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Catching Skills

Blocking the Baseball

 

This skill can win or lose a tight game. When the pitcher throws one in the dirt, and the catcher keeps it in front, the catcher is suddenly the pitcher's best friend, right? It's not quite that easy, though. Primarily catchers must have quick feet and excellent reaction time. One misconception is that blocking a ball in the dirt is a catchers only requirement. Not only is it important to block the pitch, but also to properly retrieve the baseball and get your body in a position to throw out a runner trying to advance. It must be stressed to catchers not to admire their work when they block the baseball. Catchers need to get up and pounce on the ball.

This article contains information about a skill progression used for teaching catchers the techniques of "blocking" and "fetching". It is important that the skills be broken down into a logical progression. Catchers must not go from point A to point B without having point A mastered. Catching can be taught in a three step progression. These parts are block, pop, and fetch.

The "Block"

The block is broken into two phases. The first phase is the "drop" followed by the "blow and curl". When blocking a baseball it is important to get both knees on the ground as quickly as possible. You do not want to hop up and then hit the ground, but drop to your knees immediately. In this drop phase, the catcher's shin guards must drop flat on the ground with the shins against the dirt. The catcher's weight must be back and not on the kneecaps. The shoulders are kept square to the ball. The eyes are fixed, tracking the ball from where it hit the ground to the point it hits the catcher on the chest.

The direction of the ball will dictate whether or not you will need to push off in any direction. This is done with your feet. You must get an aggressive push off with your legs toward the direction of the baseball. The next movement is to put your glove back against your cup with your fingers down, not the back of your hand down. If your fingers are down and the back of your hand is against your cup, you have set up a barrier for the ball to bounce off. If your hand is on the ground, you have created a ramp for the ball to hit and continue in a forward motion.





The ball will have an opportunity to continue its forward movement and possibly get away from the catcher. During this time your throwing hand must be placed behind your glove. This will protect your hand from injury and help square up your body to the ball.

A catcher must also protect his throat and neck. To do this the catcher must take his chin and tuck it into his chest. He should not drop his head down, just his chin. Dropping the head will cause the catcher to loose track of the baseball. By only dropping the chin, the catcher will still be able to visually track the baseball.

Players must master the drop phase before you continue the lesson.

The "blow and curl" phase follows. In the "blow and curl" phase, catchers are taught to track the ball as it hits the ground and heads toward them. They watch the ball hit their chest protector. As the ball hits, air is blown out and the shoulders curl around the ball. The chin tucks into the chest. Blowing the air out of the lungs makes the chest give with the contact of the ball, thereby softening the impact. The chest cushions the ball like a pillow, allowing the ball to drop closer to the catcher rather than bouncing farther away.

The coach gives the following commands to do the drill. First, instruct the catchers to "drop", then order "blow and curl". Make sure each catcher does each command correctly. Once the catchers can do each step independently, put both sections together in one command, "drop and curl". Have your catchers put the drop, blow, and curl together in one action. Sometimes if the catcher say the word "pooh," it assists them in getting used to blowing out the air as the ball hits. This phase is mastered when catchers use proper positioning.

At this point it is important not to admire your work. Donít allow yourself to be satisfied with a great block. It is now time to retrieve and get your body in a position to throw.

The "Pop"

As soon as the catcher drops, curls and has felt the impact of the ball, they must " pop" back up into the catching position. To get up the catcher can either push themselves up with their arms and hands or pop up with their feet under them in one motion. In either case, the catchers must work on quickness. Quickness is the real secret to catching. They must be quick with both their feet and hands. Now, when the coach gives the command "drop", the catchers drops, blows, curls and gets right back into the original catching position by popping up as quickly as possible. The goal of this phase is to keep the ball in front of the catcher, not allowing it to get away. This technique keeps the ball in closer proximity to the catcher. Once the "pop" can be done quickly, you move on to the "fetch" phase.

The "Fetch"

During the "fetch" phase, catchers learn to use the "stop and scoop" technique when picking up the ball. As the catcher quickly approaches a blocked ball, they place their glove on the ground in front of the ball with the pocket facing the catcher. This allows them to scoop the ball into the glove with the bare hand by digging under the ball. The glove becomes the stopper and the bare hand becomes the scooper. The reason for using this technique is that it reduces the chance of fumbling or dropping the ball as might occur if they were trying to pick it up with one hand alone. As soon as the catcher has the ball, he should come right up into the throwing position.

The catcher must go after the ball as quickly as possible using this "fetch" technique . Most coaches tell their base runners to advance to the next base if the catcher ever goes to his knees. Catchers can challenge the other team to run on them after the ball has been blocked. The "fetch" technique enables your catchers to get up as quickly as possible and go after the ball to challenge the runner. If your catchers fetch as quick as possible, it will discourage teams from running on the catchers.

First, locate the ball and quickly get to your feet. From the blocked position it is important to clear your hands from the middle of your body. It should be done by exploding your hands and arms in opposite directions. Do not lift your hands up and out in front of your body. The baseball can get caught up in your hands or arms if your first movement is out towards the pitcher. If your movement is away from your body, you decrease the chance of making contact with the baseball and increase the chance of keeping the ball in front of you.

Next, you should round the ball. Get your chest over the baseball and in a position to scoop up the baseball. Note, we have yet to look for the runner that may be trying to advance. The single most important aspect at this stage is to get to the ball first, then check the runner. A common error is to check the runner first. If you see the runner go, you may panic, or get in a hurry, and not retrieve the ball correctly. Get the ball first and then check the runner. Besides, if the rest of your teammates are paying attention, you will hear them yelling "runner".

Never pick up the baseball with only the glove or only the bare hand. The hand and glove must work together. This can be referred to as "raking" the baseball. A common error is made when a catcher tries to pick the ball up with only one hand. If the ball is not fielded the first time, the catcher may panic and continue having trouble picking up the ball, kick the ball, or field it and make a bad throw because they are in a hurry. Two hands will give you a greater opportunity to field the ball the first time.

As you rake the ball, you should be angling your body to the base the runner could be advancing to. You should get your feet set, your mind ready to throw and now find the runner. If the runner is trying to advance, throw a strike to the bag. If the runner is not going to advance but is leaning, throw behind him. The key is be ready to throw to any base. A catcher must have a driving desire to throw the runner out. Take pride in blocking, retrieving and throwing the baseball effectively. This can make a difference in the outcome of the game. A good catcher wants to call a breaking ball in the dirt with two strikes and the winning or trying run on third. The pitcher must have confidence in the catcher to get the job done, and the catcher must have confidence in himself.

More Blocking Tips

A catcher needs to be flexible. He needs to be able to sit comfortably on the ground in the blocking position. The lower he is to the ground, the less area the ball has to get under him.

A catcher should attempt to block all balls in the dirt when there are runners on base or when there are two strikes on the hitter. When a dropped third strike occurs, a hitter may try to advance to first base if it is unoccupied. A catcher should make it as easy on his pitcher as possible. If the pitcher can get a hitter to chase a pitch in the dirt, they should be rewarded with a strike out.

As there are different types of pitches that will be thrown, there are different ways to block these pitches. The goal in blocking is to block all balls so that they will hit you in the center of your chest and drop harmlessly in front of you. Do not try to catch a ball that is in the dirt. Trouble starts when a catcher tries to catch the bouncing ball and misses. The result is a ball back to the screen and the advancement of runners on base.

When a fastball is thrown in the dirt the catcher should maneuver his body in front of the baseball and block it back to the middle of the field. His body should be perpendicular to the ball. If the ball is blocked correctly, off the middle of the chest protector, the ball will hit and return to the direction from which it came.

Depending on whether or not a right handed or a left handed pitcher is throwing will dictate which direction a catcher will turn his body to adjust for the spin of a breaking ball. Therefore, blocking the breaking ball requires some thought and preparation.

As you look at home plate from the pitcher's mound, a right hander's breaking ball will hit the ground and spin right, a left hander's breaking ball will hit the ground and spin left. A catcher must angle his body to adjust for the spin of the baseball. He must push off with the opposite leg and drive his body over to meet the baseball and block the baseball back towards the middle of the field. An aggressive push with the opposite leg is crucial. He must be able to beat the ball to the spot and block the baseball.

There will come a time when even the best catcher will be unable to block a fastball or breaking ball that is thrown way outside or inside. The catcher will not have a chance to get his body in front of the baseball. This is where the goalie save comes into play. This technique is used primarily for the ball towards the backhand side of the catcher. The catcher will push off hard with the back foot and drag the glove across the ground. The catcher should turn the glove over and get out as far as he can. The leg he initially pushed off from will drag across the ground and assist him in getting to his feet quickly, after he gets a glove or body on the ball. Basically, you throw everything you have at the ball in an attempt to stop or slow a poorly thrown ball. A variation of this will come on a pitch thrown towards your glove side. The mechanics are the same only this time you have an open glove. The goal is the same, stop the ball.

All phases of the blocking technique need to be practiced constantly. With practice of each phase, your catchers will become better and quicker. Daily practice of every phase of blocking will develop a natural instinct in the catcher. As your catchers block, pop up, fetch the ball, and come up into the throwing position they will add strength to your team.



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