Catching errant balls requires quick shift

ASK CAL

Youth Sports

November 18, 2007|By CAL RIPKEN JR.

DEAR CAL -- My son is a catcher who does everything well except for blocking balls off the plate in the dirt. He tends to reach for them instead of jumping in front of them. Do you have any suggestions on drills to help?

Casey McCray, Pensacola, Fla.

DEAR CASEY -- I would be careful with your terminology when it comes to blocking. While you don't want to be lazy and reach for the ball, because that increases the chances that it will just skip by, you also aren't really "jumping in front of" the ball, either. The idea is to drop to your knees immediately, shifting the weight to one side or the other, depending on where the ball is while covering what hockey goalies call "the five hole," or the area between your legs, with the glove. If the ball is in the dirt to the right, the right shoulder should be curled in such a manner that no matter where the ball hits the catcher it should bounce right back in front of the plate. The opposite is true for balls in the dirt to the catcher's left.

The best way to practice this is with baseballs and full gear. Throw the balls at the catcher in the dirt from a short enough distance that you can control where the ball bounces. Tell the catcher which side you are throwing to first so he or she can develop a level of comfort going in that direction. Then throw balls to the other side, again telling the catcher where the ball will be going. Once the player seems comfortable blocking in either direction, mix up the locations of the throws without prior warning. Don't forget to try to sneak some through the legs to keep the catcher honest.

One word of warning: The catcher is going to get hit occasionally in areas that are not padded, so you need to be careful. If the player has a fear of getting hit or if a few balls hit in painful spots, this drill can easily be performed with tennis balls, foam rubber balls or something similar. The key is to get equally comfortable moving in both directions and to develop proper blocking mechanics.

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

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