EQUIPMENT: JUGS Pitching Machine or JUGS Jr. Pitching Machine, JUGS Leather Pearl Baseballs or JUGS Softie Baseballs or Softballs
I run this drill at the beginning of every one of my softball and baseball practices. I first divide the team into three groups. For the first half of the drill, one group goes to left, one group goes to right and the remaining group goes to first base. The players carry their gloves, at all times, to all of the stations.
To start a round of the drill, I use a JUGS pitching machine to ‘hit’ a high fly ball to the first player in either right or left field. The fielder should call for the ball, make the catch and throw the ball into second base, where I have a coach stationed to shag balls. The other corner outfielder sprints in to back up the throw coming into second base and the runner on first moves down the base path to see if the ball is caught or dropped and reacts accordingly. If the ball is dropped, the runner sprints into second base to beat the force out; it if is caught, the runner sprints back to first base to avoid getting ‘doubled up.’ Once the play is completed (by the ball arriving at second base), the base runner goes to the back of the line in right field, the right fielder goes to the back of the left field line and the left fielder comes in to run from first base.
Things to watch during this drill are that the fielder:
1. uses good form to catch the fly ball
2. stays with the ball if it is missed, by recovering quickly and throwing to second
3. uses a good outfield crow hop when throwing the ball back into the infield
The ‘off corner’ outfielder should run in immediately and hard when the ball is hit away from them and must not get too close for backing up an errant throw. I will even have the coach at second miss a few throws on purpose so they get the idea of how to back up the play.
The base runners should be watched so that they get a good lead down the line on the fly balls and obviously want to go a lot farther down the line on a ball hit to left than one hit to right. Also, make sure that they see the ball caught or dropped before committing to first or second base. This encourages good, aggressive baserunning during games.
For the second half of the drill, I move the base runners from first to third and practice baserunning situations from there. We keep track of the ‘outs’ made by catching fly balls in the outfield and have the base runner either ‘tag up and score,’ if less than two outs, or ‘go on contact,’ if there are two outs. When we have three outs made, we reset the outs to 0 and continue the drill.
This also changes what the outfielder does with the ball when caught or dropped. If caught, we throw home to try and throw out the runner. If dropped, the ball is gotten as quickly as possible back into second base. The ‘off corner’ outfielder still sprints in and backs up the play.
I run this drill for the first 10-15 minutes of practice, after we have warmed up, throwing, and have found it to be very beneficial. I keep it moving quickly so that there is no lag between stations, and it really picks the kids up at the beginning of practice. They all have to run, catch, throw and think from the start; and it sets a good tone for the day. Use the pitching machine to get good consistent fly balls, and move the fielders around and test their limits by placing the balls right, left and over their heads.
By: Fred Altman
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