was obviously wrong and the defensive coach argued it but the ump would not back down.   He was the only person in the park who thought it was fair.

A friend wrote in to tell me of a play in which a ball struck fair ground and then bounced towards foul territory and was grabbed by a 3B who was well in front of the bag and entirely in foul ground.   The call?   Fair ball.   When this call was argued, the umpire stated with the utmost sincerity that once a ball strikes fair ground, it must touch the ground foul or it remains fair.   That is absurd.

Let's say that a grounder is hit down the third base line.   If that ball bounces up hard enough and passes the bag on the foul side of third, it becomes foul at the moment it passes the bag in foul ground.   It is not foul because it lands on the second hop in foul ground and then remains there.   Similarly, if it passes over any point in the bag or to the field side of the bag, it matters not a whit whether it comes down in foul ground thereafter.   It is a fair ball.

There is no verbiage in any rulebook with which I am familiar which contains any sort of "establishment clause" with regards to fair and foul balls.   There is no requirement that a once fair ball strike anything in foul ground before it can be called foul.   The reason that has been conveniently left out of any rulebook is because it would make a travesty of the game.   If a bunter bunted a ball which struck fair ground, including the plate, and then bounced back to the catcher who caught it on one hop, it would presumably be fair under such a clause.   But it is not.   It is foul.

Likewise, a player trying to make a catch on a ball in foul ground has no requirement to establish her body in foul ground in order for the ball to be ruled foul.   Say a RF was chasing a line drive which curved ever so slightly into foul territory.   She raced to the line and made a play on the ball right as she stepped on the chalk line (which, again, is in fair territory), reached across into foul ground and just barely tipped the ball.   Does her presence in fair territory make the ball fair?   No, it is foul because it was foul before she touched it.   A player cannot do anything to make a foul ball fair.

There are othert bad calls and misapplications of rules I have witnessed lately but I want to stick with these fair foul calls and add just one more somewhat related item to today's discussion.   Recently, a game was played on your average field.   The field contained a backstop.   Where the backstop ended on each side, there were gaps which players used to take the field or step up to bat and then behind the gap were fences which extended a little past the bases.   As a general matter, in such a layout, the baseline fences are considered to be in play.   That is, when a ball comes to rest next to the fence or bounces against it, the ball remains in play or live.   If the ball goes past the fence or crosses beyond the gaps, it is out of play or dead.

This sort of circumstance regarding in and out of play is generally discussed and decided at the pre-game "ground rules" meeting between umpires, coaches, and team captains.   In the absence of a specific discussion regarding this, one would expect the generally accepted rule to apply.   In other words, unless some modification to the general rule were created by somebody, a ball which strikes the baseline fence or comes to rest next to it should be in play.

The other day I saw an umpire who was either extremely confused or under the weather.   A play was made on a girl running home and the ball bounced off the catcher and to her side.   The ball rolled over to the second fence where the pitcher, backing up the play, picked it up.   The third base coach came in immediately to argue with the ump.   He claimed that the ball should be out of play because it went past the pole of the backstop.   That is ridiculous but this ump actually bought into the idea.   he ruled the ball was dead and all runners should be allowed to advance one base.   That ruling sent the game into extra innings.   During those extra innings, again the same thing happened and the umpire again ruled the ball dead once the same 3B coach came in and reminded him of this rule!   This rather incorrect understanding of in and out of play ground determined the outcome of that game.

By the way, all of the errant fair and foul rulings I have seen or heard about recently had material impact on the outcome of the games in which they were made.   Sometimes coaches carry around rabbit-eared rulebooks which are left open to areas of arcane rules in regards to DP/Flex and other such "important" things.   Most of the time, coaches are studying the arcane rules because they are confuse and the coach wants to get them down.   Sometimes coaches aren't even sure where in a rulebook one would find anything about fair and foul balls.   This stuff is easy, right?   I would no sooner carry around an ASA rulebook so I could point to sections while arguing fair and foul balls than I would carry around my first grade math book in case I had to add two numbers together.   It almost seems silly.   But if you are on the losing end of one of these calls, you will really wish you had something in hand to show the umpire why it is that he was wrong.

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Permanent Link:  Fair er Foul Ball???

Practice To Be ... "Imperfect"

by Dave
Wednesday, April 28, 2010

For many years, coaches have written me with a question which goes something along the lines of "I have very little pitching on my team and what little I do have consists of girls who know nothing more than a fastball.   What should I try to teach them?"   I have written back any number of replies including suggesting they learn change-ups which I still think is appropriate.   But what any pitcher who has few pitches ought to focus on in the short run is learning to throw less than perfect pitches.   What I mean is, pitches that are not right down the middle.

I strongly believe pitchers should start working change-ups and movement pitches as soon as they have the basic windmill down.   There's no reason to wait until the fundamental motion is as near to perfect as it will ever be before trying new pitches.   Kids improve their mechanics over many years.   Even most 18U and college pitchers can improve their mechanics.   That is a never ending process.   And at some point, within probably the first year, pitchers need to work on something other than the common fastball.   Some do not and these are the ones I believe the coaches are referring to in their questions.

I believe such girls ought to get instruction from competent pitching coaches in regards to their changes, drops, etc.   But while they only have a workable fastball, they can still pitch and experience some success, provided that they learn to throw pitches to several locations.

Years ago, I published something along the same lines but I want to revisit the topic because some folks are hesitant to read anything more than a year old.   And most likely, these are the very people I am after with this piece.

So where do we begin discussing location?   Let's start with the strike zone which runs vertically from the top of the front knee to the solar plexus.   It used to extend upwards to the armpits but was moved down a year or so ago.   Some umps still call anything below the pits a strike but let's assume the solar plexus is correct to make it easy.

The strike zone, obviously spans laterally across the plate but in thinking of this, what we mean is with the center of the ball right around the edge of the plate on each side.   It should be clear to anyone involved in the sport that the zone is somewhat wider than that in practice because many umpires call anything inside the inner lines of the two batter's boxes a strike nut let's assume that the outer corners are marked by the midpoint of the ball crossing on the plate, again, just to make things easier.

If we map out the zone in our minds, and then create a grid with lines marking the outside edges and two horizontal ones plus two vertical ones creating a grid, we are left with 9 equal sized boxes.   To make this a little more effective, shove the lines outward, away from the center by about one third.   What we are left with is a grid which contains a large box in the center and 8 smaller boxes surrounding it.   If you do not follow me, please start over using paper, pencil and a ruler instead of your imagination.

You should notice that 6 of the boxes, on the outer edges, are about the same size and two of them are much larger - the up and down, middle of the plate ones.   These should really be made smaller up and down so that the very middle box is even larger but let's not get carried away.

Now place a huge, bold, red X in the middle box.   We never want to throw the ball into that large square once we are warmed up.   We do not want our catcher's setting targets there although they may start there before the pitcher starts into her motion but that's a subject for another day.

There are 8 grid boxes into which the pitcher should begin practice throwing her game ready pitches.   And this is our first layer of work to begin immediately.   The fun does not nearly stop there.

Most folks practice their pitching "inside" and "outside" perhaps adding "up" and "down."   That's fine but one really ought to think in terms of 8 boxes surrounding the no-go zone, down the middle.   That is, locations within the strike zone should all be practiced.   These consist of 1) low - a)inside, b) outside and c) down the middle; 2) belt high - a) inside and b) out; and 3) high - f 1) low - a)inside, b)outside and c)down the middle.   If it makes things easier for you, you can mark each box appropriately, 1-a, 1-b, 1-c, 2-a, 2-b, 3-a, 3-b, and 3-c.   Obviously, inside and out are relative terms because it depends on whether you have a righty or lefty at the plate.   Let's not worry about that issue.

The next level of what we should be concerned with is the areas right outside our grid.   In order to make it somewhat simple, let's extend our grid lines outward a few inches and think of this as being approximately two to three balls in distance.   A standard fastpitch softball is a couple inches across so our actual distance is maybe 6 inches or so.   Draw a line around your new, extended grid.   You can number these new boxes if you like but I think we might be getting carried away.   The bottom line is you have gained 16 new boxes into which the pitcher will throw her practice sessions giving us a total of 24, though precision is not important.   If you do not see this in your head, get paper.   If you do not see this in your drawing, find some graphing paper.

These new outer zones are probably the single most important aspect of pitching.   Most umpires will give one or two sides of your overall grid but not the other 2 or 3.   That is, most umpires will tend to call strikes for pitches outside the zone, in or out, up or down, or some combination of these.   It really matters who is calling the game.   Some umps like the upper pitch but not the lower ones.   Some like the outside pitch but not the inside.   In games, pitchers have to adjust to the umpires called strike zone because that is the only thing that matters on a called ball or strike.

The outer lateral edges of your new strike zone grid span from the inside line of the righty batter's box to the inner edge of the lefty batter's box.   The top and bottom lines span from the batter's chin down to her shins.   So that is, in summary, 24 boxes from batter's box to batter's box, chin to shin.

To this, I want to add one final layer of lines.   The bottom and top of the final layer are dirt to visor of batting helmet.   The outer lines are the batter herself.   I am losing patience with the idea of numbered boxes so let's skip the idea for a little while.   I just find that sometimes drawings and numbers can be useful to develop a concept.   Now, these newest boxes are obviously balls in anybody's book but they are still important locations.

So, again to just summarize where we are, we have 3 layers of boxes which include the rulebook strike zone, the potential umpire's strike zone, and places where pitches would definitely be balls.   Let's talk a bit about why we have these locations, what they are good for, and how to work on hitting them.

The various locations are more critical to softball pitching than they are to baseball pitching for a very good reason.   Our regulation 12 inch softball is much larger than the standard baseball.   If we throw down the middle, no matter how fast, somebody is going to hit the ball well against us.

The first layer is important because, if we want to get outs whether by strike outs, grounders or pop-ups, there are really only two ways to do it.   We must make batters swing by throwing strikes and/or we must make them swing at pitches as far away from their particular hitting zones as possible so they miss pitches or miss-hit some.   If we just fire the ball and wait to see where it goes, a high percentage of pitches are going to get whacked.   If we hit spots, certainly some pitches will be hit hard but most will not.

The second layer of locations is extremely important because, if we are able to hit these spots at will, we can get called strikes on pitches that are not generally hittable.   Early in our games, we test the spots to see what the ump will call.   If he or she is calling inside, low, outside or high, we mark this down in our brains to use as the game progresses.   More importantly, if the ump has expanded the zone, we should use this in order to get batters out not only by the K, but also by making them hit balls very poorly.

The third layer is important too but for more insidious reasons.   This is a little more advanced but, in essence, we can alter the batter's perceptions about the strike zone by going well inside and outside it sometimes.   For example, say we are facing someone standing at about the middle of the batter's box.   If we throw inside, off the plate, right on the batter's box line, we make them forget some about the outer corner.   We can get them punched out with strike three on the outside corner and they'll return to their dugout certain that the ump made a bad call.   Similarly, if a batter adjusts to our constant banging of the outside corner by moving in, we can make them forget about the inside corner by throwing one or two outside off the plate, out of their reach.

Location is critical to getting hitters out.   We dissect the strike zone, build zones just around it and then beyond those in order to have the sort of pitch command necessary to get them out.   Once we have reasonably good control, we must learn to develop command so we can defeat almost any batter.

When I speak of "control" I am really talking about a pitcher whose 60-80% throw zone is in and around the strike zone.   Such a girl may walk some kids because she is unable to "just throw a strike" but the number of walks issued this way is relatively small.   This is distinguishable, in my world, from "command" which refers to the ability to hit specific zones inside and out of the strike zone at a high rate of frequency with deliberate effort.

Lest somebody write in to complain that I have always advocated speed before all else, let me clarify.   For many years, I have scolded those who preach, "just get it over, dear, please!"   I have stated that one should not try to throw strikes and parents and coaches should not implore their pitchers to throw those strikes.   Rather, it would be best if pitchers work to perfect mechanics and throw as hard as they can without any regard to where the ball goes.   Basic control will come about as a result of good mechanics, repeated iterations of throwing, and learning one's release point.

A pitcher does not try to throw wildly.   She is not trying to incur the wrath of her parents or coaches.   But if she is told to "just throw strikes" or "try, please for God's sake, try to throw strikes," what she will do is alter her mechanics until she throws that strike which will shut up her detractors.   I have seen this dynamic play out many times and the results are rather ugly.   What you get for your learned instruction of "just throw strikes" is a pitcher who shortens her stride to remain in control of her body, one who bends at the waist or elbow as she releases the ball, some other funky adjustment, or all of these things.   The result is generally a pitcher who will be done before long because she will lose speed and power, not be able to master additional pitches, or suffer a bad injury.   Mechanics are the key to early pitching, not control regardless of what your little league experts tell you.

If I have two pitchers before me who have the same instructor and the same amount of experience, I'll take the harder throwing, wilder one every time, assuming her mechanics are superior to the other, slower, much more controlled girl.   The second girl may experience more success early but within a year or two and definitely after that, our wild thing will be the superior pitcher.

When kids begin pitching, they are trying to pull together a very complex motion and then find a release point to throw strikes.   They throw the ball all over the place.   As things come together, the majority of pitches will land in a range of locations, closer and closer to the strike zone.   Eventually, the beginner pitcher will be able to throw everything fairly close to the zone and her practice catcher's mood will dramatically improve.   This can take quite a long time for some but let's assume that the specimen pitcher is able to throw the ball inside a reasonably small range and hit the strike zone or right around it about 60-80% of the time.   This is the right time to begin working locations.

Probably the first thing a coach or parent will want to do is work inside or outside corners of the plate.   This can take quite a long time to master.   The important thing to note is that like all of pitching, it requires many repeated iterations.   If one is practicing by throwing 100 fastballs after drills, it would be best to stop trying to throw down the middle as soon as you are warmed up.   Let's assume a pitcher is warm after 20.   The remaining 80 should be to locations in and out.

Trying to throw pitches to locations can be somewhat aggravating for the pitcher.   She can also become bored pretty quickly with throwing to a single location.   Think of yourself practicing at say darts.   You try to hit the middle but fail numerous times.   After a while, you have to do something else or you will go mad.   So you try to throw to the right or left side, up or down.   Then after perhaps 10 throws, you move to another zone on the board, then another.   The same concept should be applied to pitching practice.   You warmed for 20, now throw 10 inside corner, then 10 outside corner, then 10 in, end so on.   Variability is the key to avoiding boredom.

What I like to do when working out a pitcher is have her warm, then work vague areas on the inside and outside, then move to a third layer of practice in which she tries to throw 10 inside on the plate, then 10 inside off the plate, 10 outside on, 10 outside off, and then start to wind things up or down by hitting one of each at a time.   You can have her face theoretical batters in a game situation in which each location is a strike and anything else is a ball.   By the way, in these scenarios, anything into the red X zone is a homerun!

I believe that practicing merely inside and out is very limited and can result in much boredom.   Before long, your inside on and off, etc. practice will get very boring too. &nb sp; Even before your pitcher has mastered her command in and out, on and off, you should add further variability.   I would start with the grid boxes in the strike zone.   I would also choose the places which will provide the greatest benefit to actual pitching.   If you go back to your first layer of grid with the numbers placed into the boxes, these would be the, to a righty batter: up and in or 3-a; down and away or 1-c; anything up on the 3 line; or anything low on the 1 line.

You next layer of practicing ought to involve the full spectrum of possible locations within the two first layers of the grids.   The pitcher should work to hit spots within the strike zone, up, middle or down, in, over or out.   Then she should move on to throwing pitches right outside the zone up, down, etc.   It probably best to work in these diverse locations over several weeks, perhaps months, assuming about 4 practice sessions per week.

There is never a need to be overly concerned with a pitcher's inability to hit spots or hit all the spots soon after beginning to work in this way.   Command is, like mechanics, a career long project.   But so many pitchers are trained and worked without any regards to locations that I want to at least go over the subject in some details on my meaningless blog.   Pitchers need to work locations so they have relatively good command.   If nobody ever works this into the practice sessions an d makes sure a good number of practice iterations occur, there is little chance she'll just naturally learn to do this on her own.

So, now let's assume a pitcher and her coach / practice catcher / father / mother learned fundamental mechanics, got to the point where she threw her fastball pretty well, is working on getting other pitches game ready but relies about 70-90% on the fastball, has practiced location and can now throw them pretty well, what is she to do with this ability?

First of all, what we want to do is make sure not to pound one particular location over and over again.   In 12U travel ball, many pitchers ply their trade hitting the outside and low corner.   They can get away with this because hitters mostly do not make many adjustments at that age.   A coach can tell his lineup of 9 to move closer to the plate in order to defeat this strategy and perhaps 4 or 5 of the girls will actually do that.   But from 14U on up, hitters do make adjustments whether they are instructed to do so by a coach or not.   So the 12U pitcher with decent command can get away with pounding the outside corner byut sooner or later she'll face good hitters and they will hit that.   When she ages up to 14U, most hitters will adjust to constantly banging the outside.

What you can do in order to avoid hitters making successful adjustments against you is to work the full zone or work particular parts of it to open up certain other zones.   Want to get the hitter out down and away, use your inside and high location.   Want to get her out up and in, try up and out.   Set the hitters up so they are never sure where you are going to throw the pitch.   If you do that, you might just be able to get 21 hitters out with just your down and away stuff or whatever.   You just have to work the other locations so they are guessing as to where you might be throwing this next pitch.

On yet another level, you must learn to be imperfect.   That is, you must learn and practice to throw pitches that are balls.   You should always start games throwing a strike or two though on the edges so you can begin to delineate exactly where the strike zone is for both you and the umpire.   But you are really going to want to learn to hit spots outside the zone.

Hitters come to the plate with their own idea of where the strike zone is and is not.   They also have their own particular sweet spots where they love to hit the ball.   Additionally, they have their own particular weaknesses for pitches outside the zone where, under certain circumstances like 0-2, runners in scoring position or whatever, that they simply cannot help themselves from swinging at bad pitches.   Your job as pitcher is to be capable of executing pitches to each of the targets you have in your head, to discern where the strike zone is and is not, to keep hitters off balance by moving it around, and learning where your opponents hot and cold zones are.   We'll leave styles of hitting and their fundamental strengths and weaknesses for another day.   We don't have time to go over every possible adjustment the hitter might make.   Right now we are focused on the pitcher learning to be able to hit the spots in each of our layers within the grid we created in our minds or on paper.   if you can throw only a fastball but have reasonably good speed and can hit these targets, you have a lot.   You can be an effective pitcher with just these tools.   If you are a coach working with limited pitching talent and you train your pitchers only in this aspect of their craft, without touching their mechanics or trying to teach them a pitch when you are not otherwise a competent pitching instructor, chances are pretty good your pitchers, your team, and you will survive the season.

There are a couple important peripheral issues I would like to address regarding this piece.   One is the issue of dealing with under-skilled catchers.   On many teams other than our highly competitive travel club with catchers who go to instructors or otherwise really know how to be good receivers, we, the pitchers will have to deal with catchers who do not set targets beyond down the middle.   Pitchers should drill not only locations when the practice catcher is setting targets.   What I like to do with my pitchers is have them hit some targets using the glove as aim point and then try to hit those targets when the glove is situated right down the pipe.   It isn't enough to merely be able to hit spots.   You';ve got to be able to form a mental picture of the desired pitch location and then hit it regardless of where the catcher is.   So please practice that.

The second issue involves pitching in accordance with the count and game situation.   If the count is 0-2, I never want you to throw the ball into the zone, particularly not the red X box.   I want you to throw what should be called a ball though not a pitch so miserable your grandmother wouldn't swing at it.   When the count is in 0-2, you have at least 2 opportunities to throw a really good pitch which barely grazes or just misses the strike zone the ump is calling that day.   This is what we call "expanding" the zone.   You do not want an 0-2 pitch to be hittable.   The batter can hit it but she cannot hit it beyond the infield and it will be an easy out if she does put it into play.

0-1 and 1-2 are other counts in your favor.   They just aren't quite as good as 0-2.   Still, you have at least one opportunity to make a really good pitch without falling behind the batter and needing to groove one to get a strike.   Take the opportunity.

We never want to go 3-1 or 3-2 on the hitter because the options are limited.   But going 1-1 on an 0-1 count or 2-2 on a 1-2 count are totally acceptable.   We do not want to ever give up a big extra base hit on 0-2 and 1-2 counts.   The count provides opportunities to make good pitches and if we do not endeavor to do that, we will get hit.

Likewise, game situation dictates much of what we try to do out there in the circle.   Being ahead in the count with a 7 run lead in the last inning might dictate that we throw something down the pipe.   Similarly, being way behind, at risk of being run rules, might prevent us from being aggressive with pitch location because we cannot afford to walk a batter.   These are elements of pitching which we cannot necessarily control.   Situations can limit our choices.   But if our team coaches are telling us to throw the ball down the pipe for their own reasons, that doesn't mean we have to listen.   Nobody is so perfect that they can throw one into the red X box at will 100% of the time.   Coaches shouldn't ever do this to pitchers but they do.   Pitchers need to ignore these kinds of instructions and throw to where they think they should throw, even during batting practices!

The final issue is that circumstance we all hate to see where the ump has established an invisible pipe into which, for whatever reason, he or she wants the pitcher to throw.   Of course, if you want to get a called strike, you are going to have to roll the ball right into that pipe.   But let's not forget this is only for a called strike.   That pipe does not prevent a batter from swinging.

Batters come to the plate, as i said, with their own notion of where the strike zone is.   Their perceptions are altered by the count and game situation.   You want to get ahead and probably need to throw a pitch down the ump's pipe to get a call but not every first pitch to each batter should be there.   If you struck this batter out or she hit a double off you, you need to perhaps throw one outside that pipe.   if you are ahead in the count, you should try to throw one inside that first layer of boxes but not the red X box where the ump is calling strikes.   You are stuck with the ump's invisible pipe but you do not have to throw there.   Just remember to move the ball around, work the count while keeping it in your favor, stay away from hot zones for really good hitters, and make lemonade out of lemons.

OK, I thought this would be a short one.   I wasn't sure how I could fill up a whole piece with simple location stuff.   I guess I was wrong.   The important things to take away today are: you should envision the strike zone as the rulebook lays it out, add to it zones or boxes just outside the book zone, and then add on additional boxes beyond those.   Pitchers should practice hitting these spots, all of them.   They should practice hitting such spots whether the catcher's glove is there or not.   Coaches with little pitching talent should focus on this aspect of pitching in order to survive.   Pitchers need to consider count and game situation when calling locations but regardless of any of that, no fat pitches on 0-2, please!   Pitchers will practice hitting locations in their lessons and practice sessions but they also need to practice this in games, against real hitters.   If you find yourself playing against some really bad hitting team or throwing batting practice, that is a great time to work on this.   As always, I hope this adds a little something to your game.

Permanent Link:  Practice To Be ... "Imperfect"

Make That Play Anyway

by Dave
Monday, April 26, 2010

You slide into second and beat the throw by quite a large margin.   The SS or 2B gathers the incoming throw and tags you hard with her glove.   You wonder why the heck she did that.   It wasn't necessary.   You were safe by a mile.   Was she just busting your chops?   Should you bust back?   Hold the phone!   Calm down, take a moment, and learn something.

The other day I was watching a high school game between two rivals.   One was in the midst of a rally which just might have broken the thing open.   A batter had just drilled a ball into the right-center gap, driving in 2 with what appeared to be an easy double.   She rounded first, sprinted towards second and slid hard.   The outfielder made a pretty good play on the ball, wheeled, and through a strike to second.   The 2B was caught a little out of position, too far from the bag.   The throw might have nailed the runner had she been there but as it was, she caught the ball just as the runner was beginning her slide.   The 2B could have just gathered the ball and tossed it to the P but instead, probably with a little anger in her heart, she dove towards the baserunner.   She didn't quite get there.   She was a few feet short.   But she dove nonetheless.

As eyes in the stands moved from the potential play at second back towards the center of the diamond and relaxed, something odd happened.   The field umpire, who some feared might have become a cadaver, moved.   The gentleman was, to be quite honest, a little too old, overweight, tired, and lazy to move into a better position to view the play.   We figured he knew the play the 2B had attempted had little possibility of success so he remained unmoving because he just might be able to hold this position for yet another pitch.   But he flinched.   Then there was more substantial movement.   We all gasped as it looked as if he might ring her up and ring her up he did.   He punched that runner right out despite it not being a particularly close play!

You really never know what an umpire is capable of.   Many are quite good and many are not.   Some have exceedingly poor vision.   Some are veterans of levels of play at which calls are made in approximation of what might have happened.   This ain't the major leagues.   And even if it were, there are some fairly odd calls made there too.

So the moral of the story is, it is never silly to put that tag on the runner.   One should always conclude a play before handing the ball back to the P and getting set up for the next event.   A ball player does certain things and never takes things for granted.

For example, a grounder is hit someplace in the infield.   The runner sprints for the bag but the throw beats her by a good second.   She sees the 1B make the catch well in advance of her arrival.   She sees the 1B's foot clearly in contact with the bag.   She could let up, break down her run and head back for the dugout.   But she shouldn't.   Instead, she should continue running as hard as she can, step on the bag and finish.   Then she should turn to the ump and see that he or she is punching her out.

I have witnessed plays in which the 1B clearly had the ball for long enough for most umps to ring up an out and, then, in a terrible moment, the thing spurts free from the glove.   At this point, it is 50/50 as to whether the ump will rule the catch as good or not.   But if the runner stops and the 1B picks up the ball, all bets are off and the runner will be out.

That';s an easy one since most coaches at any level, from rec 8U up to college, will not tolerate this from their players.   A more difficult one is when the runner is safe and then the 1B catches the throw.   Most often, she turns to the pitcher and tosses the ball to her.   Why?   What's the rush?   Why not wait for the runner to come back to the bag and then hit her with your glove?   You may have seen her run through the bag, turn in the supposed right direction and in no way make any movement as if to go to second.   On the other hand, you have no idea what the ump might have seen.   That girl might have missed the bag or turned as if to go to second and the ump saw it that way.   If you tag her before returning the ball to the pitcher, you may get a freebie for your team.

Similarly, on every single play in which a baserunner tags up, you ought to make an appeal as a matter of habit.   Are you really that sure that the runner tagged up legally?   Do you know whether the umpire perhaps harbors some resentment against your opponent, the coach's wife, maybe somebody in the crowd who he or she wrongly thinks is with that team?   Did the ump see something you didn't.   Did the ump hallucinate?   Did he or she maybe suffer some sort of mental hiccup?   We all can fall victim to this every once in a while.   Give me one good reason not to appeal every single tag up that occurs in your games.   What motivation do you have for not appealing?

We all have seen those times when an ump stands or squats motionless staring at the play while we wait for his call.   He or she sees the ball is still in the player's glove, then and only then he or she rings up the out.   The ump is merely waiting to be sure.   They are watching your every move to see if you have the ball or not.   Their view is most likely somewhat obscured.   Even if the ball is out of your glove and on the ground, get it and then hold it up like you had it the whole time.   Even if the base coach starts screaming the ball is on the ground, that doesn't mean the ump can see it.   Grab it, quickly, and don't make any obvious moves that will validate the base coach's charges.   Just pick it up and look nonchalant in the act.

When you don't drop the ball, before you so much try to get up, hold up your glove and show the ump that you have it.   Get in the habit of doing that even when it should be obvious to anyone.   You don't know when that idiotic third base coach is going to level his charges that "it's on the ground!"   Show the ump you have the ball before that guy can so much as open his mouth.   That goes for every play whether force or not.   Show the ump you have the ball cleanly, ALWAYS.

Coaches, parents, players, have you ever been standing on base when all of a sudden you observed yourself make that most idiotic of maneuvers, you step off with the wrong foot?   You caught yourself just as you did when you once dropped that cup of coffee or hot dog but you couldn't stop your body from moving.   You think, "what was I thinking?"   But you cannot answer the question.   And it really doesn't matter because it happened before you knew it.   Actually, in the grand scheme of things, this sort of thing doesn't matter to anyone EXCEPT the girl holding the ball in her mitt.   If she has made a habit of always holding onto that ball for two or three seconds longer than she needs to and perhaps applying a tag or two, well maybe, just maybe, once in her lifetime she is going to have an umpire scream OUT or make a punching motion as he calls that runner out.   if that is during a meaningless scrimmage, then so be it, although her coach may be impressed with her lack of ability to ever give up.   That moment might just make her a starter.   But what if that moment happens to be in a tight game during the sectionals, conference championship, travel elimination game or state playoffs?

Have you ever been involved with or close enough to observe a big play at the plate?   I'm sopeaking of those plays which are not quite collisions but really just bump and fall incidents.   Maybe the ball comes lose.   Maybe the runner gets tied up into a knot with the C.   I have seen many of these in which the runner never touched the plate or at best, just grazed it.   What actually happened?   How did the ump see it?   Are you 100% certain about anything on these plays?   If you are the runner, you should casually walk over and step on the plate with both feet.   If you are the catcher, you should retrieve the ball, make sure nothing else pressing is going on and then sprint to that runner and tag her, EVERY time.

There are many strange plays in this game of fastpitch softball.   We can't control many of them.   But we should endeavor to get the out no matter what the cost might be to us in terms of embarrassment.   Tag and tag again.   Why not?   Dive after that baserunner even if it is not that close.   You don't know if the ump will see things in your favor bu8t there is no cost to you or your team of doing something like this.   And sometime, a play like this is going to turn freakishly in your favor.   So make a habit of these things!   Make that play anyway!

Permanent Link:  Make That Play Anyway

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