It is more common a discussion than you would believe among coaches after a game, the opening lines of which are usually: “damn, we just could not handle the opponents’ pitcher!”
When players begin playing softball in college, they don’t usually start with the base runner mentality of testing the defense constantly knowing quite well that they will go to the next base.
As a base runner, here are the things you do: you hit the single, run down the line, round first – already assuming that the groundball which has been fielded by the outfielder will be smoothly picked up and we assume that the ball will be thrown in now as a strike to the middling fielder, and we assume that another strike will throw the ball to the pitcher.
So here are the steps again: the outfielder has to catch the ball, throw a strike. The middling fielder has to catch it, and throw a strike. Finally – the pitcher has to catch it. These are the five things that must happen perfectly whenever you hit a base hit to the outfield.
What you will be learning as you read can be condensed into this simple nugget: you have to learn to never take your eyes off the ball. A lot of strikers assume that they already have their eyes on the ball – but trust me, from experience, I know this: you really aren’t keeping your eyes on the ball.
Your challenge this minute is to work out a method for ensuring that your eyes remain constantly on the ball right until the ball is in the circle. Do you think that’s going to be easy? Are you excited? Yes! You have to keep your eyes on the ball until you see the ball get back in the circle.
Important Note: You should never take your eyes off the ball. Keep your eyes trained on the ball until it gets back in the circle. Then – and only then – should you then get back to your base.
Now, note this: 8-9 out of 10 times, your opponent will complete those five steps I mentioned earlier correctly. You live for the 1-2 times that they do not. As soon as you make your strike, wait in the safe area, and as soon as they don’t make the steps complete, you should read that and move on to the next base.
How to Become a Better and More Aggressive Base Runner
There is a lot more to the technique of base running that running fast. There is a lot of smarts too, intuition and a calculative glint that separates the best from the lucky. You must know the right time to take that extra base, how to round a bag as you advance to the next base. You also should know how to read the movement of the ball so you have the best lead at all times without putting yourself in too much of a bad position because you jumped the gun. We are going to teach you how to become a better and more aggressive base runner:
Take the better lead over your opponent
The technique is simple: now, a great lead is usually 3 ½ big steps from first base. For the runner, he would be something about one step and a head-first dive away from that bag.
When pitchers make slow, pre-planned moves to the bag, it is perfectly fine to return to the bag close to your feet. However if the pitcher is fast on the pivot you have nothing to blame – except that you did not have a large enough lead for you to get back to the bag without taking the dive.
Right-handed pitchers make the game easy
It’s natural to swing right-handed, and it makes it easy to read right-handed pitchers’ moves. Just watch their feet – the feet tell the entire story. Watch the feet of the pitcher, including the back foot. If the pitcher lifts their front foot, this tells you that you should begin your secondary lead. However if you see the back foot move, this is an indication that the pitcher will be throwing to first.
Here’s another pro tip: while most runners observe the back foot, watching both the back foot and the front will ensure that no matter the outcome, you have an early jump on that precious lead.
The Secondary Lead
You might have wondered about the secondary lead. Two hops plus the primary lead equals the secondary lead, in a nutshell. Seeing a right-handed pitcher lift his front foot tells you that the secondary lead is what is currently in play and you should begin your hops. Ideally you want to be on your second hop when the ball crosses into the hitting zone.
If you do this right, you will be in position to accurately read the ball and move to the next base if the ball is hit on the ground.
However, if this contact doesn’t happen and the ball gets to the catcher, you basically should be off, bouncing back to that bag. Through this all remember: eyes on the ball! This is especially since it is still possible for the catcher to make a terrible throw back to the pitcher.
Here’s a something clever base runners do:
Some of the smartest base runners scan the outfielders to check the depth of their play (sometimes they are simply covering the batter to a particular playing field). The best – and perhaps only – time you should be scoping the outfielders is while you are standing on the bag. As soon as the ball has been batted to the outfielder, your little recon will let you know if the ball will be caught. Your study of the playing range of the outfielders will often help you calculate your advance through one extra base.
Reading the pitcher’s hand
Another pro tip that might take some getting used to is observing the hand of your pitcher to determine whether they will toss the ball onto the ground. Key indicators: if the ball is curved or a fastball darting towards the dirt, move, quick, to claim the next base. You see, if this happens, it means that the catcher will have to cleanly pick the ball and make a strongly poised throw to get you at all. In more cases than not, the catcher will block the ball aimed for the dirt because that is their basic training instinct. What if the catcher throws you out? You tip your helmet to them.
Always be on the lookout for a dirt ball whenever there are breaking ball scores like 0-1, 1.2, or 0-2. Be prepared for everything.
You’ll Become Aggressive in No Time with These Tips
Even if you have started out with basic speed at softball/baseball, with these techniques you can quickly become an aggressive player with remarkable base running stats. I know that every coach- or at least every smart coach – want a brilliant runner as compared to a merely fast guy who isn’t concerned with the arithmetic of the field.
Always know your limits and as soon as you have figured them out, always work to force the hands of your opponents by always going ahead to, you know, take that extra base.