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Build Baserunning Instincts

A baseball player who possesses good instincts is going to have an upper hand when it comes to game situations. That’s especially true when it comes to baserunning.
Rob Hamilton, the head baseball coach for the last 16 years at Sun Prairie (Wisconsin) High School, said instinct is one the most important attributes for a good baserunner.

“I think reading the angle off the bat right away and then reacting to it and letting your instincts go (is key),” Hamilton said.

Hamilton, who won five state WIAA Division 1 state championships in a 10-year span, said there are plenty of ways for a player to increase his baserunning ability in practice or during the offseason.

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Players can work on sprints, short and longer distances, jumping rope, and quickness and agility drills.

“Anything that’s going to help them with their explosion,” Hamilton said. “Doing steps or even just working on taking four or five hard steps and sprinting out as if you’re going to steal. Taking a few steps and then jogging back, and different things like that.”

For all the on-field drills a player can work on to get better on the basepaths, there is one thing a player can do off the diamond.

“Watching the game in that perspective,” Hamilton said. “Instead of just paying attention to what the hitter is doing, pay attention to the baserunners. There have been some really good baserunners that have that knack. I know our kids won’t remember Paul Molitor. But Paul Molitor was not the fastest baserunner, but he just had extremely good instincts as far as, 'When is that ball going to get caught or is that ball going to drop?'”

Hamilton said trying to simulate baserunning during different situations can be tough. But in his team’s practices during the spring, Hamilton always implements live baserunning in connection with live batting practice.

“You’re making sure you get that secondary lead and when the ball is hit, try to really focus on your instincts of, if that’s going to fall and you need to go,” Hamilton said. “We can’t wait for that ball to hit the ground before you realize that it’s going to hit the ground. That’s got to be one of those things where you’ve got to know obviously where the outfielders are and where the infielders are before the ball is hit. That’s something they can do pre-pitch. It’s too late afterwards.”

Reading the angle off the bat is critical. Repetition and, of course, instinct will help a player realize where the ball is going and what their next step should be on the basepaths.

“Is it going to be a ground ball? It is going to be a line drive? Is it going to be a fly ball?” Hamilton said. “What do you do on those? Do I need to get back and tag? Or do I need to stay and make sure it doesn’t get fielded by the shortstop in the hole so he’s going to throw me out at third?”

Hamilton said the more players can work in practice or on their own with baserunning during their freshman and sophomore years, the better off their instincts will be when they hit the varsity level. However, working on baserunning should be taught well in advance before a player enters high school.

“If you don’t start doing that sooner or later, then the kids never understand that if that ball is hit and the leftfielder is running to his left, he’s going to have a heck of a time having to stop and throw to third,” Hamilton said. “If I’m X amount of feet from second base, am I going to be able to round it and get to third on that?”

From GameChanger and Greg Bates.

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