When turning a double play, you can’t wait for the ball to be in your glove. You have to know that you are going to get the lead out before even attempting to go two. You need to anticipate. On top of that, can you double off the batted runner at first? As seldom as it takes place, a double play will happen in just a hair after 3 seconds. In that short duration of time, how is it possible to field one ground ball and make two accurate throws? Teams that know how to turn double plays are teams that understand the concept of Game Speed Defense.
Last week we talked about the idea of when Fastpitch happens. Since the game moves so quickly, we described how the intricacies of Fastpitch happen in the anticipatory phase versus the reaction phase of fielding. In the example of turning a double play, let’s use a third basemen’s perspective. With a runner at first base and less than two outs, a hard ball hit to the third basemen is a great time to consider turning a double play. The reason why is because the third basemen plays inside the baseline, closer to home plate than middle infielders who play deeper. Also, most hitters are right-handed and tend to drill hard ground balls to the pull side of the field. If a hard ground ball goes to the direction of the third basemen, chances are the ball will be in her glove in less than one second’s time. Now we have two thirds of our time left to use for gunning out runners. After all, that’s why they call third base “The Hot Comer.” Most everything comes that way hard and quick and you are reacting more than thinking. If you are the third basemen of your team, thinking that you got stuck there because your arm is not as strong as the short stop’s, don’t worry because you have likely been placed there for having more guts than anyone!
Getting back to it, let’s back it up a few notches. Ok so the ball has not been hit to the third basemen yet, but we are beginning our double play thinking as of now. Before the batter walks into the box, let’s take a glance at the runner at first base and determine is she has wheels or not. Is she the lead-off lefty slapper possessing the most speed on the team? Or is she a hitter known more for power and clean-up than a high stolen base percentage? After assessing the runner at first, let’s talk about the speed of the batter getting into the box. Now, if you think you have a shot, give your second basemen the nod to say “let’s get her at two.” This communication is just as important as the physical motions of turning a double play. By the time the ball is hit into your glove, you already know that your second basemen will be there on time since the conversation took place before the play. Now we allow our physical skills that we work on every day at practice do their job. At practice, the physical skills have to be designed into drills that set a standard for perfection. For example, the throw from the third basemen to the second basemen has to be right on the base and more specifically at the chest of the second basemen. This will allow for a quick transfer from catch to throw for the second basemen’s throw to one. In practice, we work for a high standard of perfection so that in the game we trust our mechanics are solid so we can let loose and just play!
The double play still yet goes beyond communication and physical skill. There is a third factor called expectation. Teams that turn double plays as routine have a high expectation for executing the second out. This means that they are not happy with just one out, but they are always looking for making two outs any opportunity with runners on base. You may not always get two outs, but you never know unless you are looking for it. I see many young fielders place a tag on a runner and look up to hear the umpire’s call. Often during that time, there is a second trail runner advancing to the next base. Again, the game of Fastpitch happens too fast in general. There is no time to wait for one umpire’s determination while the second umpire is already in position for the second play at another base. Having said that, let’s look for the third out while we’re at it!
From all of this discussion, I hope we can catch a glimpse of the lessons we learn from the game. Be aggressive and get the lead out and don’t settle for just one when you can get more. That is the winning attitude that it takes to win, and as a fastpitch softball player that is what you are signing up for. At the same time, throws are to be used wisely. There is no point in throwing to second base for a double play when the runner is already there as now you have given up the out at one just to risk overthrows. The mental needs to come prior to the physical as Fastpitch happens before the actual play. If you are in doubt and need a second opinion, communicate with your teammates on the field as they are the ones who you are going to need to tum this double play.