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Thinking of Diving into First? Why You Should Think Again

Sprinter Shaunae Miller of the Bahamas caused quite a stir when she dove across the finish line to win the gold medal in the women’s 400-meter run earlier this week at the Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games. Miller beat Allyson Felix by an eyelash, snatching certain victory from the American runner.

While diving or sliding across the finish line in a race isn’t illegal, it does raise safety concerns. Many track coaches don’t encourage it. After the race, Miller acknowledged she suffered a few cuts, bruises and burns as a result of her dive.

The same view is taken by most baseball coaches when it comes to running through first base versus diving or sliding. In theory, diving into the bag can be faster, as shown by ESPN Sports Science. However, our bodies don’t possess the precise timing to pull off such a slide.

Furthermore, it isn’t worth the safety risk. As pointed out by Toronto Blue Jays coach Luis Rivera in a 2014 article on MLB.com, runners tend to slide too late, jamming their fingers against the bag or get hurt while going over it.

Ephram Bailey, a certified Babe Ruth League coach, agrees.

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“The player will reach the base faster with a long stride rather than a slide,” he said. “The player significantly increases the chance of injuring their body, specifically their hands.”

Why, then, do players give in to the temptation to slide? At the major league level, the pressure to win is intense, and players do whatever they can to get a hit. Injuries to Michael Bourn, Josh Hamilton, and other big leaguers in recent years has underscored the risk factor isn’t worth the reward.

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Ryan Donahue, owner and instructor at Leadoff Baseball Academy in Smyrna, Tennessee, doesn’t see the practice too often at the youth level.

“There may be one or two scenarios where it would make sense,” he said. “Mainly, if it’s a pitcher covering and he’s running up the line with the batter to avoid a tag, I could see it. It shows the player is hustling. The other part of it, I believe, is (to them), it looks cool.”

Another reason to run through the bag is it’s more difficult to spot the ball after you leave your feet.

“At the youth level, where errors are more prevalent, a runner head slides into first base, the ball gets past the first baseman, and you’re stuck there,” he said. “You’ve got to take that extra time to get up and see where the ball landed.”

If a player chooses to slide into any base, Donahue says to do so with your feet, not your head, and keep your hand away from the bag as much as possible. It may slow you down a little, but it’s safer. No headfirst slide is worth injuring a finger or hand, especially at the Little League level, when a child’s body is still developing. If you do use your head to dive, it should be back to the base on a pickoff attempt, not into it.

“Depending on your athleticism, I would avoid sliding headfirst until you’re out of high school, unless you’re in a showcase or have the attention of some scouts,” Donahue said.

In other words, leave the reckless base running to the pros.

From GameChanger and Stephen Kerr. 

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Baseball, Softball

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