High school baseball coaches in northern climates know well the restrictions on outdoor practice time in the preseason and early season.
John Haldeman, who is in his fourth season on the coaching staff at Central High School in St. Paul, Minnesota, likes to use indoor practice time to go over particular situations that could pop up at key spots in the season.
Haldeman is coaching the junior varsity this season after three seasons as freshman coach. Early in the year, he spends time teaching and coaching his players at St. Paul Central the way of handling various infield and base-running situations.
In addition to using indoor hitting cages, Central has gym space for practice.
“If you have enough space for a simulated infield, you can go over base-running offense, and defense,” Haldeman said.
In a short high school season, a handful of key scenarios — each with the chance to go a long way toward determining a win or a loss — may only come up a few times each.
The limited available outdoor practice sessions tend to be used for full-field drills, hitting, etc. So, Haldeman takes the indoor time to get reps in on infield scenarios.
“One of the things we’ll do is just set up certain situations,” Haldeman said. “On a first-and-third play, what is the pitcher doing? We’re going through it step-by-step in a slow fashion first.
“We make sure any of those positions — shortstop, second base, pitcher, catcher — that is really involved in that play knows exactly what is going on.”
Responsibilities are explained, then practiced.
“We’ll go through them three or four times at a slow pace,” Haldeman said. “Then, we’ll go full speed and make sure those decisions are coming more instinctually, as opposed to really worrying about it.
“Then, when we’ve done everything about 10 times, we’ll know what to do when that guy takes off from first base.”
By going through each player’s reaction in detail, Haldeman hopes to have each of the players ready and aware of their next move when one of those first-and-third possibilities unfolds in front of them in the weeks ahead.
“It’s a time for teaching when you can really go over some of those little details that if you were outside the whole time, you really might not go through because you have space to do so much more,” Haldeman said. “They’re important parts of the game that, two to three times a season, you run into those kinds of plays.
“It’s a great time to really be able to address certain situations, really run through them ad nauseum until the kids have it down so that when it comes up in the middle of a five-game week, we don’t blow it.”
In addition to first-and-third scenarios from both the running and defensive standpoint, bunt coverage is another that works well in that indoor space and practice scenario.
“Setting up your different bunt plays, whether it’s a third-base cover, a first-base cover, a wheel bunt play, whatever it may be, you’re making sure, again, that everybody knows their specific position,” Haldeman said.
The tighter confines give the coach the time to teach the players at each position the details they may not have as much time to go over when games dominate the schedule later.