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Fielding a baseball in the outfield is quite different than when doing so in the infield. As an infielder, you always have someone backing you up. Make a mistake and the outfielder will attempt to help keep the cost minimal.
However, as an outfielder, you are the last line of defense. Any ball hit past you can cause your team dearly, with the base runners rounding the bases at will.
With a large expanse of ground to cover, you must be quick afoot, often needing to accomplish the difficult task of making catches while running at top speed. Where the infielder needs to be efficient fielding ground balls, you must be efficient catching fly balls and keeping ground balls in front of you.
General characteristics of the center fielder.
The center fielder is typically the fastest runner in the outfield, and should also have a decent arm. Having a center fielder with great range allows the left and right fielders to both cheat closer to their respective foul lines without fear of giving up an increased number of hits in the gaps or along the baselines.
A speedy center fielder also pays dividends when attempting to keep the baseball from getting behind the outfielders. If you’re playing center field, on any hit to the left or right fielder, it is your responsibility to back that player up – running behind him in anticipation of fielding a baseball if it should squirt past your teammate. So, be ready to run. If the pitcher is giving up moon shots on any particular day; your endurance will be tested.
The center fielder is also the leader of the outfield. Being in the center of all the action you need to take charge, making the decision to field the baseball yourself or give way to one of your teammates, whether another outfielder or a middle infielder who has ventured into the outfield to field a short popup. It’s your call, so make it wisely.
Lastly, be prepared to backup any errant throws to second base, particularly those made by the catcher when he attempts to catch a base runner who’s stealing, or from the pitcher when he makes a pickoff move to nab a runner at second. Any delay by you in recovering the baseball could be the difference in that runner rounding third on his way to being safe at home.
Responsibilities of the right fielder.
Considered the longest throw in baseball, the long distance toss from the right fielder to the third baseman theoretically requires that the right fielder have one of the strongest arms in the outfield.
If unable to make that long toss (as is often the case) look for some help. The shortstop should be just off of second base with his arms up in the air, giving you a target to use him as the cut-off man to third.
Other than fielding a baseball hit your way and making long throws, a significant part of playing right field is backing up your teammates, particularly the center fielder and the first baseman.
With the center fielder being your last hope when a ball gets past you, he is counting on you to be there backing him up when he’s fielding a baseball hit to the right side of center field.
If you see that the center fielder has a more direct path to the baseball than you, take a route that will bring you behind him – leaving several feet between the two of you. Leaving space between the two of you minimizes the likelihood of you being fooled by any accidental redirection of the baseball off of the center fielder’s glove or body.
Backing up the first baseman can be a tiring experience, especially if the pitcher is forcing a lot of ground balls to be hit in the infield. While the catcher’s role, when there are no base runners, is to run down the first baseline to back up the first baseman on any errant throws, so too is it the right fielder’s responsibility to do the same – particularly on throws from the left side of the infield.
Errant throws from the shortstop, and even more so, the third baseman, have a tendency to carom off any fencing behind the first baseman and carry down the first baseline … often eluding the grasp of the catcher. On any throw to the first baseman, it is your responsibility to move into position to prevent the baseball from getting too far down that line.
Another throw you must backup is the ones from the shortstop or third baseman to the second baseman covering second base. Your natural positioning in the outfield makes this simple, as you often don’t need to move much. Just move to align yourself with the throw and take a few steps in toward the infield as the play is made.
The responsibilities of the “hitter’s position” – left field.
Although the left fielder typically isn’t the fastest guy in the outfield fielding a baseball, or has the strongest arm, this is often where coaches play good hitters who have moderate fielding abilities.
The position doesn’t require the rocket arm of the right fielder, or the speed of the center fielder. It doesn’t require the agility and reaction ability of the third baseman, or the shortstop’s skill of being able to handle any ground ball hit his way. Not that having those skills is a detriment to playing the position.
But, left field does require a steady ability to catch fly balls while preventing the baseball from getting behind you … making left field the “hitter’s position”.
When fielding a baseball as a left fielder, you want your throw to prevent the lead runner from advancing an extra base. For example, if there is no runner on, you’ll want to throw toward second base (either directly or via your cut-off man … the shortstop). With a runner on first your throw should be directed toward third base via the cut-off. And, with a runner at second your throw should be made toward home plate.
Don’t hesitate to use your cut-off men. Doing so gives your teammates the chance to change the direction of your throw if necessary, cutting down the runner at the runner’s initial base.
For example, you’re fielding a baseball with a runner on second base. You make your throw toward home plate, but the ball is cut-off by the first baseman who is acting as the cut-off. He sees that the runner has overrun third base and is retreating back to third. The first baseman throws over to third where the third baseman applies the tag for the out.
Your backup responsibilities include backing up throws from the first baseman to the shortstop at second base, and throws from the catcher to the third baseman on pickoff or stolen base attempts. You may also be involved if any throw gets by the third baseman from the pitcher on a pickoff attempt or an errant throw by the first baseman.
You are also the last line of defense when the center fielder is fielding a baseball. Take a path behind the center fielder any time he is making a play, and like the right fielder, do so far enough behind your teammate so that you can field any ball that might be deflected in an unexpected manner.