Play catch great, play great

written by Darren Fenster Minor League Manager, Boston Red Sox Founder & CEO, Coaching Your Kids, LLC (@CoachYourKids)

written by Darren Fenster
Minor League Manager, Boston Red Sox
Founder & CEO, Coaching Your Kids, LLC (@CoachYourKids)

There are a number different facets of the game that many strive to master in order to become a complete player.  However, one of those aspects overlies the rest in importance in one’s effort to play the game from the sport’s highest level in the Major Leagues all the way down to it’s lowest:

Baseball’s single most important fundamental skill is playing catch.

Think about it in these simple terms: A pitch is thrown from the pitcher, and it pops the catcher’s mitt for strike three.  Playing catch.  A hitter puts the ball in play, and it’s a ground ball to the left side of the infield.  The shortstop has to field the ball, then throw it across the diamond where the first baseman must catch it to record the out.  Playing catch.

Most baseball experts will agree that pitching and defense are what really wins games, trumping a team’s ability to out hit their opponent.  As explained above, with pitching and defense broken down to their most basic forms, it can be argued that a team’s ability to win games is dependent on their ability to play catch.

The teams that play catch the best are the teams that win.

Most players and teams use catch as a means to just warm up and don’t carry the same concentration level as they would once their practice or games get going.  Players will take more pride in playing catch if their coaches place more of an emphasis on it’s importance, while explaining how such a simple skill translates into a game’s outcome.<!–more–>

Playing catch is as much about focus as it is about skill.  To improve both, add these three simple gimmicks to your daily practice routine or even in your backyard:

  • KEEP SCORE

By creating a point system for good throws and bad, playing catch now becomes a lot more fun (for younger players) and more competitive (for those older).  Make a throw that is in between shoulders, from the neck down to the waist, one point.  For a throw that is directly at the head, two points.  Conversely, for a bad throw over the head, take two points away, and for a throw that bounces away, lose one.  Play to 21… and make sure to bring a calculator if math isn’t a team strength!

  • SWITCH & RUN

With older teams, there will be times when their game of catch becomes sloppy or carefree.  To get their focus back, incorporate a reward/punishment system by having them to switch their catching positions on every errant throw, while forcing the further player from the ball to run to get it, even on a missed catch.  Where is the reward in this? No running for those who do it right.  Use that same “reward” for those who, on poor throws that bounce, are able to keep the ball in front, even if not caught cleanly.  In a game, a runner can’t advance as easily on a ball that is knocked down as they can on a ball that gets by.  If guys are giving themselves up for their partner in catch so they don’t have to run, you can rest assure they will give themselves up for their team so they can win a game.

  • DROP OF A HAT

As the distance of catch increases, often times so does the arch of the throw.  Ideally, we would like to keep all of our throws on a line, and if the distance it to great to reach on a fly, a nice, long one hop is easy to handle.  Have your players remove their hats, and place them on the ground about five to ten feet in front, on line with their partner.  With each throw, the goal is to hit the hat on a fly, giving their partner a nice long-hop to receive. This will make your players concentrate more and promote good throwing mechanics to stay on top of the throw.

As they say in the movie, Bull Durham, “this is a simple game.  You throw the ball… You hit the ball… You catch the ball.”   If throwing and catching aren’t done well, all of a sudden, the game isn’t so simple.