If you’ve followed this blog you might know that I like to break the fielding process down into smaller phases for instructional and evaluating purposes. Each phase works in conjunction with the others, but one could be argued as the most influential in turning groundballs into outs. That phase is the approach phase. The approach phase is our reaction to the hit ball up until we field it; our route to the baseball.
Clearly not all groundballs are created equal. They’ll all place a different level of demand on us in order to record the out. As an infielder we need to recognize the ball speed, ball direction, game situation as well as anticipated hops the ball will take and make a split decision on the approach we need to take to the ball. The approach we choose will determine the type of fielding posture we use (routine, forehand, backhand, etc.) and put our bodies in the best position to make a throw post field. No matter our fielding posture an ideal approach in a perfect world would include:
- Quick, efficient steps
- Momentum toward the target
- Gradual decent in posture
- Arrive to field in rhythm
All of those characteristics of an ideal approach are what one might call a routine play. Those are the plays that are turned into out most often. Unfortunately, it’s not a perfect world and the ball doesn’t always cooperate and get hit within a few steps of us. The best infielders are able to apply as many of those characteristics on balls hit at greater speeds and distances from them. The more of these characteristics you’re able to apply to a groundball the greater chance you’ll have to turn it into an out.
Lets dive into the characteristics of an ideal approach:
Quick, Efficient Steps
We need to get to the ball as quick as possible so that will require quick steps. Quick steps alone aren’t good enough. Your steps must place you in an efficient route to the ball so understanding your angles is crucial.
Momentum toward the target
Momentum toward the target can look different depending on the location of the groundball. The routine balls, or balls hit right at us, will allow us to get our glove shoulder outside of the ball. This give us a view of the speed and hops of the ball but it also allows us to work our bodies back through the ball toward our target. Generating momentum this way will aid in our throw after fielding the ball. Other times, particularly in the backhand direction, we can’t get our glove shoulder outside of the ball and work back toward our target. To make these as routine as possible it’s important to beat the ball to a spot and work through it as much as possible.
Gradual decent in posture
We want to think of our posture as an airplane in it’s landing pattern. We want to gradually lower into a fielding position; land the airplane. We don’t want any crash landings. By landing the airplane we remain under control and smooth into a fielding position. This will prevent our eyes from bouncing and throwing off our depth perception of the ball.
Arrive to field in rhythm
Arriving to field in rhythm means we’re under control and we’ve time up our collision with the ball and it’s hop. Our feet are able to easily transition from approach to field and ultimately into the throw. Arriving in rhythm allows for a smooth, calm, relaxed flow in between the different phases of fielding.
As mentioned earlier not all groundballs are created equal and you won’t be able to apply all of the approach characteristics to every ground ball. The balls hit within a few feet from us are easier to apply these and get outs. The balls where we have to use a crossover step start to get a little more difficult to apply all of the characteristics but it’s still very possible. It’s the balls where we have to sell out for that become hard to incorporate most of the approach characteristics. On these balls we need to simply do what we can to make a play. With practice and development we can begin to apply more characteristics to a wider range of groundball types and turn more chances into outs.