By Dave Weaver
I begin this article with a disclaimer. I run a program for catchers. I sleep, drink and eat catching. I look at baseball through the eyes of the catcher. I try to come up with ways that leagues can better help the development of their leagues catchers. And I make no apologies.
I discovered a number of years ago one of the reasons that it is often hard to get enough kids to want to catch. At the Minors level, why would a kid want to be responsible for 20 runs scoring? Since the pitchers are still learning to hit the glove, and the catcher is struggling to figure out how to catch the ball in the dirt, it is not uncommon for there to be 20 runs scored solely on passed balls. Why would a kid want to get behind the plate when he knows he’s going to “let” 20 runs score?
Few kids get the opportunity to learn to tag on a fly ball when on third and score from there because the first pitch that goes in the dirt and gets by the catcher he scores. Actually in many games, every kid that gets on scores. And you call this baseball????
A few years ago the youth program in our town made the change that in the Minors there would be no scoring from 3rd on a passed ball. NO scoring at all!!!! By the 2nd week of the season we were having games 2-1, 3-2, like real baseball, not 21-17. It took the pressure off the pitcher and catcher to relax and have fun and not be so overly concerned about runs scoring.
The next season we made some other observations. Our infielders never had the chance to make force plays. As soon a player got on first they would “steal” 2nd, then “steal” 3rd and any chance for a force was usually lost. So we implemented the following rule change: No runner can move, even on a passed ball, until there are 2 strikes on the batter. Suddenly, there were many opportunities to make the force at 2nd or 3rd. And we even saw a few double plays that first year. We did have some coaches complain about the reduction in running. But then they have a very unrealistic view of base running at the youth level anyway. Here’s their idea of what happens when a runner gets on first.
Pitch crosses plate, runner goes,…sorta…catcher fakes throw, runner goes back to first….sorta….runner dances the jig off of first to bait catcher to throw,…catcher runs out from behind the plate very badly faking a throw…..runner goes back to first…sorta….catcher tosses ball to pitcher, runner must go back to first..,…yeah that was baseball.
Try that base running at the Babe Ruth level on the 90ft diamond and the runner will be picked off every time. Why do coaches encourage all this unrealistic base running that in no way teaches anything that will be used once the player gets to the bigger field? Simple: The coach wants to win, and doesn’t care if the tactics he employs are not ones the kids will use at the higher levels.
No wonder our youth catchers have so much trouble making the throw at the big field. It’s bad enough that the throw is 42 feet farther then the small diamond, but as a youth player they have never been able to use the simple premise of..runner goes..catcher throws. We have allowed our catchers to get caught up in the ridiculous game of cat and mouse coaches play on the base paths instead of just acting like a catcher and making the throw. Teach your catchers if they see the guy break, make the throw, don’t wait for the coverage to get there, make the throw. That’s real baseball. If the infielder doesn’t go to the bag because he’s not paying attention, then he will be the one that needs the instruction. If your center fielder is paying attention then he will do what his job is and back up the play. That’s baseball!!!
Put in place rules that limit this joke called base running that has no other purpose then to run up scores at the expense of the development of young catchers and pitchers. I’m not opposed to teaching aggressive base running, stretching a single to a double, tagging up from 3rd on the fly to the outfield. But the ridiculous antics of some teams that run the bases in a manner that will only ensure they will be thrown out when they get to the higher levels needs to stop.
Dave Weaver founded The New England Catching Camp in 1994 after realizing that instruction for the toughest position on the diamond was generally unavailable. Weaver teaches at numerous facilities throughout New England and conducts group clinics, team workshops, coaches clinics, and private sessions with catchers of all ages. Dave has coached athletes in a variety of sports for over 30 years, and has been a coach for catchers from youth through professional levels.