How to Be a Great Thief at the Diamond
By: Lee Taft
It isn’t that often when stealing is acceptable in life, but when you are playing baseball it is not only accepted it is encouraged. In this article I will uncover how stealing a base, robbing a homerun, and taking away a base hit can be as easy as taking candy from a baby.
Baseball is certainly one of the most explosive sports you can play. Players literally wait until the pitcher uncorks a 90 mile per hour pitch that can be hit harder than it came in. Each and every player on the field must have their senses heightened preparing for the ball to be hit like a missile in any part of the field. Not only do the defensive players need to be ready to act the offensive players on base must be ready to move as well. Let’s look closer at a few positions on the field and how they can be quicker in getting to the ball or advancing on the bases.
One of the fastest defensive positions of the field is third base. A third baseman must be able to protect the line as well as cover the gap not covered by the shortstop. When a ball is pitched inside on a right handed batter and is ripped down the line the third baseman must be able to explode quickly to his right to make a play on the ball. In order for this to occur the third baseman must have some basic athletic preparedness. Listed are some body positions that will help reaction time, initial movement, and acceleration in any direction.
- First and foremost the third baseman must get in a good infielders athletic stance.
- Knees bent and feet wider than shoulder width
- Shoulders over knees and knees pushed forward level with toes.
- Glove down and head up with eyes focused on the batter.
An athletic stance like this will allow an infielder to quickly accelerate in any direction by simply re-positioning the feet and applying force into the ground, more on this later. There are 3 things that a field must be able to do to make a play on the ball when it is hit near them;
- Recognize it- This means the third basemen must immediately recognize how and where the ball is hit.
- React to it- The player must now begin the process of moving in the direction of the ball by applying force into the ground to move the body.
- Go get it- This is basically the process of acceleration to the ball.
One of the most important factors determining if a player will get a good jump on a ball is how quickly they recognize what the ball is doing:
- The direction of the ball off the bat
- The speed of the ball
- The height of the ball
- The spin on the ball
When a player develops this ability to recognize the ball they can make better judgments with their reaction and acceleration. A batter must develop this same ability when watching the ball come out of a pitchers hand.
React to it
Once a player recognizes what the ball is doing he can than react to it. This is when a player will instinctively re-position his feet to make better use of acceleration via force production into the ground. For example; when the third basemen is in a wide stance and the ball is hit slowly to the front of them they must gain a better biomechanical and force producing position to push the body forward toward the ball. The body knows what to do. It will drive one foot down and back into the ground while the opposite foot aligns itself in forward so it can receive the body coming forward and then push down and back to continue the acceleration. The foot that pushes down and back (plyo step) is determined by the balance of the athlete and the direction he is traveling. In most cases a plyo step is most efficient when it does cross the mid-line of the body. This means the outside foot usually will push the body in the new direction.
Go get it
This is when the athlete must get moving to make the play. A series of push offs into the ground will accelerate the body to the ball. An aggressive arm action when possible should be used.
So basically this is what a good third baseman should become good at to make great plays in the infield and deny batters base hits.
Now let’s focus our attention to the outfielder. A good outfield must be able to do the same three things mentioned above.
An outfielder not only needs great quickness but they need tremendous speed. Take the center fielder for instance. He must cover a ton of real estate in all direction. His ability to use the 3 components mentioned above (recognize it, react to it, and go get it) are crucial as well. The big difference is he will cover much more distance than an infielder.
An outfielder’s stance must allow him to accelerate in any direction, just as the infielder. The difference is that the outfielder will not have the glove down so they can see the ball more clearly and get into a running posture quickly.
A typical play that an infielder might make is a diving reach to field or catch a hard hit ball immediately out of the stance. The outfielder must have the ability to accelerate quickly to gain running speed and than possible make a diving catch. In order for the centerfielder to make the acceleration occur quicker they will use two reactive skills; the plyo step and the hip turn.
The plyo step will allow the centerfielder to accelerate quickly in any direction laterally or in front of him. As mentioned earlier- the plyo step is a simple quick re-alignment of the feet to accelerate the body in a direction. The other reactive skill is a hip turn. The hip turn is using the concept of the plyo step but moving backwards of the frontal plane. This is when the outfielder must turn and chase the ball going overhead. By quickly rotating the hips and feet and disassociating the upper and lower body the outfielder can keep the eyes on the ball but begin to run back toward the ball. When the hips and feet rotate quickly the back foot will push the body forward while the front foot gets ready to drive down and back (just like the plyo step).
So you can see that even though the outfielder needs to have greater speed to cover more distance than an infielder the ability to set the body up quickly for great reaction and acceleration speed still remains.
If the outfielder becomes good at these skills they will surely rob the offensive of extra bases and possibly homeruns.
The base runner
If you want to talk about the ultimate thievery in the sport of baseball you have to mention the stolen base; pay close attention while I give you the secret to the stolen base.
I can’t think of another way to put constant pressure on a defense than to be a stolen threat ea and every time you are on base. In order to do this there are certain skills that must be mastered in order to, well, be a thief.
Steal stance- The base runner must know his limits and how far he can stretch a lead. If the stance is done properly he can challenge his limits because he will have confidence in getting back to first base if a pick off move is attempted.
a. Feet wider than shoulder width with the knees inside of the feet and pressure being out into the ground. There should not be vertical pressure down through the knees- it should be out into the feet.
b. The feet should be pointed straight ahead to help in loading the lateral musculature that will help acceleration out of the stance.
c. The ankles are loaded by the dorsi-flexing the ankle joint. This is helped by pushing the knees forward so the shin angle is down and back.
d. The hips are pushed back and the shoulders are forward over the knees. This creates a stretch of the muscles of the posterior chain.\
e. The hands should be held in front of the belt line with the elbows by the sides of the body. The hands are the key- more on that in a moment.
Now that we have the stance set lets talk about how it allows the base runner to explode like a rocket out of the stance.
First of all by keeping the stance as symmetrical as possible there are less likely going to be movement mistakes that will need correcting. Plus, being symmetrical allows the runner to stretch the lead knowing he can get back just as quickly as he can get a jump to steal.
When the base runner decides to take off and steal he will push off quickly and forcefully with the back foot (left foot) only. But just before that occurs, and I mean milli-seconds before that occurs the hands start moving into running position. The right hand will pull out and by driving the elbow around the front of the body and the left and will drive straight across the body toward second base. This quick action by the hands will start the action reaction forces that will be occurring throughout the body. When the arms drive aggressively into running posture the back left leg will gain force from the arm action. The role of the left leg is to get the center of mass moving toward second base. The right leg will perform a directional step and align the toes directly at second base. The right ankle should be dorsiflexed preparing to take the center of mass and push it forward as well.
What is important to remember is that the right leg does not reach out in front possibly jeopardizing acceleration by applying a breaking action with the heel down and the foot in front of the body. The front foot turns out (directional step) in a split second and prepares to drive down and back to increase acceleration.
Another important factor in the acceleration process is the positioning of the shoulders. The shoulders should get out in front of the lead leg during the acceleration phase. This allows the body to utilize the force coming from the ground up through the body. If the shoulders are too high or what I call rearing up they power will be dissipated.
Once the body is in motion it is a matter of using sound acceleration principles of driving down and back with the legs and being aggressive with the arms. The first 5-6 steps should be focused on maximizing acceleration. The player will ultimately make a decision on what kind of slide, if any, is needed to complete the stolen base.
Let’s review. In order to maximize quickness and acceleration on the defensive side players must be prepared and focused to move as quickly as possible. How quickly they move is determined by how and where the ball is hit and how well they recognize it, read it, and go get it. The base runner on the other hand knows exactly what he has to do. He needs to prepare his body like a loaded spring and explode out of the stance to steal bases. One thing I have always preached for any athlete in any sport is that the foundation of good movement is the athletic stance; what ever that may be for the given sport. If the foundation is bad the movement out of it will be bad.
So there you have it. If you want to be a legal thief join baseball and try these speed techniques.
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