Pick It!: 1st Base Balls in the Dirt

I believe a great defensive first baseman can me an infield with average talent good and an infield with good talent great. If you’ve read any of my previous posts about first base play that shouldn’t come as a surprise. The effect they have on infield defense comes in how they prevent the error column in the score book from being a crooked number. They do that by handling errant throws from their teammates and turning them into outs.

In this post we’ll focus on picking the ball out of the dirt. We’ll pick it up from the point where they set up at the base. Read more about specific first base bag footwork here. So we’ve set up at the base, read the direction and trajectory of the throw and recognize that it’s going to be in the dirt, now what? Let’s break it down into two phases; preparation and execution.


Before we even get into a game situation that calls on us to make that pick we need to prepare for it. In order to prepare for it we need to know our own limits and skill set.

IMAGE A: Stretch Radius

The first step is to find our stretch radius. To do this we need to stretch from the base to see how far our stretch reaches from the base going up the foul line towards home plate and all the way around, in fair territory, to the foul line towards right field as illustrated in IMAGE A. Make sure to stretch out and make a mark in the dirt so you can visualize your stretch radius in every possible direction. Knowing how far we stretch can help determine which ball we need to go get to pick at the short hop or when we need to give the hop some distance to turn in to a long hop.

Next, we need to understand our preferred pick side; forehand or backhand. Which side do you handle picks successfully more often? Which side are you more comfortable picking the ball? Whatever side you’re most comfortable with should be the side that you try to use most often, as long as the ball allows for it. You’ll want to see how many different throws you can turn into your preferred pick side. For example, I’m right handed and prefer the backhand pick. I know that I’m comfortable using the backhand on throws from roughly 11 o’clock to 3 o’clock. Throws from 11 o’clock to 9 o’clock are my forehand picks. Test it out to see your range of preferred pick.


We’ve prepared and know our game as well as our preferences so now it’s time to go execute in a game. Use the following to help pick it:

  1. Read the ball direction and trajectory to determine if the ball will be a short hop or long hop based on your stretch radius.
  2. Step to the ball with your glove foot so that you set yourself up for either a forehand or backhand pick. If the ball allows, set yourself up for your preferred pick side.
  3. Get as low as possible. Try to get beneath the hop with your eyes. This gets your face in the action so you can see the ball all the way into the glove. Think of having the ball, your glove, and your eyes all in line. Seen in GIF A.
  4. Match the plane of the ball with your glove and push thru the ball in that plane as long as possible, seen in GIF A. Think of this as the defensive version of matching the plane of the pitch while hitting. It gives us more of an opportunity for success.
GIF A: video courtesy of MLB

Forehand vs. Backhand Picks

At some point or another every first baseman has to use both the forehand and backhand picks. With that said both need to be in your toolbox, however, they aren’t created equal. Looking at the cues above, I’d say the most important to the execution of a pick would be cue #4 that states we must match the plane of the hop and push thru it as long as possible. Essentially it says we need to put our glove where the ball is and keep it in it’s path as long as possible. No brainer. When looking at the forehand and backhand one of them tends to let us do that to a great extent than the other. The backhand, more so than the forehand, allows us to match the plane going from down to up but also while pushing thru the hop. The forehand has some limitations when it comes to matching the plane. Due to anatomy and biomechanics our glove will only be able to stay in plane with the ball for a shorter period of time or for a shorter window compared to the backhand. Not only does the backhand allows for a longer window of matching the ball’s plane but it allows us to do so while staying lower to the ground which helps with cue #3.

Behind every good infield is a great first baseman. First baseman should give confidence to their fellow infielders knowing that they don’t have to make a perfect throw in order to get the out. They do that by picking it! Prepare for the situations that call for a pick by knowing your game and your strengths when it comes to balls in the dirt. Then go out and execute your preparation .

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