I’ve just started reading ABC’s of Excellence by Jack Leggett. It’s a collection of common characteristics, traits, lessons learned, sayings, and experiences that aim to help develop the reader as a leader. Of course with his 38 years of coaching baseball he’s able to put together quite the list of references to each letter of the alphabet and relate them to leading a baseball team while promoting a culture of excellence. During my reading I thought it would be a fun exercise to come up with a similar list for an infielder and infield play. As I took a break from reading I went about the day and thought of some ways to fill each letter of the alphabet with my own common characteristics, traits, beliefs, habits, and skills of an infielder and slowly created my list. It’s far from an all encompassing list but hey it’s a start!
So with lots of inspiration from Coach Leggett’s book, here is my ABC’s of Infield Play:
Understand the situation around you. Absorb as much information as the game gives you and use it to put yourself in the best position to make plays. Think the game through.
“The next ball will be hit to me.” Anticipate hops and what could possibly happen on this next pitch. Get a mental headstart on the ball and play.
The second phase of the Fielding Process. Our pathway to the ball. Our approach should not only allow us to get to the ball as quickly as possible, but it should also put us in the best position to field and make a throw.
Athletics are all about body control. Being able to perform as many skills as possible while remaining balanced gives ourselves the best chance to make plays.
Develop your skill set around the bag whether it’s on force plays, double play pivots, or tag plays. Get comfortable in all situations to turn opportunities into outs.
Remain calm and under control. Stay within yourself when the game speeds up. Remain where your feet are and control what you can. Let the rest go.
Don’t be afraid to take some calculated risks and leave it all out there. There’s a fine line between aggression and recklessness. Toe that line without crossing over to the reckless side.
The smallest details can have the biggest impact.
Efficiency movements are effective movements. Move correctly and get our body in the correct positions consistently.
Two things that should never take the day off. One of the few things on the field we can control. Bring it!
Our feet are our foundation for everything we do. It needs to be quick, balanced, rhythmic and efficient in an array of skills.
The funnel glove action involves giving with a groundball only about 4 inches. Promotes soft and smooth hands.
Part of the Fielding Process when we secure the ball.
The Gather is the 4th phase of the Fielding Process that allows for a transition from fielding to throwing. Allows for establishing distance and direction toward the target while maintaining momentum. Sync up your feet and arm action.
Need to be soft, relaxed, quick, and versatile. Develop different glove actions (funnel and push thru) to prepare for any hop.
Short, In-Between Short, In-Between Long, & Long. Understand the hop to hands relationship. Seek out the friendly hops (short and long) and turn the unfriendly (In-Between short & long) into friendly.
Have a purpose and pour everything you have into every rep you take. Quality reps over rep quantity.
Practice journaling as a way to reflect on past performance and to direct future training.
Keep it in perspective
Remember baseball is what you do; it’s not who you are. I’ll paraphrase John Thompson and put it in baseball terms; don’t let the sum total of your existence be 5 ounces of rubber, cork, yarn, and leather.
Low (Play low)
Work from the ground up. Low to high and you won’t go wrong.
Own the time between pitches, have routines, control the controllables.
Nose to the ball
It triggers getting behind the ball when receiving, whether it’s a ball on the ground or in the air. It gets your eyes in line with your glove and the ball to see it all the way in. Ball, glove, eyes.
Be on the constant quest for knowledge. You’re always a work in progress. Listen to different perspectives, adjust and apply to fit your game and beliefs.
A glove action of take the pocket of the glove thru the ball in the direction the ball came from. It cuts down the distance and height of unfriendly hops. It’s best suited for one handed fielding.
Prep (Prep step)
The first phase of the Fielding Process that allows us to get the best jump on the ball as possible. Get your cleats out of the ground and land as the ball enters the hitting zone. Be on time every pitch. Too early and you break your momentum. Too late and you’re playing catch up.
Know the playbook and your responsibilities in every situation. Be in the correct spot at the correct time in cuts & relays, bunt defense, 1st & 3rd, as well as pre pitch positioning.
Develop quickness and agility to help increase your range to give yourself a chance to turn a greater number of opportunities into outs.
Move with a pattern, timing, and flow in relation to and through the ball. Make it look smooth.
Have pre-practice, pre-game, pre-pitch and error recovery routines to help establish normalcy in the good times and bad.
Develop the ability to receive the ball in a variety of ways that will lead to ball security and allow for a transition into a throw. Master different groundball glove actions, the catch, catch & exchange, and deflect.
Security (Ball security)
Receive the ball in the glove sweet spot for that particular receiving action (either in the pocket or the base of the pointer finger) for the most control of the ball. The ball is precious. When it hits our glove we need to control it.
Expand your toolbox (skillset) so that you’ll be ready to make the play no matter the demands the ball places on you.
Throw & Follow
The final phase of the Fielding Process. Throw using a short arm action and follow your throw to help ensure a true flight of the ball .
Cocky in your thoughts, confident in your actions, humble in your words.
Be able to play multiple positions, throw from various arm slots, field in various postures, use multiple foot platforms. Be the infield version of a Swiss Army Knife.
W. I. N. (What’s Important Now)
The mindset and thought process needed to play with the next pitch mentality. Forget what just happened and move on to the next pitch whether the last pitch was good or bad. So what? Who cares? Move on!
Don’t solely rely on the reps you receive at a 2-3 hour team practice. Take pride in your craft. Go early or stay late to maintain or sharpen your skillset.
It is your career. Not your coaches. Not your parents. Not your teammates. Yours. Take ownership in your development. Seek answers. Seek clarification. Seek understanding.
Play with a passion, liveliness, enthusiasm, bounce, spirit, & energy. It makes the game more fun and it can permeate to your teammates. A team full of zest is a tough team to beat.