In a past post I discussed the importance of the ready position and the first step as an infielder. If an infielder has a good reaction and the first step to the baseball, it will a) help him increase his range and b) help put himself in a better position to field groundballs. The most important part of fielding a ground ball is being able to read and get “good hops.” A good reaction and first step will put an infielder into a position where he can read the baseball and get the hop he wants. A bad first step can put an infielder into a position where he doesn’t get the hop he wants and more importantly cannot handle the baseball on a consistent basis.
Ultimate Goal of the Route to the Baseball
After an infielder has reacted and taken his first step, his goal is to field the baseball as close to home plate as possible while getting his momentum heading towards first base. This means that, if possible, you always want to be going forward toward the baseball. At the same time, you want to do everything possible to get the approaching baseball on the left side of your body so you can begin to get your body’s direction heading toward first base. I will talk about specific routes to a ball hit at an infielder’s left, right, and directly at him below.
Why do we want to field a ball close to home plate and going towards first base? An infielder wants to charge baseballs for a few different reasons. First, going to the baseball will keep an infielder aggressive. This will allow him to field the baseball during the hop he chooses. If he waits back, he may get an in-between hop and there is a good chance it will “eat him up.” The second reason why an infielder wants to charge the baseball is because as he advances in levels, the players get faster and faster. Sitting back on baseballs while a player is young will be a very hard habit to break when he is older and will lead to runners beating groundballs out.
The reason it is important for the infielder to get his momentum going towards first base is because it gets the infielders weight going in the direction he is going to throw. This will allow for more consistent accuracy with more velocity on the throws.
Routine Ball Hit Right at the Infielder
On a ball hit right at the infielder, the infielder should react with a first step that puts the path of the ball on the left side of his body. Immediately getting the path of the baseball on the left side of the body helps the infielder do two things. First, it puts him in a position to be able to “round” the baseball and get his momentum heading towards first base. Second, it is much easier to judge the baseball’s hops when the infielder is looking at it from the side versus looking at the baseball head on. Looking head on, it is very hard to see the distance the ball is traveling each time it hits the ground. From just off to the side, you can tell where the ball is going to bounce and are better able to get the hop that you want.
Now that the infielder has the path of the baseball on the left side of his body, he should continue to attack the baseball in a “banana” route. The “banana” route will allow the infielder to continually go towards the baseball, while at the same time gradually get his momentum heading towards first base.
Routine Ball Hit to the Infielder’s Left
On a ball hit to the infielder’s left, the infielder can take a direct path to the point where he will field the ground ball going toward first base. Out of all of the balls hit, this is the easiest path to take since the infielder does not need to get around the baseball.
Routine Ball to an Infielder’s Right
On a ball hit to the infielder’s right, the infielder needs to attack the baseball at an angle where he can eventually begin to round the baseball and get his momentum heading towards first base. The farther the ball is hit to the infielder’s right, the steeper his angle will have to be before he can begin to round the baseball.
The plays I have described above are routine balls. There are balls that are hit that take an infielder to the extreme right or left. If it is to the right, the infielder has to make a backhanded play and to the left, he has to either catch and spin or jump pivot. I will discuss these plays in future articles.
Getting to baseballs is all about taking the best angles possible. The best infielders take the sharpest angles they can to get the baseball close to the plate and heading towards first base. This allows them to get to balls quicker and helps them have more velocity on their throws, getting faster runners out. The only way the really good infielders know which angles to take on balls is by practicing taking groundballs during batting practice and off of a fungo at game speed. This is where they are able to test their reaction time, first step, and speed to see how sharp of an angle they are able to take. On the other hand, a person that does not practice taking good angles cannot be as good of an infielder as his ability will let him. He will not be able to throw a runner out on the same balls the good infielder can, simply because he takes poorer angles and fields the ball closer to the outfield grass.