Proper fielding, throwing technique requires hands-on approach

ASK CAL

December 24, 2006|By CAL RIPKEN JR.

DEAR CAL -- My 12-year-old son plays shortstop. Are there good drills to practice getting the ball from the glove fast without flipping it to make the throw to the base?

Rod Spencer, San Marcos, Texas

DEAR ROD -- One of the most common mistakes we see when working with young baseball players is flipping the ball from the glove to the throwing hand after fielding a ground ball. You see it quite often, and I'm not sure why. Maybe they are trying to be fancy or think that it is quicker to transfer the ball that way. Well, it's definitely not quicker than following the ball into the glove with the throwing hand and finding the proper four-seam grip before making the throw, and it's much more likely to lead to an error.

The best way to work on getting the ball out of the glove as quickly as possible after fielding it is to emphasize using two hands and transferring the ball quickly during practice. The time when players warm up and play catch before games and practices often results in the kids horsing around, throwing crazy pitches and making one-handed catches.

Instead of allowing that to happen, coaches should make sure that the players present their partners a target in which both hands are out in front of the body when preparing to receive a throw. The player should catch the ball with both hands out in front, so that he or she can see it enter the glove, and remove the ball as quickly as possible every time. The same approach should be taken each time a player catches a thrown or batted ball - in the air or on the ground - during games and practices. Fly balls should be caught with two hands over the head, again so the ball can be watched all the way into the glove.

If you make a point to emphasize this with your son when you play catch in the backyard and every time he takes the field, eventually the transfer will become second nature.

This type of mind-set paired with the repetition of doing it the right way will be more effective than any particular drill. Remember what my father used to say: "Practice doesn't make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect."

DEAR CAL -- My son enjoys all sports. He plays on a couple of baseball teams and is pretty good. He will be entering high school in the fall. The coach/athletic director wants him to play football, but my son is afraid he will suffer an injury that might affect his ability to play baseball. I understand his concerns but I believe the speed and agility gained on the football field will only make him a better baseball player. What are your thoughts on this?

Richard Jarboe, Mechanicsville

DEAR RICHARD -- There is no question that by playing football your son is going to develop his all-around athleticism, which will do nothing but improve his baseball performance. Playing other sports also helps minimize the potential mental burnout that can take place when an athlete focuses on just one sport all year.

However, just as it should be left up to your son as to whether he will focus on baseball all the time, it has to be his decision to play football. If he takes the football field every day with apprehension, fearing an injury that might hinder his baseball career, he most likely will practice and play at less than 100 percent. That's natural when you are trying to avoid getting injured.

That approach can be more dangerous, however, because I think that many people who have played contact sports will tell you that most serious injuries occur when a player is holding back.

Ultimately, it is your responsibility as a parent to provide your son with all the relevant information about the value of playing football and the inherent risks. Beyond that, the decision has to be left in his hands.

Have a question or issue arising from your involvement in youth sports? Send it by e-mail to askcal@baltimoresun.com.

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