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What Makes a Great Base Runner?

When the subject of base running comes up, speed is often thought of as the first and most important element. But as the classic story about the Tortoise and the Hare demonstrates, being the fastest doesn’t make you the best runner.

Mike Roberts, a consultant for the defending World Series champion Chicago Cubs and father of former Baltimore Orioles All-Star second baseman Brian Roberts, believes you must possess natural instincts to run the bases effectively. The problem, he says, is players and coaches aren’t putting in the time to develop that awareness.

Roberts has written two books on the subject of base running: You Can’t Steal Second Base and Keep Your Foot On First and Baserunning. He spoke with us about how coaches can turn average base runners into great ones.“With a lot of players today, the natural instincts part seems to be waning due to lack of practice,” he said. “All they’re doing is playing games, so it’s a lot more difficult to cultivate great base runners.”

Read the ball in advance. Let’s say you have a runner on first, and a ball is hit over his head down the right-field line. Instead of running in a direct line to second, a smart runner takes one or two steps, then changes his depth to create a better angle. He understands the speed of the ball in relation to his own speed.

Run like a sprinter. Since you aren’t wearing a glove or holding a bat while running the bases, Roberts teaches players to emulate a sprinter running around an oval track. “You become a better, faster base runner if you understand how track athletes run the 220, for example,” he explained. “They do not diminish their speed. Good base runners keep their strides very similar from base to base; they do not cut their strides down and chop-chop-chop at the base.”

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Be aware of your surroundings. Know where the ball is, even if it’s behind you. Regular communication with your coach will develop a runner’s instincts on when to continue to the next base. For example, if you understand the speed of the ball, where it is on the field and whether or not you’re a step ahead of it going first-to-home, a runner shouldn’t have to be given much information by his coach until he’s rounded the third-base bag and the coach is down toward home plate. Knowing the strike count, who the hitter is, the inning, and the score are also crucial in sharpening game awareness.

“You dive, and your head stays above the water, your chest barely touches the surface,” Roberts explained. “So, as we go back to the base, our chest is barely touching the surface of the dirt. We know exactly where our hands are going. We don’t go over the base at all, we slide into the base so we hit the dirt 12 to 18 inches prior to the base.”Be as confident off a base as you are standing on it. When Roberts asks players if they feel as comfortable taking a lead as they are standing on the bag, most say no. To change this mindset, Roberts teaches base runners to concern themselves only with their right side, not their left. He practices returning to the base using decoy leads of various lengths to keep pitchers and first basemen guessing about their intent to run. The technique is similar to jumping off the side of a pool. In this case, the runner should fall to the base as if falling in the water.

Make base running fun. Three years ago, the Cubs asked Roberts to build a sprinter program for their players. It consists of drills that emphasize rhythm and dance moves. Coaches can easily incorporate these drills during practice.

An example is what Roberts calls the marching drill. Have players walk down the field, raising their knees high and blading their arms as if on a military march. The objective is for players to flex their feet with toes and knees up. They should move their arms so that their fingers are sticking straight out by their pockets, and create a rhythm of by the pocket and up to the side of the face. If you can, turn on some music to liven things up. Let them hear the sound of their feet striking the ground with each cadence.

Roberts also likes to use a karate kick drill, which involves pulling the knee up and kicking your heel out at bellybutton level, as if striking someone in front of you. You can do this first as a walk-through, then jogging.

The key to these and other techniques is to create an avid interest in running.

“You’re trying to teach form and rhythm, and they can have a lot of fun with it,” he said.

From GameChanger and Stephen Kerr.

Baseball, Baseball Player Development, Baseball Tips & Drills

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