It’s amazing how many times we say that “poor baserunning cost us that game.” And, when you think of it, it’s not something that we practice nearly enough compared to its importance in a game. Quite frankly, base running is a neglected practice art.
One of the things that I like to do at an early season practice is to review base running at each base. It’s unbelievable to me that solid baseball players do not know some of the basics of baserunning even at age 15!
Use this as a cheat sheet for training your players on base running.
Running in general is so important, not only in baseball, but in every sport, but how many coaches have taught their players how to run? Get the local track coach or an experienced marathon runner in your area to come talk to the players about running. They will provide your players with great insight into running techniques.
Here are a few that I teach:
- Run with a loose jaw and hands cupped — Never be tight when you run; running tight will slow you down. Think of the Olympic sprinters running and their cheeks flopping about when they sprint.
- Stay low at the start, especially when getting out of the batter’s box. I teach “chop, chop, chop” out of the box.
- Round bases by hitting the base about 1/4 of the way off of the inside corner. Hitting a base on the corner can cause a turned ankle and with only one base ump in youth baseball, the umps may incorrectly say the runner didn’t hit the bag.
- When on the bases, always keep your eyes on the pitcher and don’t ever drop your head.
- On fly balls when you go “halfway,” halfway really means as far off the base as where you can safely get back if the ball is caught.
- When returning to a base, always go head first.
- Some coaches hate the head first slide, but I’m an advocate of it in all cases except when breaking up a double play or sliding into a catcher. It is harder to tag an arm than a much larger leg. And, the aggressive nature of the headfirst slide will give you the benefit of the doubt with youth umps.
- On a figure four slide, have the kids slide while holding eggs in their hands. This teaches them to keep their hands up when sliding and keep the hands cupped and not clenched. The kids love this drill!
- Practice sliding with no shoes on wet grass. No need to risk injury otherwise.
Home to First
- The first three steps out of the box should be shorter chop strides to gain balance. ”Chop, chop, chop.”
- Lefties should run with their left foot right on the foul line. Righties should get over to straddle the line.
- Remember to teach the “45 foot rule;” you must be outside or on the line once you are halfway up the line.
- Finish on the front of the bag. It’s closer.
- Don’t jump at the bag; better to take two shorter strides to hit the front of the bag.
- There are instances when you slide at first to avoid a tag. It’s a tough thing to practice, but runners should be aware.
- On a single to the outfield where there is a play at home, the first baseman will be the cut man and off the base. Hence, the batter/runner will be able to take a very wide turn at first since nobody is covering.
First to Second
- The average lead is 3 steps off or a step and a dive. This length varies based on the quickness of the runner and the pickoff move of the pitcher.
- If you are stealing, put 60% of the weight on the right foot.
- If you are stealing, slightly point the toe toward second to increase your quick start. (I know, this gives it away, but rarely is that noticed in youth baseball.)
- The first baserunner should take a one way lead to draw a throw and see the pitcher’s move.
- First base is the shuffle base. Take 3 shuffles as the pitch is thrown.
- When diving back to the base, your right hand reaches for the back of the base and your head is up and facing the right field line. If the ball gets by the first baseman, the runner will be looking in exactly the right direction.
- On a grounder to the second baseman, don’t run into an out, but stop.
- On a hit & run, sell the steal early to make sure the second baseman or shortstop vacates his position.
Second to Third
- The third base coach has the shortstop: “ok, ok, there”
- I like to involve the first base coach as well. If there are runners on 2nd and 3rd, we use the first base coach as the primary coach for the runner at second.
- Second base is the jog base. Runners jog toward second on the pitch.
- Review what to do on a ground ball hit in front of the runner or behind a runner. How many times does this make you mad in a season? If you don’t teach it, you can’t be sure they player knows it.
- The general rule on a 50-50 long fly ball? Tag up with 0 out and go halfway with 1 out.
- The 2 out lead is when the runner at second base backs up 12 feet along with his 15 foot lead off the base. This is done to cut the angle at third so the runner can score from second base. In youth baseball below the Varsity level, however, scoring position in my opinion is third base, not second base, because singles are not hit that deep and runners less than 16-years-old don’t have great speed yet. Therefore, we usually keep our runners parallel to the base and only back them up with 2 outs and a good hitter up. A 120 pound hitter is rarely going to drive the ball far enough to score the runner from second on a single.
Third to Home
- This is the base where most youth base runners do the poorest job. Third base is the walking base, but most runners start walking too early. A runner at third should take 3 steps: right, left, right. Then stop, but with momentum still on the right foot in case the ball gets past the catcher. The runner needs to time his walk to coincide with the last step and the ball being in the hitting zone.
- Always take the lead in foul territory and retreat to the base in fair territory.
- Sliding at home should be done later than at the bases since you are sliding into a catcher that is wearing armor, is usually a big guy, and can block the plate. You will need momentum to dislodge the catcher.
- On fly ball tag plays, start with your left leg on the base so you can see the field. Run on your own after watching the ball enter the outfielder’s glove. This is faster than waiting to hear the third base coach. Only listen to the third base coach on fly balls down the left field line. On easy tags, pause for a split second while the ball enters the glove so the umpire can be sure to notice you have not left early.
On Deck Hitter
- The on deck hitter has a job to do to signal to the runner on a play at the plate.
BallparkBob’s Best Advice
- Touch all the bases; that’s what they’re there for.