In the last post, I discussed the importance of every infielder having a pre-pitch routine that he goes through to prepare himself for the next play. In this post, I will discuss the next phase, which is getting into the ready position and reacting to the baseball.
The Ready Position
Prior to the pitcher coming to a set position or beginning his wind-up, the infielders should be upright and relaxed. Being in a “ready” position too long will cause the player to tighten up and not be nearly as quick reacting to the baseball. Once the pitcher becomes set or begins his wind-up, the infielders can then begin to get into their ready position.
The ready position starts with the infielder beginning to bend at his waist and having some movement with his feet. It is important to have a forward bend at the waist early because if you are standing up at the waist as the ball is entering the contact zone, you have to bend your waist and then react. It is a wasted motion and will take up time. There are many different movements infielders do with their feet as they are getting into their ready position. Some infielders will take a small step forward with one foot and some will rock back and forth much like a tennis player getting ready to return a serve. As an infielder, you have to find what is comfortable for you and what puts you into a position that helps you explode quickly.
As the pitch is entering the contact zone, the infielder should take a small hop step. With the hop step, you should only get about an inch off of the ground. The infielder should land with a slight bend in the knee. The infielder’s legs will then act as a spring, helping him to react much quicker to the ball. It is much quicker to start when you are already in motion then it is to start from a dead stop. The timing of the landing is also very important. The infielder should be landing as soon as or slightly after contact has been made. This allows the reaction to be instantaneous. If the infielder lands too soon, he will lose all of the “spring” he gained from his hop step.
In this video, watch Starlin Castro, the shortstop in the Cub’s uniform, as he gets into his ready position. Notice his bend at the waist and then his small step with the left foot. He then has a small hop step and reacts to the baseball. Starlin Castro Video
The First Step
The first step that an infielder takes after the ball is hit is the most important step. It is crucial to perfect the first step because it will add range to the infielder, allowing him to get to more balls.
If a ball is hit to the infielders left, the infielder needs to simply push off with the left leg and cross over with the right. He would do the opposite if the ball was hit to his right. It is very important to not have a false step. A false step is when the infielder jabs with the left foot and then crosses over with the right. The jab step would take up time and not put the infielder any closer to the baseball.
If the ball is hit on the ground in front of the infielder, he should immediately take a step forward. This will allow the infielder to begin to get into the correct route to the baseball (which we will discuss more in the next article) as well as help him attack the baseball versus sitting back and allowing the baseball to “eat him up.”
Every time that there is contact made by the hitter, there should be a reaction by the infielder. For example, if a ball is hit in the air to right center, the shortstop should react with a crossover step towards the ball. There are a few different reasons why an infielder should do this. First, it will always keep the infielder reacting hard to balls off of the bat. Second, it will force the infielders to constantly work on their reaction and first step. The more they do it, the better they will become.
The ready position and first step will ONLY get better if you as an infielder make a conscious effort to improve it. Whenever you are taking ground balls off of a fungo or are taking ground balls off of live batting practice you MUST take the ground balls at your game speed. If you don’t get into a ready position and don’t take a good first step, you are not getting any better and are creating bad habits that WILL affect your game performance and ability to field ground balls!
The third post in this series on middle infield play will discuss the infielder’s route to the baseball.