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Monday, February 7, 2011

Base running: Watch the flight of the pitch

Many times the best base runners on a team are not the fastest guys.  Slower guys know they cannot solely rely on their speed to get around the bases.  They have to be smart.  They know where all the fielders are before the pitch.  They know the situation.  We could list a lot of things top base runners do but I'll focus on taking extra bases on pitches in the dirt.  
)Great base runners watch every pitch on its way to home plate.  That may sound obvious but it really is not done very often.  Most runners on base watch the pitcher until he delivers the ball and then shift their eyes to the batter to see what the ball does in the hitting zone.  However, smart runners know that there is a lot of information to pick up in between the release point and the hitting zone.  They watch the flight of the ball on its way to the catcher.  As a result, they can see when the ball is heading towards the dirt and sometimes react - start to go towards the next base - before the ball even hits the ground.  This is a great play that has a surprisingly high rate of success because the catcher instinctively drops to his knees to block a ball heading for the dirt.  Even if he catches it cleanly on the bounce, he'll have to get up off his knees and throw a strike to second base.  Not likely.  Especially since catchers usually focus on blocking those pitches instead of catching them.  
Most runners who think about taking the next base wait until they see how far the ball bounces away from the catcher.  Great runners don't even wait until the ball hits the ground.  They're gone.  
It certainly takes practice, confidence, and initiative to master a play like this but it is well worth the effort.

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