Although hitters get a lot of the hype in the major leagues, defense is a very important part of winning baseball games. This is especially true in youth baseball where a wild throw or a missed grounder can lead to several runs.
Catching a Ball
One of the first skills you need to learn for baseball is catching the ball. The best way to learn to catch is to go out in the yard with a parent or friend and practice. Start close and then move back as you get better. The more you practice the better you will get at catching.
While playing catch you can work on some basic fundamentals to improve your game:
Glove up and ready– Hold your glove up and out at about chest height. This will make a good target for the thrower.
Stand ready – Don’t stand back on your heels. Stand on the balls of your feet and be ready to move if the throw is off a bit.
Move to the ball – If the throw is not directly to you, move to the ball. Don’t just stand there and reach. Move in front of the ball where you can make the best play on it.
Eyes on the ball – Always keep your eyes on the ball. Watch it all the way into your mitt.
Glove position – Most catches above your belt are made with your fingers up and thumb down. You can learn to bend your knees a bit to catch lower balls as well. However, when the ball is low or outside your catching hand, you will need to flip your glove and catch the ball fingers down. Be sure to practice this when you are playing catch.
Everyone in the field needs to be able to catch pop fly balls. You can practice this with your team or have a parent toss you some high balls during catch so you can practice your footwork and glove position.
Run to the ball – The first thing to do is to run to where the ball is going. Run as fast as you can and try to beat the ball to the spot. This way you will have time to set up and make a good catch.
Eye on the ball – Even though you may be running to the ball, always keep your eye on the ball.
Glove position – Hold the glove above your head with your fingers up and your palm out. If you try to catch the ball at your waist or your side, it will be much more difficult.
Use two hands – Use your throwing hand to secure the ball in your mitt. This will keep the ball from popping out and will have your throwing hand close to the mitt and ready to grab the ball for a quick throw.
One of the toughest skills in youth baseball is fielding a grounder.
Ready stance – When playing the infield you should always be in your ready stance when the pitch is thrown: knees bent, feet apart, balanced on the balls of your feet, and ready to move in any direction.
Get in front of the ball – When the ball is hit, get in front of the ball. Your first goal is to keep the ball in the infield. Move to the ball and between the ball and the infield.
Fielding position – When preparing to field the ball, bend your knees and get low. Keep your feet apart and your backside low.
Glove position – Keep your glove low and wide open with your fingers down.
Catch ball out in front – Catch the ball out in front of you. Don’t let the ball get under you or to the side, this will make it much more difficult to field.
Practice – Practice fielding grounders to each side of you. There will be times when you can’t get into perfect position and need to use a backhand grab. This should be the exception and not the rule.