Making The Outfield Interesting For Youth Baseball
"Right field, it's easy, you know. You can be awkward and you can be slow. That's why I'm here in right field. Just watching the dandelions grow."
-Right Field By Peter, Paul & Mary
How true is it that we coaches almost always put our weakest players in the outfield during the season? We may have a good player in center field but left and right field are kind of “get the innings in” positions for part of the team. And for the players, it can get kind of boring. The three biggest threats to baseball are: soccer, lacrosse and boredom in the outfield. Coaches may not be able to make right field as popular as shortstop, but there are certain things we can do to help keep players' heads who reside beyond the infield dirt into the game.
Backing up is huge, and if explained correctly to all the team members, they will realize that the outfield can prevent one, two, or more extra bases if the outfield backs up correctly. One of the first things I teach my right fielder is if the batter squares into the bunting position, he should immediately get into a position to back-up the throw to the first baseman to field a possible errant throw. Say the batter is a righty and squares to bunt, the pitcher goes into his wind-up, the right fielder will immediately sprints toward the right field foul line. He then sprints forward to first base with his head up. He must see who will be fielding the bunt and then adjust the angle of his back up. The correct angle to back-up is extremely important and I always have one practice before the season starts just on the best angles to back-up the different situations and locations on the field. In this case, if the pitcher fields the bunt, the back-up angle by the right fielder will depend on whether the third baseman or catcher fields the bunt. In youth baseball, I cannot express how important it is that the back-ups don’t position themselves too close to the target fielder receiving the baseball. I’ve seen it time and again that players backing up are too close. The ball will go over the head of the target fielder as well as the back-up. Many times if the back-up is too close, he is screened out by the infielder and loses track of the baseball.
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Just as the right fielder backs up on a bunt with no one on base, I have my left fielder back-up the third baseman if a player is on second and tries to steal third base. Like the previous situation, the left fielder must run to the foul line and come in, but not too close. The importance of running to the foul line and not at an angle is to get the backup’s shoulders squared as soon as possible toward home plate so he can follow the flight of the baseball. This back-up has saved my team runs and games over the years. Coaches have to practice this and reinforce it in games yelling out and reminding the left fielder, “Tim, if the baserunner tries to steal third base, you have to back up up the throw. Remember not to come in too close.”
The center fielder must be involved backing up when a player tries to steal second base. Like the two previous examples, it is even more important here that he does not come in too close. With the shortstop covering the base and the second baseman backing him up, now there are two possibilities of being screened out of the play. lay. The center fielder has to really give enough space so he is able to follow and react to the baseball.
When there is a force out at second, my left and right fielder must back up according to who throws the baseball. If there is a player on first base and there is a grounder to the shortstop with the second baseman covering the base, the right fielder must move in quickly and position himself at the correct angle in case there is an over throw. If the ground ball is to the second baseman and the shortstop covers the bag, the left fielder now must back up the throw from the second baseman. As you can see, I am not only involving my outfielders in these back up situations, but I am keeping them more involved mentally.
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Another situation that occurs is when there is a baserunner on second base and the batter gets into the bunting position, but it is only a fake. A strategy used by coaches when the third baseman rushes in to cover the bunt and if the shortstop doesn’t rotate (or “wheel” over) is to have the baserunner on second steal third easily with nobody covering the bag. The defensive coach can keep his third baseman at the base and instruct his pitcher to field the bunts, or he can put on the “wheel”, having his shortstop cover third in order to prevent the stolen base. The other option is to have the left fielder sprint up when he sees the batter square and cover third base. This is another situation involving the outfielder more.
On rundowns, all the outfielders must move in closer in case of an overthrow. And in some rundown situations, the baseball hits the baserunner’s helmet and goes into a crazy direction. Outfielders who are closer rather than further from the action can help in this situation.
With these situations mentioned, it is extremely important to convince youth players that when they are backing up in the outfield, just stopping the baseball and not necessarily catching can be just as effective. Keep reminding your fielders of this, telling them they must always try to keep the baseball in front of them. Like everything else in coaching, it is much better to practice it than just reminding players in the field what to do if the situation comes up. Coaches must also evaluate their talent level and decide how much and how quickly to teach all the back up situations necessary for the outfielders. Remember, it is always better to under coach rather than over coach. The outfield in youth baseball can be boring, but coaches can instill the importance of playing any of the outfield positions and practice getting them more involved in as many plays as possible.
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