Possibly the most common mistake and biggest misunderstanding in youth baseball and softball is the process of taking a throw at first base. Kids think the first baseman prepares to receive a throw by standing in a stretch position (they don’t). This problem carries over to throws in a variety of playing situations including the basic task of warming-up.
Well Known, But Often Misunderstood
Not only is this action misunderstood by kids, most adults don’t know how a first baseman takes a throw. When working with their players, coaches either don’t teach the skill at all, or teach it incorrectly. If you are one of those coaches, don’t sweat it, you are in the majority.
This very important skill is discussed below and illustrated in the video. Joey Gallo of the Texas Rangers is hitting into the massive shift used by the Houston Astros on May 11 For our purposes, watch 0:22-0:26 of the video that shows a first baseman using proper technique in his approach to, and set up at, the bag; and the footwork involved in taking a throw. Don’t watch the ball, watch Astros First Baseman Yuli Gurriel. The key point to note Is that Gurriel does not set up in a ‘Stretch Position’ when preparing for the throw. He waits until the ball is on its way.
Cover the Base with Your Eyes
A first baseman doesn’t watch the ball when it is hit to another player. They take their eyes off the ball and direct them towards the base. Just like an Olympic sprinter looks straight at the finish line while running, the first baseman looks straight at first base while running to cover it. Their focus is the base, and the base only, until they get there. Getting there as quickly as possible is important, so they have time to prepare for the throw.
Set Up at the Base
After arriving at the base, the first baseman puts the heel of their throwing-side-foot against the edge of the center part of the base and sets-up in a ‘Ready Position’ (feet wide and square to the player who will be making the throw). This prepares them to react to the direction of the thrown ball, and to move laterally in case the ball is off line and they have to leave the bag to stop the ball - poor throws actually do occur at the youth level from time to time ; )
‘See the Ball Before Committing Your Feet’
When taking a throw, the rule for a first baseman is: ‘See the ball before committing your feet’. A first baseman does not get into a ‘Stretch Position’ when setting up for a throw. This takes place after the throw leaves the fielding player’s hand and the first baseman identifies where the throw is going. If the throw is within reach, the first baseman steps towards the line of the throw.
However, if the throw is not going to be within reach, they leave the base and make their best effort to stop the ball from going past them. A ready position enables a player to move in a quick and agile manner to go after a poor throw. It is difficult to move from a stretch position.
(Note: The action of repositioning the feet from a ready position to a stretch position can be difficult for kids age 8-9 and younger because of a lack of body strength and coordination. In their case, we teach them to remain in the ready position throughout the play. If they can reach, with their glove, to catch the ball; great! …if they can’t, we instruct them to leave the base to catch the ball. We establish their mindset using the teaching phrase: ‘Ball First, Base Second’. Occasionally they will be able to move to get the ball, then come back to the base ahead of the runner. In most cases the runner is safe…..but our first baseman has stopped the ball and prevented the runner (and runners on other bases) from advancing any further.)
The Experience of the Passive Observer
It is understandable why Kids (and many adults/coaches) stand in a stretch position in preparation to take a throw at first base. When watching a game as a fan, we follow the ball and don’t often notice what the other players on the field (first baseman) are doing. We only see the first baseman catching the ball…in a stretch position. After constantly seeing the first baseman catching the ball with their feet positioned this way, kids think that is how the first baseman was standing the whole time.
A Dose of Reality
As coaches, we want to teach that a Ready Position is used when preparing for a throw. Anytime we see our players standing in a stretch position we need to correct them immediately. Given the number of inaccurate throws made at the youth level, we want our kids to always be in an athletic position that enables them to easily move to stop offline throws.
The reality is, our kids won’t want to change this habit (right away) because the image of the first baseman stretching is branded into their brain.
Thank goodness for technology! We can pull out our phone and show them this video I have provided : ) and prove to them that the pros do not set their feet in a stretch position when getting ready to take a throw.
Now that the process has been mapped out watch the video again (specifically 0:22-0:26)...it likely be very clear how to properly take throw at first base.
Improving the Quality of Play
Teaching our players the proper actions related to receiving a throw at first base will result in more throws being caught and fewer balls getting past the bag. Also, let’s make it a priority to eliminate the practice of kids standing in a stretch position when preparing for throws in general.
The foundation of the game of baseball (and softball) is playing catch. Teaching our kids to be in a Ready Position prior to each throw prepares them to move to catch (or at least stop) throws that are off line. An increased number of throws caught, and a reduction in the number of balls that get past the receiving player, makes baseball and softball more fun to play and more enjoyable to watch.