Before they step to the plate, Candace Abrams’ players are already on the run. Aggressive base running is fundamental to winning ball, says the West Texas A&M associate head coach, who wants her team in high gear as soon as they reach base.
A former University of Arizona star, Abrams learned to run under legendary Wildcats coach Mike Candrea, winner of eight NCAA titles and the 2004 Olympic gold medal with Team USA.
“If you look at any good team, you’ll see that base running is the foundation to success. It’s very hard to play softball base to base,” Candera frequently says. “It’s a part of the game that anyone can be good at.”
Many base-running tips are obvious: Always know where the ball is. Know the situation and anticipate the action. Know how many outs there are. When trying to beat out a throw at first, do not look at the ball.
To these staples, Abrams stresses the following:
Keep your eyes up, and don’t always rely on a coach to make decisions. By the time a coach makes a decision, it might be too late.
Typically you approach first base as if following a question mark drawn in the dirt. But if the ball is hit into the outfield, create more of an arc as you head to first base instead of following the outline of a question mark.
The conventional thinking goes: “Tag in the air, freeze on the line drive.” But if you freeze on a line drive you could get caught ... so don’t freeze on a line drive.
Read the ball.
Look to hit the inside of the bases if you’re taking multiple bases. Create an angle so that you take the shortest distance between bases.
Run aggressively and look to take an extra base.
Abrams recommends a couple of drills to develop base-running skills and smarts.
In the first, you split the team in half and form two lines at home plate. The lead runners in both lines take off. One runs straight through first base as if she is beating out a groundball, the other makes a turn and advances to second. You now have runners at first and second and two lines of runners still at home.
The drill continues in the same way except the runner on second now rounds third and scores while the runner on first takes third. At this point every base is occupied. It continues again, with the runner on third tagging up and scoring. Two runners score each time. After scoring, they return to the end of the line, only on the opposite side of their previous “at bat.” This is not a live-ball drill.
Abrams uses another drill during batting practice.
“I set up a big screen in front of a base so the girls don’t get hit,” she said. “If I want to work on first base leads and jumps, it goes there. You react to the ball if it’s hit. If it’s a ground ball, you take off. If it’s in the air, you have to judge it and decide whether to take off or come back and tag up. Since you’re doing it in batting practice, this drill is next best to the real thing.”