February 21, 2011 How to Play First base
When you’re dealing with 6-8 year olds, generally you put your best player at Short stop, and one of your most sure-handed fielders at first base. It helps if he’s big, but if the kid can catch he’ll do ok. Let’s see if we can do better than that and develop the little guys into solid first-basemen.
First thing first, you need to be in a good athletic stance – ready to move in any direction quickly. Feet shoulder width apart, butt down, hands in front. First basemen have a relatively simple job on the outside; catch the ball – tag the bag, right? Wrong. On contact, they need to make a split decision. Cover first base or field the ball.
The dreaded ‘tweener’
Find a good position where your first basemen can reach the bag in a few quick steps. Now practice with your first basemen taking 2 quick strides to his right. Mark that distance and draw a line in the dirt for his ‘border’. Now he’s got a good indicator where his range is, get a second baseman and hit ground balls in-between them so they can get a good idea what each other’s responsibilities are.
Find the bag
The ball is hit outside your first basemen’s range, and now he’s got to cover first. They need to find the bag with their foot, pivot and turn to find the ball. The throwing hand foot stays on the inside edge of the bag. The glove comes up and gives the player with the ball a good target to shoot for.
Here is a great video on getting to the bag:
Once the ball is thrown, the first basemen strides toward the ball with the glove hand foot as it gets closer. Make sure they don’t stride too early and get planted with their stride foot in a bad position. The closer you can get to the ball while stretching the more time you gain ahead of the runner. Remember to keep that glove foot in contact with the bag!
Short hops are a fact of life for first and third basemen. When your first basemen sees the ball is going to be short, they need to know their ultimate job is to knock the ball down. They cannot let the ball get by them no matter what. If they have a good position on the ball and know they can knock the ball down if they don’t catch it- then we look at trying to catch short hops. With short hops, the only thing you can count on is the ball won’t be far from the ground where the ball hits the dirt. The glove needs to be behind that spot when the ball hits. Have them push their glove through the ball and smother the hop – or ‘scoop’ the ball up. Teach them both forehand and backhand shot hop fielding.
Here’s a great example:
First basemen seem to have the toughest time with longer hops. Being patient while a runner sprints toward you is a tough thing to master, but that’s exactly what needs to happen. The first basemen needs to stay back and wait on the ball if they can’t smother it with a short-hop catch. Again, the ultimate goal is to stop and knock down the ball. Secondary is to catch the ball. Have your first basemen keep their weight back – not stretching towards the ball. As they get older, they’ll probably get used to the pacing and be able to stretch. When the young kids stretch, their bodies are thin and its tough for them to keep the ball in front of them if they miss the catch.
KNOCK THE BALL DOWN
As I’ve mentioned again and again – you’ve got to hammer into your players that you must NOT let the ball behind you. Regardless of who is going to back you up, your first basemen cannot let the ball get by him. Reward them for going through a whole game without a ball getting by them with some baseball cards or something else – but make it a big deal. This will start to instill in the importance of keeping the ball in front of them.