Backing Up First
Backing up first base is a very basic part of the catching position, yet, many catchers, especially at the youth level, fail to do their job in regards to backing up first base. This is a heads up play that can also couple as a hustle play. Catcher who fail to back up first base will be labeled as "lazy" so it is in the best interest of catchers to always back up first. It shows the coach that your head is in the game as well as your heart. Lets talk for a bit about this topic and answer a few questions that you may have regarding getting down the line.
Why do we do it? When do we do it? How far do I run? Where do I run?
First the why. Before we do anything on a baseball field it is important to understand why we are doing it. The why helps us better understand the what and the how. Knowing the why lets us know what it is we want to accomplish and by knowing that we can usually figure out the how as well. So, why do we back up first base? Simple. To stop the advancement of the batter-runner in the event of an over thrown ball to first base by one of our teammates. Does this mean we back up first base on every single batted ball that gives an opportunity for an overthrow? No. That leads us into the "when".
When do we back up first base? Basic answer: we back up first base any time a ground ball is hit with no runners on base. Complex answer: we back up first base only when there is no immediate threat of a base runner advancing home to score. I will explain. If there is a runner on second base, third base, second and third, or the bases are loaded, we do not back up first base on a batted ball. We stay home in case of a play at the plate. If we leave home plate open in one of those situations the pitcher is forced to cover home plate without the proper training on blocking home and without proper gear to protect himself.
Here is where it gets tricky. Notice that I did not say anything about the situation with a runner on first. With runners on first base we have to be ready to back up first base in the event of a double play, but if we fail to get the lead runner out at second base we need to return home. That means we will be jogging halfway down the first base line (in foul territory) watching the play develop as we run. If we get the lead runner out at second base then we run harder down the line to get into a good position to back up first base. If the lead runner is safe at second then we turn around and run back to home plate.
How far do I run? Where do I run?
When backing up first base we need to run at an angle towards the fence along the first base side of the field. Basically, running towards the far end of most major league dugouts if you can picture a MLB field in your mind. We have to be ready to stop the ball from getting into the dugout, so we need to run far enough up the line to have a good angle between the first baseman and the dugout. We also need to run far enough up the line to be able to grab the ball quickly if it gets by the first baseman. The object of backing up first is to keep the runner on first base so we need to run far enough down the line to make that happen.