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Published:March 21st, 2010 11:19 EST
baseball

From the On Deck Circle to Home Plate - Strategically

By Ron G Anselm

Whether you are playing the outfield or thinking where you are going to throw the ball if hit to you while playing the infield, you are always thinking about two things, what my next move is going to be and Winning! Then if you don`t win you might be consider getting new baseball gloves

     Ever wonder how much fun it is to play the game of baseball in organized league play? I can tell you from experience, there is no greater game (other than football and basketball) to play and be a part of as a team. There are a lot of fans out there that love the sport of baseball but have really never experienced what it is like to hit a fast ball or to steal a base, or become the manager of the team (as a fan) during the game and think of ways strategically to score runs.

baseball player

     The scenario goes something like this, as I kneel down on deck ready to come to the plate and be the hero of the game, I watch the pitcher and try to pick up how he is throwing the ball. I look for how the ball is coming off his fingers and what types of pitches he is throwing. Is he throwing more fastballs, sliders, breaking balls and on what part of the count is he throwing those types of pitches. Is he relying on his fast ball on a three balls two strike count, or is he throwing a breaking ball on a one ball and one strike count. I am trying to pick up what he is throwing and on what count he is throwing various types of pitches.

     I study the field and watch where the second baseman is positioning himself, where the right fielder, left fielder and center fielder is standing and are they playing in close or back by the warning track? I look to the left side of the field and study where the shortstop is playing his position, is he playing in the hole, towards third base, or dead center of the left side of the field? 

     I watch the opposing teams coach or manager to try to steal some of his defensive signals he is relaying to his pitcher and to his infield. And I am doing all this after each pitch is thrown. The game of baseball looks fun to watch but it is really a game of strategy and inches. You have to be one step ahead, especially one step ahead of the pitcher when you are batting to be able to hit the ball or know what your next move is going to be depending on the situation in the game.

     I watch the home plate umpire as he calls Strike Three! As my team mate goes down on called strikes. I stand up and walk slowly to the plate ready to smack the ball somewhere on the field to make something happen. As I walk to the plate, I watch the catcher glare at me as if he is sizing me up; I look at the home plate umpire as he stands there, hands on hips looking out into space or at the field. I look over at the pitcher and watch him play with the ball as if he is performing a magic trick in front of a large audience and at the same time; deciding what group of pitches he is going to throw me.

     I take a look at the runners we have on base and how many outs there are. I think to myself, one out, runners on first and third, we are down by two runs. I then look at where the second baseman and first baseman are playing their position and decide I am going to hit the ball through the hole that is open to the right of the first baseman since he is playing the bag to hold the runner on first base and the second baseman is playing more toward the bag at second which just opened up a hole the size of Mount Rushmore on the right side of the field.

     I reach home plate and take my time smoothing over the holes made by the last few batters. I take a few practice swings to loosen my shoulders up, and then I dig my cleats into the soft red clay. First my right foot is planted firmly just three inches behind home plate since I am facing a hard throwing and fastball throwing pitcher, I want to take an extra half second for the ball to reach the plate before it hits the catcher`s glove or I make contact with it. I then plant my front foot and dig it in slightly to the left of the plate in an open stance, so I have more vision of the ball coming at me.

     I take the bat off my shoulder and click into my batting stance. The home plate umpire, acting impatient with me as I take my time getting ready to hit yells, Play Ball! The pitcher glares down at me and watches the catcher give him the signs on what pitch to throw. He shrugs off the first few signs and then nods yes in approval on the last sign the catcher just flashed him. The pitcher works from the stretch since runners are on base and he doesn`t want to go into the full wind up which would give the runner at first a big head start to steal second base.

     This is a great scenario for our team to be in. This gives us a few options strategically. One options is if the runner at first steals second, the catcher will have to make a split second decision to either throw the ball to second to try to catch the first base runner stealing which would give ample time for the runner at third to come home for the run, or the catcher can hold the ball and let the first base runner take second which would keep the runner on third base from stealing home and scoring if the catcher threw the ball to second base to try to cut down the first base runner attempting to steal but would put another run in scoring position with a base hit if he does let the runner at first steal second base, or as most major league teams used to do in the great era of baseball in the 1970s, the catcher would throw the ball to the shortstop who would be charging in towards home plate from his position, he would catch the ball from the catcher and as the runner at third would not be able to see where the catcher threw the ball, he is assuming the catcher is trying to pick off the runner stealing second, would sprint towards home plate in anticipation he is going to be able to score only to have the shortstop fire the ball back to the catcher for tag of the runner and the out. Now days, I haven`t seen that strategy happen too much with major league teams. In this scenario now days, as the first base runner breaks for second base, the pitcher or catcher will either call a pitch out if the runner at first base is known for his speed or known for stealing lots of bases.

     A pitch out is when the catcher or pitcher may think the runner at first is going to be a threat to steal, he calls for the pitcher to throw a pitch way outside of the batter so the batter cannot hit the ball. The pitcher doesn`t throw his normal speed on the pitch but kind of throws the ball as if he is playing catch with the catcher, the catcher jumps up and catches the ball on the pitchout to the right or left of the outside of home plate depending on if a right or left handed batter is up.

     In this case, if the runner did try to steal second, the catcher could fake the throw to second base to try to draw the third base runner off the bag far enough to rifle the ball down to third and pick off the third base runner, or the catcher could in fact throw the ball to second base to try to catch the runner trying to steal in time to pick off the runner and hopefully have the shortstop or second baseman whoever is covering the bag at the time be able to tag the runner stealing for the out and have enough time to gun the ball back to the catcher to also pick off the runner attempting to steal home.

   But in this case, I know the runner at first is not going to try to steal since I am watching the first base coach flash signals to my third base coach who is flashing signals to me at the plate and would let me know if he was going to send the runner to second base. This time he chooses not to.

     I then watch the third base coach flash me the signals, he first touches the brim of his hat, slides his fingers down to his lettering on his uniform shirt, back up to his sun glasses, back down to his left leg and then he claps meaning he just gave me every signal he was going to give me. I see there is no bunt signal, no hit and run signal, so I am swinging away.

     I look back towards the pitcher ready for the pitch; the crowd grows from a loud chatter to a dull silence as the pitcher kicks is leg high in the air and towards home plate followed by the ball coming off his hand. I watch the rotation of the ball to pick up what pitch is coming at me. I watch to see if the ball has a backward rotation which would mean a fastball or does it have a front and sideways rotation which would mean a breaking ball. Maybe it has no rotation and this high school pitcher just became Phil Niekro junior and is throwing me a knuckle ball but I have not come up against too many knuckle ballers in Senior Major Little League, so I am sure there will be some rotation on the ball as it comes towards me. If anyone wonders what a knuckle ball is it has no rotation when thrown and sort of just floats in the air. Trying to make contact with the bat to a knuckle ball pitch is almost like trying to hit a fly with a stick.

     I see the ball as a back rotation, so I look for where the pitch is going to make its mark. I am looking for anywhere from my shoulders to my knees and if the ball is going to be within the corners of home plate. This is called the strike zone. And I am doing this all in less than a second.

     As the pitch comes at me like a speeding comet it is high, so I let it go by. The home plate umpire yells Ball! I step out of the batter`s box and look back at my third base coach who again is flashing me the next set of signs.

     He again throws a ton of signs at me but nothing that is out of the ordinary. He then claps his hands letting me know he is done flashing me the signs. I step back in the batter`s box, dig in and get ready for the next pitch. The pitcher again is working from the stretch position, both runners on the corners are taking a lead, the pitchers glances at the runner on third, looks back to me at the plate and kicks his leg high in the air, I again watch the ball at it slides off his fingers like grease, this time, the rotation is forward and to the right, so I watch the ball as if looks like it is going to hit me but then at the last nano second, curves back in to the plate and over the center of the plate, he just threw me a breaking ball. The home plate umpire yells, Strike! I think to myself, Sh**! I just missed the pitch I was looking to hit!

     I step out of the batter`s box to collect my thoughts and get back my composure. I then again go through the motions and get back in the batter`s box. The pitchers winds and delivers, it is a fastball, I wait a second and take an even cut at the ball. I wait an extra second to make contact late so I can hit the ball to the right side of the infield. The ball hits my bat with a loud Crack! It shoots in the hole in the right side of the field. The first baseman lunges at the ball in an unsuccessful attempt to snag it as it rolls past him like a speeding bullet. The second baseman dives at the ball but comes up short.

     The ball squirts into right field as the right fields comes charging towards it in an attempt to cut it off and gun down the third base runner heading for the plate like a freight train. The crowd that grew quiet is now cheering as loud as standing on Interstate 95 at rush hour.

     I watch the right fielder as he fields the ball on the run and comes up firing it to the plate. The first base coach knows my speed (4.3 in the forty yard dash back then in my glory days) and decides to send me to second base as I watch him wave his right arm in a circle letting me know to go. I round first base not seeing anything but the first base coach and the corner of the bag as I make sure to touch it as I fly by it and head for second base. The catcher knowing the runner at third as beat the right fielders throw to the plate decides to cut the ball off early and try to cut me down as I sprint towards second base, my eyes are now on the second base bag and on the shortstop as he covers the bag awaiting the throw from the catcher. I glance briefly at the second baseman who is now taking a position behind the second base bag to back up the shortstop if the ball from the catcher should get past the shortstop receiving the throw.

     As the catcher receives the ball from the right fielder, he is already in position to throw me out (if he can) He takes the ball on a bounce and guns it to second.  I see the shortstop moving in position as if he is waiting for the ball to reach him so I know the catcher as just fired the ball to second and to the shortstop. As I get close to the bag, the shortstop takes the ball from the catcher on one bounce, tries to block me from touching the bag, and takes a swipe at me as he catches the ball. I take one leap in a Pete Rose belly slide and turn to the right of the base to avoid being tagged out. The glove of the shortstop comes less than an inch from tagging me out as I slide by and reach out to touch the second base bag with my right hand. I accomplish my mission and take second base as the second base umpire yells Safe! And gives the safe signal with his arms.

     I stand up and call time out to dust my uniform off.  After a few seconds of cleaning myself up, I step back on the second base bag and look towards the third base coach who is giving me the signals once again. He is signaling to me the same signals as he is giving the batter and has just relayed to the runner on third base.

     In this case with runners on second and third, one out and the heart of the batting order coming up next, we could have the next hitter just bat or swing away but we are still down by one run, and the game is in the seventh inning, so it`s crunch time.

     The coach signals for a hit and run which means on the next pitch, myself and the runner at third are going, the batter needs to hit anything on the next pitch no matter where the ball is, in other words; if he misses hitting the pitch myself and the runner on third coming to the plate are going to be hung out to dry.

     This strategy is called manufacturing runs. In baseball, one of the main strategies to winning is to make something happen. A good example of major league teams implementing this strategy is the Los Angeles of Anaheim Angels. Mike Scocia the manager of the Angels is always doing something during the game to score runs. Whether it`s stealing bases, switching around the batting line up during the game in various situations to make something happen, hit and run scenario`s, using squeeze plays to score runs, the Angels with their winning record the last few years have proven they can beat teams with this strategy. It also makes the game a lot more exciting to watch and play in.

     The pitcher is now working from his full wind up. He steps on the rubber on the pitching mound, I take a few steps off the bag to take a lead, I look back behind me to make sure the second baseman and shortstop are not circling behind me for the pitcher to throw them the ball and pick me off second base.

     As the pitcher sets on the mound ready to pitch, he gives me one last look to keep me close to the bag at second, I wait until he looks back to the plate and take a giant lead off second base, and the third base runner is now taking a lead off the third base bag. The batter is ready to swing at anything that comes his way.

     The pitcher goes into his wind up and delivers, I take off towards third base like a race horse out of the starting gate. The runner on third base breaks towards home plate. The crowd stops and holds their breath, it`s almost like time is standing still.

     The pitch is low and outside but the batter swings anyway connecting with the pitch. This is a hit and run scenario, so the batter again has to hit the ball no matter what. The ball is shot towards the second baseman on the ground.

     Since this was a hit and run and I took off running before the ball was even hit, I am now just about to third base before the second baseman even fields the ground ball. The runner on third is just about to the plate at home with the tying run.

     The second baseman fields the ball, I am on third base now, the runner that was on third base is now crossing the plate and the second baseman`s only option is to throw the batter out at first. With that, there is now only two outs, we just tied the game and we now have a runner (me) on third base with our power hitter coming to the plate. Manufacturing runs like this is what makes the game fun not only to play but for the fan to think up strategies while he or she is watching the game. It is also a crucial strategy to winning.

     Now, the manager of the opposing team walks out to the pitcher to talk to him to try to calm him down. The next move for us is to just let our next batter hit away. When you have your power hitters up in the heart of the line up you normally want to just let them swing away.

     The pitcher again goes through his motions and delivers the pitch. The batter hits the ball in the air and deep towards left field. Since there are two outs, I don`t have to worry about tagging or waiting for the left fielder to catch the ball before I run home, I just take off towards home plate. The left fielder catches the ball just before the wall in left for the out. I jog back to the dugout to get my glove and then run back on the field to my position at shortstop.

   So, this coming season while you are watching a baseball game, watch the game in a strategic way and come up with what you would do to manufacturer or score runs if you were the teams manager. It makes the game a lot more fun to watch. 

     As a baseball player you are always thinking during the game. Whether you are playing the outfield or thinking where you are going to throw the ball if hit to you while playing the infield, you are always thinking about two things, what my next move is going to be and Winning!  

    

    Whether you are playing the outfield or thinking where you are going to throw the ball if hit to you while playing the infield, you are always thinking about two things, what my next move is going to be and Winning! Then if you don`t win you might be consider getting new baseball gloves