First base play instruction is often over looked in practice. Many think that the position is for the player with a big bat that might not have the ability to play another position. Now this may be the case for some, but in those cases I’d be willing to bet that the infield play of that team will struggle. Because behind every good infield is a good first baseman. The first baseman will touch the ball more than any other infielder on the field. Not having someone over that that can handle the defensive responsibilities should be the “old way” of thinking.
Quality first base play, as with every other aspect of infield play, begins with the feet. Organized and efficient footwork sets the tone for success. I’ve recently had a change of philosophy in the way I teach bag footwork in favor of simplicity. This change came after I heard Perry Hill, Seattle Mariners infield coach, speak on the topic. However, just like every other aspect of the game there more than one way to get the job done. Some like to find each corner of the base and move their throwing side foot to the point on the base closest to the reception point of the throw. This was how I had taught 1B bag footwork. There is a lot of moving parts and, just like with a swing, the more moving parts there are the better the timing of those moving part must be. Not to mention that there is more that can go wrong with all of the moving parts.
Here are the 3 checkpoints that I’ve began using to teach 1B footwork to keep it simple:
1. Find the bag
Ball is hit on the ground and you, the first baseman, break to the bag. No matter if you’re left handed or right handed you’ll find the bag with your left foot (except on that ball deep in the 3-4 hole, find it with the right foot). Finding the bag with the left foot will ensure that you open yourself up to the field. Opening up towards the field will ensure that your eyes know where the ball is at all times. Using your right foot to find the bag will force your to turn toward foul territory.
Right handed first baseman will find the bag with their left foot and then replace with the right foot to prepare for the throw. When lefties find the bag with their left foot they’re ready to prepare for the throw which is the next checkpoint.
2. Find your initial hold point
The hold point is the spot on the bag that you remain in contact with your foot. I’m not sold on one specific initial hold point. Starting in the center edge of the bag will allow you to potentially get the most out of your stretch in each direction. Having an initial hold position on one corner of the bag, like suggested by Perry Hill, could help get to certain throws a little easier and also will cut down on the directions your hold foot might have to slide on the base. He suggests the hold point will depend on whether you’re a lefty or righty. Each initial hold point will be on one corner of the bag, specifically the corner of the base closest to your throwing side. For righties this means the corner closest to right field and for lefties it means the corner closest to home plate. The hold points are on these corners to give yourself and advantage on the throws to your throwing side. These are typically the more difficult throws to handle. I’m more in favor of having your initial hold position in the middle of the base and anticipating those more difficult throws to your throwing side.
Once you find your hold point, you need to have a sturdy base that is squared up to the throw. The sturdy base needs to be a part of an athletic stance as seen in IMAGE A. The athletic stance is universal to all sports. Your knees should be bent slightly and your chest should be up but over your knees. This position allows you be prepared for any type of throw that you receive.
Notice that the checkpoint says “initial hold point.” This means that your hold foot can and should move on the appropriate throw. If the throw calls for an extra stretch to one side or the other all you have to do is slide your foot to the nearest corner to the throw. I think having your initial hold point in the middle of the bag will give you good coverage in all directions and only slide your hold foot when it’s needed on those off target throws. Using this style of footwork eliminates extra movement of the feet as in the style described earlier.
3. Stretch and catch
In lower levels of ball you’ll see many first baseman that will stretch too early and miss judged the trajectory of the throw. This miscalculation causes them to reach “east or west” to catch the throw instead of reaching “north” directly toward their teammate that threw the ball. It’s important to read the trajectory of the throw so that we can stretch directly at the throw which allows us to catch the ball at its furthest point from the base. Think of trying to land your glove foot during the stretch as you receive the ball so it’s a stretch and catch; not a stretch then catch as seen in GIF A. Not only will the stretch and catch allow you to receive the ball at its furthest point from the base but it will keep you in a straight line. Staying in a straight line will allow our eyes to get behind the glove. Maintaining a ball, glove, eyes alignment will increase the success of catch, or pick, by allowing us to see the ball all the way into the glove.
As you stretch, your heel of the hold foot should rotate down so that it’s either flush with the bag or on the edge of the bag as seen in IMAGE B . This prevents potential injury if the runner steps on your elevated heel. This can be difficult at times when we have to pick a ball with a forehand motion, but it can be done.
As for the throws that are to our throwing side that requires us to establish a new hold point, it’s important to slide your foot on the bag before you stretch out of the ball. Slide your foot, establish a new hold point, and then stretch and catch. This eliminates extra steps and allows us to reach the ball at it’s furthest point which can mean the runner is out by half a step or safe by half a step.
These 3 checkpoints are the framework to first base footwork no matter what you believe is the correct way to navigate around the bag. The details following each checkpoint are my take on how to keep the footwork simple which eliminates overthinking. It’s my hope that this simple way to navigate the bag will help you, but if have other beliefs at least I hope you break it down and use these checkpoints to keep your way of doing things simple.