The only player on the field who has the entire game in front of him is the catcher. The catcher has important responsibilities because of his view to the direct the baseball team and their defensive positions on the field. An experienced catcher can make a good team great and a good team out of a bad one. The catcher has all the “action” out in front therefore in a position to control the pace of the game.
A catcher must be good at keeping the baseball in front of him. He must block all pitches and throws in the dirt and keep throws from the outfield or infielders from rolling to the backstop. A catcher must practice blocking balls everyday to completely lose any fear of getting hit by the baseball. Practice blocking drills with the hands tied behind the catchers backs so they have to use their chest protector to block the ball. This technique helps to develop blocking skills and enhances confidence in doing this in games. Mastering blocking balls can help save runs on curveballs thrown in the dirt, on wild pitches and on errant throws home.
Attitude and Influence
Catchers with good attitudes and positive influences can determine how the entire team plays. Leadership, confidence, preparation and knowledge of the pitching staff and opposing hitters are the catcher’s strongest weapons to controlling the game. There is no coincidence why so many catchers become great managers. The catcher’s head has to be completely immersed in the game to be successful. A catcher cannot take a play off. Every pitch, every play the catcher has a job to do. A solid positive influence is one of the greatest assets a catcher can bring to his team. As a leader on the field, a good catcher keeps his teammates motivated and keeps them alert by calling out plays and providing assistance on every play to his team. A good catcher always knows where the next play should go.
As in most sports, the big athlete with ability is a major asset. It is no different where a catcher is concerned. However, that does not rule out smaller players from being great catchers. History has shown there have been some excellent, Hall of Fame caliber catchers that were not imposing figures. What they lacked in size, they made up in leadership, intelligence, quickness or with the arms or with their bats.
A strong armed catcher is a must for the defensive success of a team. If the catcher has a strong arm, it helps his pitcher in holding runners, helps his infielders by allowing them to stay a split second longer at their positions, and keeps opposing base stealers in check with the threat of being picked off or thrown out attempting to steal.
Hands and Feet
One of the attributes some coaches look for when selecting a catcher is big hands and athletes who are light or quick on their feet. Quick hands help with glove work and to pick up balls from the ground, and release the ball effectively on snap throws to bases. Quick or light on the feet are usually related to quick reactions and the ability to “pounce” quickly on loose baseballs. The “quickness of a cat” would be a complimentary description to describe a good catcher behind the plate; Quick feet and big hands are also a plus.
Good Catcher Attributes Mental strength and agility:
Fast learner and thinker, loose and quick..
Strong Voice: A good catcher uses voice to direct the team. Coaches want a player who is not timid or afraid to be loud and who sacrifices his body for the sake of the team.
Hard worker: Excellent physical conditioning is key to being a great catcher. He has keep balls in the dirt and is responsible for backing up 1st base on throws from the infield. Catchers are dedicated students of the game, and natural leaders.
Equipment and Protection
The catcher’s most vulnerable area for injury is the unprotected throwing hand. The bare right hand is the most prone to injury due to foul balls, over swings by batters, or being stepped on by accident on plays to the plate. To reduce the chance of injury a catcher needs to learn to close his throwing hand into a fist, with the thumb underneath the fingers, and/or held behind the back until the baseball is caught. With runners on base it’s a little trickier, due to the need to release the ball quickly. In this case the hand needs to be held close to the thigh or behind the glove, closed fist and covered.
There are several types of catchers masks, the most popular being the wire frame mask, and the composite plastic bar type mask. With younger players, the hockey goal tender type mask has gained popularity and provides added safety. This type is recommended for younger players for the additional protection it offers.
The Chest Protector
A good quality chest protector that fits snugly has neck, shoulder and good cup or crotch protector is a necessity every catcher needs to always wear.
Shin Guards and Cups
Correct fitting shin guards that cover the knees and a part of the thigh with good buckles and straps that lock on the outside of the leg work best. Knee savers, are cushions that go behind the leg are great for added protection and to reduce wear on the knees. Correct fit is essential for all catching gear.
The Catchers Mitt
As with all gloves, players develop a personal relationship and comfort level with their gloves. Catchers are no different; in fact most catchers have several mitts that they use depending on the type of pitcher they are catching that day. Large mitts are usually used for catching knuckleballers, thicker mitts are used for hard throwers, medium sized flexible gloves are usually preferred for soft tossers or pitchers who have lots of movement on the baseball such as curve ball or sinker ball pitchers. on the staff. Catcher’s need to feel comfortable with their mitts and go to great lengths to break them in properly. Most mitts today are classified into two types the rounded mitt and the “one break” mitt. One break mitts are used most.
Team Catching Gear
Most teams have catchers gear for any catcher to use. However, if a player is serious about being a catcher, it is recommended a they have their own equipment. This ensures greater comfort and fit and eliminates personal hygiene issues and the spreading of germs. Properly fitting gear improves movement and quickness allowing for smooth mechanics behind the plate.
Proper Stances behind the plate
There are several stances a catcher can use to maximize performance according to the situation on the field, the count or if runners are on base.
The position of the feet should be either straight forward or slightly pointed inward, kept at shoulder width or slightly further apart. The knees, turned inward to hide the signs the pitcher. The Glove should also be used to cover the signs, hang the glove over the side, close to the leg. The signs should also be given tight to the groin area, elbows in close to the body to keep covered.
The position in relation to the hitter and the catcher is to allow enough room for the batter to take his position, swing his bat comfortably, and yet be close enough to the plate as possible without getting hit by the bat as the batter swings. This position will vary slightly between right and left handed hitters and their respective positions within the batters box.
No Runners on Base
Receiving with no runners on base, feet a comfortable distance apart, giving as low a target as possible. Learn to crouch as low as possible, once in set position; do not come up until the ball is in the mitt. Try to keep the mitt at a 90 degree angle to the ground, fingers up, and elbows flexed slightly away from the inside area of the leg and knees.
Runners on Base
Receiving the baseball with runners on base, after giving the sign, and in the set position, it’s often wise to spread the feet a little further apart than the shoulders. Tip: Point the right foot a little towards the right field line, to get a slight edge in throwing. The seat position can be a little higher than when no runners are on base to allow for a quicker throw. Remember to keep the target as low as possible while the ball is on the way. Stay consistent for your pitcher location and for the umpires view to remain the same on every pitch.
Helping your pitcher
Framing strikes is a skill every catcher has to develop that is subtle enough to help while not irking the umpire. Never pull the ball into the strike zone drastically. The umpire will notice and can make it very difficult for your pitcher to hit the strike zone. Always try to catch the ball as close to the plate/strike zone as possible. On a high pitch, turn the top of the glove down a little, on a low pitch turn the glove up a little. On pitches to the right or left of the plate, turn the glove inward slightly. This framing method should be held for at least one second after the ball is caught, to allow the umpire to view its location and to make the call, hopefully it’s in your favor most of the time.
Blocking balls in the dirt
The correct way to block balls in the dirt is to drop straight down on two knees, arms extended down, facing the ball while tilting the body forward. It is very important at this point to not try to catch the ball, block it instead. This will minimize the chances of missing the ball or it getting by, rolling back to the backstop. Once the ball is blocked, take off the mask to increase visibility and locate the ball quickly
Always throw the ball back to the pitcher on the glove side and shoulder high. On throws to second base, always throw to the base, not he player who is covering. A hard snap throw will increase the chances of getting the runner. A four seam grip will keep the ball on a straight path and reduce the chances of it going to either side of the plate due to the fur seam rotation. Fingers spread evenly, thumb under the middle of the ball between the two top fingers. Throw the ball directly overhand.
When throwing, bring the glove and the ball directly next to the right ear while rotating the upper body into a strong throwing position. Once into the throwing motion, the upper body rotates left, stepping towards the base being thrown to. Follow through completely to ensure a strong, hard accurate throw. The elbow should lead for a split second, and have a downward wrist action after throwing ball.
Proper footwork is essential to everything the catcher does. A quick jab-step as the ball is being thrown helps stay on the toes. This should be done on every throw. and on every pitch thrown, except for the outside pitch to a left handed hitter where a crow-hop works better. Jump-shift to lead with the left foot in front and the right foot behind.
Throws to first
Left handed batters will tend to step forward not back. The best course of action is to throw behind the batter.
Option 1: Take one step to the right while making a snap to first base.
Option 2: Pivot on the right foot and throw three-quarter arm to first. Right handed hitters are not in the throwing lane for throws to first base, catchers with strong arms can sometimes make snap throws form their sitting position.
Throwing to third base
Throws to third base are done by stepping in front of the right handed hitter on pitches from the middle to the right, behind the hitter on inside pitches, each designed to avoid hitting the bat with the throw or follow through. Lefties hitters are on the opposite batters box and are not in any way in the way of the throw to third. If the catcher knows a base runner is going to steal, a knock down throw can be called to give the catcher a better shot at throwing the runner out. Also a pitch-out can be called.
On a double steal, the catcher has to decide where he has a better shot to get the runner out. A good catcher will take into consideration, runners speed, jump, right or left handed hitter in the box, etc. Though you always want to get the lead runner, if no chance is open at third base, the catcher can throw to second base. There are several ways to attempt to prevent a double steal with runners on first and third. A quick look or fake to third will hold the runner just enough to stop him, or throwing through, to a middle infielder who will cut in front of the base, make the tag at second or throw the ball home to get the runner from third. Another technique is a fake throw to second, followed by a snap throw to third base.
To field a bunt or softly tapped hit in front of the plate the catcher must remove his mask, flip it away from where he is going, pick up the ball in a sweeping two hand motion, ready to make a snap throw to the base required. Balls down the third base line, turn counter-clockwise, step and throw to first. Down the first base line, step to the left and throw the ball to the inside of the bag to not hit the runner going up the base line. On a missed, dropped third strike, step in foul area and throw on the outside of the bag. The catcher must make all the calls as to what base the throw is going to.
Catchers are responsible for pop-ups inside the first and third base foul territories whatever the infielders cannot get to and the entire area behind the plate. Remove the mask and hold it until the last second, then flip it away so that it is far away from the area the ball will be caught. Keep in mind that balls hit by right handed batters will tend to go right, left handed batted pop-ups will tend to go to the left. Always gauge the wind and sun when attempting to make this play. Ask for help if having trouble locating the ball. Due to the spin, most balls will come back towards the infield so turn accordingly to maximize chances of catching the ball.
Protecting the plate
Covering home plate is one of the most difficult jobs a catcher has to do. There is a runner come at you full speed, movement everywhere on the field, and a baseball flying in, ALL at the same time, requires focus and guts. The catcher has to position himself to block the plat with his shin guards, catch the ball, and then go down to keep the sliding or barreling runner from touching the plate. The ball should be held tightly in the right hand, and then cradled inside the mitt to keep it from being knocked out on contact with the runner who will be trying to do just that, knock the ball out of the catcher’s glove. Once the tag is made, the catcher needs to pop right back on to his feet, ready to throw, in case any other runner is trying to advance. Surely on of the most exciting plays in the game.