Category Archives: Outfield

Tricks for judging fly balls

Can’t remember where I learned this one exactly. Seems to me it was from a book or article by a Major League Baseball player a long time ago. Or maybe it was one of those “tips for the youngsters at home” they used to run on TV.

In any case, young outfielders often have trouble learning how to judge a fly ball. They see the ball go up off the bat and they set up where they think the ball will come down. (Or they run in a few steps automatically, thus violating the “first step back” rule, but that’s a story for another day).

It takes a long time and a lot of repetition to learn to judge fly balls reliably. I’ve never found any drill to shortcut the process. The best way to learn is to catch hundreds (or thousands) of fly balls off a bat. But you don’t always have time to do that, especially with a game coming up. So here’s something you can use to help speed up that judgment.

The only thing that’s required is a visor or hat. When the ball is hit, see if it immediately goes above the bill of the visor or stays below. If it goes above, the odds are it’s going deep. If it stays below the bill, it’s a line drive and likely will stay in front of you.

It’s not a hard and fast rule. Sometimes when the ball goes high it’s going to be a pop-up. But if it is and the outfielder drops back, odds are it’s no harm no foul. It wasn’t her ball anyway.

Another thing to keep in mind related to the height of the ball is how hard you can charge it. If the ball goes high and looks like it might fall short you can run full out after it, and even slide or dive for it. If you miss, the ball isn’t going very far. But if it stays below the bill of your visor, approach with caution because if it gets by you it could roll for miles.

Finally, I got this tip from the NFCA’s Coaches College. The toughest ball to judge is the one hit straight at you. If you’re facing one of those and having trouble, move a few feet to the side so you can see it at an angle. And listen for help from your teammates. They may be able to see the flight of the ball better and help you know whether to go backward or forward.

Learning to judge a fly ball

I can’t believe I’ve never done a post on playing the outfield before. But apparently I haven’t because I had to create a new category for this one. What really surprises me about that is that I love outfielders. As a slow pitch player I always enjoyed the outfield myself. But stranger things have happened, I guess.

In any case, one of the challenges of training outfielders is there’s just no substitute for experience. You can short toss by hand to work on the catching techniques, but judging a fly ball off a bat is a skill unto itself. It’s not something you can really drill, per se. You just have to do it enough to get the feel for it. Some players never do get it.

There is one trick you can try if your outfielders are close, but tend to let the ball get just over their heads. Tell them to go back farther than they think they should. It sounds simple — almost too simple — but it definitely works.

It all has to do with consistency and making adjustments. Players who are consistently allowing the ball to go just over their heads haven’t quite calibrated their brains to judge the exact trajectory of an incoming ball. They think they’re under it, but instead they’re just ahead of where it will land. Having them move a little further back than they think they should helps them make the adjustment, and starts to train their brains on where they should be rather than where they think they should be.

That, and a few thousand fly balls hit from the plate to the outfield, ought to do it!

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