Although I have spent most of my ball-playing years in the infield, there were a few games I played the outfield. Out in the vast green grass, things were a bit more quiet than the charged up infield where six chatty people shared the dirt. There were only three of us to cover the large span of green, with nothing behind us but the fence. The signs from the catcher had to be relayed out to me so I could see them, like a silent code passing. The initial transition from infield to outfield felt like being casted into the unnoticed shadows. However, by the time of the first pitch I felt a new identity crash into me like a wave. I felt the gravitational pull of the strong current of responsibility.
As an outfielder, you are the last line of defense. “First step back” and “nothing gets by” are along your list of coach’s clichés. It is your job to make sure that everything in front of you runs smoothly. Since you have a view of the entire field, let’s assume that’s a big responsibility. Think of it as being a General Manager who is responsible for the entire functioning of a team and event. Your job is not to handle each pitch like the pitcher and catcher. However, your duties include each pitch as well as an entire overview of the happenings on the field. If this truth seems overwhelming, let’s break it down to first manage the Three B’s.
The Three B’s stand for ball, base, and back up. In the outfield, it is often easy to assume that you are not in the play. For example a routine ground ball hit to an ambitious short stop can turn into a potential double play. Beyond this infield play, there are multiple anticipative tasks on behalf of the outfielder. For example, the left and center fielders first play the ball in case it passes the short stop. The right fielder immediately knows the ball and bases are covered by others, and quickly looks to back up a throw to second and first base during a double play. That’s a lot of coverage for the right fielder if she knows to be responsible for even the most routine ground balls hit to the infield. When we think in terms of the Three B’s, we realize that every person on the field is always involved in each play in some way. Once a responsible outfielder knows how to anticipate possible mishaps within the infield, overthrows can be converted into put outs at the next base.
As for playing the ball hit to the outfield, this is where the fun begins. The next time you are standing out in the outfield, take a look all around you. Before the pitcher gets into the circle, measure the distance between you and the infielders in front of you and the other outfielders beside you. Take a mental calculation of the distance between you and the fence behind you and the foul territory fence that contains areas that are in play. Once you have a solid sense of your spatial orientation, then your mind is locked in to anticipate which type of balls you will be able to make a play on, versus need assistance with. For example a shallow fly ball, between you moving in and an infielder moving back, will typically be an easier catch by you. The outfielder has a quicker running path with throwing momentum moving in towards the field.
If you already have a sense of space before the ball is hit, you will move more explosively to the ball at the crack of the bat.
Since you are the last line of defense, covering a long span of green, you need to move through the outfield quickly without hesitation. A drop step is a safer immediate movement to make if you are trying to decipher the direction of a fly ball. It is easier to recover in towards the field versus back towards the fence. Remember the momentum of our body moving forward into our throw is just as important as our arm strength. Whenever you have the choice, let’s instinctively create momentum by “beating” the ball to it’s location and moving forward into a throw, versus “meeting” the ball.
The other rule of thumb you will learn to follow in the outfield is “drop step, turn, and go!” The message is simple and to be followed with immediacy. There is no room for second-guessing or last minute calculations. Since you already have a measure of space, now it’s time to drop step to turn your body and pump your arms like you are in a full on sprint. Keeping your focus on the ball, your teammates should be your eyes to warn you of the fence approaching. Take pride in knowing what it feels like to be an outfielder, when the seconds build upon each explosive stride across the green within each pounding beat of your heart. Prepare to make the play off the fence as the words “nothing gets by you” repeat in your mind. Let the leather of your glove enclose the solid circumference as you take your final leap towards the ball. When you come down crashing against the outfield wall, hold that ball tightly in your glove as you come jogging in. With a glance to your pitcher and infielders peering back at you, they will hear the comfort of your silence say, “I got your back.”
|Lisa Iancin: Lisa Iancin “LI” competed professionally in the (NPF) for 5 seasons, gathering a national championship in 2004 with the New York/New Jersey Juggernaut and in 2006 with the New England Riptide. In 2005, Iancin was named the NPF Defensive Player of the Year. Among her college accolades at Cal are First Team AII-Pac 10 and back-to-back appearances at the Women's College World Series in 1999 and 2000. Internationally, Iancin played for Team Bussolengo, Italy in 2001. Iancin was the Assistant General Manager of the Tennessee Diamonds for the 2010 (NPF) season. To find out more about LI go to LISoftballAcademy.com|
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