As a young player starting out in youth baseball, the concept of base running mainly involves knowing which base to run to and how to advance on a ball in play. As you move to a more competitive level, however, running the bases becomes just as important as other elements of baseball. What’s the proper way to slide? How do you execute a successful hit and run? When should you advance from first to third or second to home?
Dusty Taylor, an instructor for D-Bat Austin, a baseball and softball training facility outside Austin, Texas, sums up the value of base running this way: “If you can’t run the bases, you can’t score runs.”
Sounds obvious, right? But coaches and players tend to save base running until the end of practice, which is already rushed due to time constraints. But a team that is smart on the bases can separate itself from the rest of the pack.
Taylor, a former second baseman at Howard Payne University in Brownwood, Texas, offers tips for 7 situations that experienced youth and high school players can use to elevate their base running skills.
1) Diving back on a pickoff attempt. Watch for the pitcher to lift his back heel. Once his heel lifts up, open up with your left foot and drive off your right foot and dive to the base’s back corner that’s closest to you, or the right-field side. To protect your face, turn your head away from the play, then see if the pitcher made a bad throw, allowing you to hop up and run to second.
2) Sliding. When stealing or advancing to a base, slide into the back part of the bag, or the farthest point away from the play. If an infielder comes to the inside of the bag, for example, slide to the outside. If he comes up the line on the back side, slide inside. Unless you are experienced in executing a belly slide, it’s usually best to go in feet first.
3) Using the hit-and-run. This is different from stealing. Take off once you see the pitcher throwing to home plate. About three-quarters down the line, look to make sure the hitter is swinging to protect you.
4) Advancing from first to third. It’s important to know if the outfielders are playing shallow or deep. If they’re farther back, always watch your base coach, who can see more of the play than you can. If he gives you the go-ahead to third, hit the second-base bag on the inside corner, preferably with your outside leg, in stride. This will keep your momentum and acceleration going to third.
5) Tagging up from second. In most cases, you won’t tag up and go to third on a fly ball to left field, since the outfielder would have a shorter distance to make a throw. Your chances are better with balls hit to center or right field. On grounders, you would advance only if the ball is hit behind you.
6) Scoring from second. Take off once you see the ball get through. As in going from first to third, look to your base coach for instructions, and use the same running technique, hitting the third-base bag on the inside corner with your outside leg.
7) Scoring from third. It’s more difficult for a runner to see a fly ball to left than to center or right field, so always go back to third and listen for your base coach to tell you to go. Once the ball is caught in center or right field, take off toward home. If the infield is playing up, run toward home only if the ball gets through. If they’re playing deeper, attempt to score only on ground balls up the middle to shortstop or second base.
Mastering the fine points of base running may seem overwhelming. But like any other skill, constant practice can add a whole new element to your game, and make your team better in the process.
From GameChanger and Stephen Kerr.