A ball club’s outfield has three major assignments when in the field:
- Take a base hit away from a batter whenever possible. (Catch the fly ball).
- Cut down the length of base hits. (Hustle and work together to hold the batter and/or runners to the minimum number of bases).
- Keep runners from advancing whenever possible. (Throw to the right base; throw strongly and accurately).
Every move the outfielder makes has one of the three points we’ve named as its objective. These suggestions will help:
The outfielder, to repeat a point, should watch the batter and not the pitcher, as the ball is being delivered to the plate. Outfielder’s line of vision should be so adjusted that the top of the batter’s head comes just under the peak of the put-fielder’s cap. (New hats have a little fuzz along the under edge. This should be burned off).
As the batter strides to hit, the outfielder leans forward slightly, raises the heels off the ground and takes one small step forward. He should listen to the sound of the bat meeting ball. With a little experience it will tell him how well the ball has been hit.
On balls driven to right or left, the outfielder uses the “cross-over” step. If he’s going to his right, his first move is to pivot right and take the first step toward the ball with his left foot. The opposite to the opposite side.
The outfielder always breaks fast! On fly balls to his area, he should not-as he starts-try to time his approach to the arrival of the ball. After the ‘”jump”, with runners on base, the outfielder can use some momentum to make a throw. But, if no throw is going to be involved, he wants to be waiting to catch the ball when it comes down. A slow-starting, lazy outfielder is a threat to the success of the ball club.
To catch the ball, outfielders-any fielder, for that matter-ought to use both hands if possible. With runners on base, balls above the waist should be caught with the thumbs together and fingers pointing up; below the waist with little fingers together and fingers pointing down. If there is no one on base and the outfielder is camped under a high fly ball, he should catch the ball with the backs of his hands facing the ground and held close to the body.
When a fly ball is hit over an outfielder’s head, he should turn his back to the plate. If it’s not going to be too deep, outfielder can watch it over his shoulder as he runs. If he judges that the ball is really going for a ride, he should take his eyes off it and concentrate on running, then look back for the ball.
As the outfielder runs, by the way, he should stay on his toes. If he runs with his heels hitting the ground his head will go up and down and every fly ball will look to him as though it’s a yo-yo.
When an outfielder has to play the “sun field” (with the sun full in his face), he should block out the sun’s rays with the outstretched palm of the bare hand from the time the pitcher starts the windup until the play is concluded.
The line drive gives the outfielder the most trouble. When they are in front, they sink fast. When they’re to the side and overhead, they curve. And, of course, they travel!
As the outfielder drives in for a low liner, he’s got to make a decision: Can I catch it? Or should I let it bounce? The score, the inning and whether there are runners on base weight this decision. If it’s a tough chance and the defensive team is well ahead, it’s worth a try. If two are out and none are on in the early innings and no score, again its obvious that the outfielder should make the try. But, if it’s a tight ball game, he’d better play the bounce. If the ball gets by it might go for two or three bases.
When a right-handed batter lashes a liner to the outfield, it curves toward right field. A line drive off the bat of a left hand hitter curves toward left. Thus, when a line drive is hit directly over an outfielder’s head, outfielder should turn to his left if the hitter is right-handed and to his right if the hitter is lefthanded. That way, the ball will curve toward him and not away.
When an outfielder trots out to his position, he should do two things: Check the direction of the wind and check his position against those of the other outfielders.
More often than not, fields used by amateurs are not marked properly. Very seldom is the foul line extended beyond 1st or 3rd base. If this is the case, the right and left fielders, with the aid of the catcher, should mark the line next to their positions. (They can put a small stick in the ground and tie a handkerchief to it, or put a stone on top of a piece of white paper).
This is important, because an outfield makes its adjustments from the foul lines. With a right hand hitter at bat, for example, the outfielder is usually adjusted from left to right. The left fielder stays close enough to this foul line to catch anything that’s in fair territory. The center fielder stays close enough to the left fielder so that the two of them can cover all the territory in between. The right fielder then makes his adjustment with the same thought in mind. But, it all starts, you see, with the foul line.
LEAVE ONE HOLE
Under ordinary circumstances, the outfield plays so that only one “hole*’ is exposed to the hitter. If the outfield played at normal depth, and spread out so that all the territory between the foul lines was divided equally, four “holes” would exist for the hitter-along the left field line, in left-center, in right-center and along the right field line. To offset this, the outfielder would normally “crowd” the left field line against a right hand hitter and the right field line against the left hand hitter. In this way, too, the one hole will be where the batter is least likely to hit the ball.
It’s also generally true that the hitter will hit to the “opposite field” with less than average power. Obviously, then, the “opposite field” player-right fielder playing a right hand hitter, for example-should be in closer than the other two outfielders.
The reader should begin to realize by now that the outfield plays as a unit and not as three individuals when a ball is hit by the batsman. The outfield not only makes adjustments before the ball is hit, as we’ve said, but during its flight and after it is reached by a fielder. Here are some examples:
When a ground ball is hit between two fielders, the nearest one should try to cut it off as quickly as possible. (Just as the third baseman tries to cut off the ground ball going between him and the shortstop). His teammate, on the other hand, should run deeper so that if the ball gets through the first outfielder it won’t go any farther.
The center fielder makes the “call” on all balls hit to his right or left.
The outfielder makes the call on all fly balls dropping behind the infield.
Sometimes an extra base hit gets by an outfielder and rolls for some distance. The nearest outfielder should cut in between the infielder waiting for the relay and the boy chasing the ball. (Two relays in this situation).
Outfielders should back each other up on every play.
Each outfielder should back up the base in front of him on every infield play.
On a hit to right, the left fielder should move so he’s on a line with a possible throw from right field to 2nd base.
On a hit to left, the right fielder should move so he’s on a line with a possible throw from left field to 2nd base.
The center fielder should back up all throws from the catcher or pitcher to 2nd base. (This applies to the catcher’s practice throw to 2nd between innings).