Behind The Mask: Eyes Of A Catcher
The catching position has been under the microscope lately with the addition of the strike percentage statistic in the MLB, the new graphics displaying pop times and throwing velocity, and rule changes due to the Buster Posey injury a few years ago (which I will write about in a later post). While people are focussing in on the obvious side of catching, I want to focus in on a less obvious aspect of a good catcher, the eyes.
Today I was walking through Target and this topic popped into my head. As I walked down the aisle towards the auto section I noticed that my vision was not strictly set dead ahead. I was not using "tunnel vision" as I walked down the aisle. I also was not turning my head left to right to see all of the distractions around me. Rather, I was seeing everything in my vision field. Every little thing that moved in my field of view was capturing a piece of my attention. My main focus was forward as my eyes were set forward, but I noticed how keenly aware I was of all movement around me. This grabbed my attention and reminded me of sitting behind the plate.
Catchers have an important job. Not only are we asked to catch the ball, block the ball, and throw the ball, we have to know what is going on everywhere on the field. We have to pay attention to the fielders before we make a pitch call to make sure the defense is set up. Always scan the field before each pitch, make sure your defense is in the proper position before giving your sign. If they are not ready then wait for them to get to their spot.
We have to notice the delivery of our pitchers in order to help them if they start to stray from their mechanics. Notice if the pitcher is flying open with his front side. He might be rushing, landing closed, landing open, breaking his hands late, or even tipping his pitches. It is your job to help him stay on the right track during the game. Notice the little things.
We have to see the batter setting up in the box as well as his swing in order to make better pitch calls. A catcher needs to be able to see if the batter has a slow bat or a fast bat. Catchers need to know if the batters stays on the ball well or if he pulls out. This information will help with calling pitches. All of this depends heavily on the eyes and attention of a catcher.
As a catcher, your eyes need to be on the move, picking up every little thing you can in order to do a better job behind the plate. You need to be ready to pick up every movement of a baserunner in order to back pick or to make a throw to out a runner attempting to steal. There were numerous times in my career that a runner would steal second and nobody in the dugout or on the field alerted me. It was my responsibility to see the runner take off, just like it is your responsibility to see the runner move. It is good to have verbal cues from teammates but if you play in a loud crowd it will be hard to rely on verbal cues, your eyes will be your best tool for knowing a runner takes off. Plus, light travels faster than sound so you are going to be better relying on sight rather than sound. If there are runners on first and third, the catcher needs to be able to see if the runner at third takes off for home or not when the runner at first steals second. Check the runners to see lead sizes and movement tendencies. Some runners will tip to you if they plan to run or not. Learn to pick up on those giveaways.
In order to successfully use your eyes behind the plate you have to keep a calm mind. There is a lot going on during the game and we have a lot of responsibilities, but that does not mean it should be overwhelming. Part of being a good catcher is having the ability to slow the game down. Slowing the game down starts with slowing yourself down. Slowing down your thoughts and your heart rate. By keeping an inner calm you will be able to perform your duties behind the plate much better and your eyes will be able to pick up on more movements throughout the game.