I recently posted the above video on my social media pages to give a sneak peak into some of my drills that I use when training catchers of all levels. There was a lot of feedback, lots of it was great, positive feedback, and a little bit of it was negative. I appreciate all the positive feedback for those who gave it and for those who gave the negative feedback. Because I love catching so much I want to share with you some of my knowledge that was gained not just from coaches but mostly from nearly 20 years of experience behind the plate, wearing the gear, getting beat up by pitches, catching at low levels as well as high levels, playing in 2 college world series and catching over 100 games in college, playing professionally including more than 400 games behind the plate, and teaching the game and position for over 10 years. Here is just a small piece of knowledge for you all.
What is our ultimate goal regarding blocking pitches in the dirt? Is it to let the ball hit us so it doesn't go to the back stop? Is it to protect the umpire? Is it to look good in front of the coaches and scouts so we can continue getting playing time? Is it to keep the ball in front? Or, is it to stop the advancement of any and all runners?
If you answered by saying "to stop the advancement of any and all runners" you are correct. While all that other stuff is gravy, it is not the ULTIMATE goal of blocking balls in the dirt. Yes, we want to sacrifice our body and allow the ball to completely obliterate us if we have to. Yes, we want to keep the ball off the back stop. Yes, we want to keep the ball off the umpire. Yes, we want to look good in front of coaches and scouts so we can keep playing the game we love. If you say this isn't incentive to blocking then you are lying to yourself. Not a single catcher plays the game if they don't block so you better be blocking the ball or you will find yourself on the bench. Yes, we want to keep the ball in front (or beside us). By the way, keeping it in front is just a term that is thrown around a lot in the baseball world, but it really doesn't have to be in front of you, it can be beside you. The point is to keep it within three feet. Just don't let it get too far from you.
All of this stuff is great to do, but at the end of the day, if we do not stop the advancement of base runners we are not doing our job effectively. We absolutely have to stop the advancement of base runners when we block baseballs because if we cannot do that then we may as well not even block the ball at all.
So, when do we block?
There are three absolute times we must block baseballs in the dirt. Number 1, with runners on base, period. Not man on first, not man on second, not man on third, not bases loaded, not first and second, not first and third, not second and third. MAN ON BASE PERIOD. If someone is on base then you darn sure better block the baseball. Number 2, three ball counts. If you are catching and have a three ball count, what can happen if ball four bounces? The batter can continue running beyond first base. He does not have to stop. So if the ball is not blocked and gets far enough away, especially with a fast runner, that walk might turn into a double. Block the ball in all 3 ball counts. Lastly, Number 3, two strike counts. We absolutely have to block the ball in two strike counts. Every one knows about the dropped third strike. If the batter swings at a pitch in the dirt for strike three, if he has any savvy at all, he runs to first. If we do not do our job and block it up, we just gave up a single and possibly a double. This could completely change the outcome of a game. Not only are you giving up a free base but you have probably just ticked off your pitcher. Now he has to do extra work and he is mad at the same time. Bad combination.
When do we block?
3 ball counts
2 strike counts
runners on base
What is our ULTIMATE goal in blocking a ball in the dirt?
To stop the advancement of any and all runners.
How do we do this?
So rather than just trying to keep the ball in front of us and being a human wall, we must block the ball and keep it close to us. That means you have to be as soft as you can while blocking the ball. You want to deaden the ball. When it hits you the goal is to make sure that ball stays within three feet. It starts with a mindset. The idea of being soft and keeping the ball close. Just blocking the ball is not good enough. You have to expand your mind to know why you are blocking it in order to do the proper moves. What your mind thinks your body will do. Think wall and you will stop the ball like a wall. Think soft and close your body will respond properly by softening up the blow. That means that there are a lot of things your local catching coach is telling you to do that you probably don't want to do. If you are interested in learning all the proper techniques feel free to shoot me an email and we will get together on that and do online training or on site training. I would love to help you figure out the best way to do this blocking thing.
In reference to the video above and side blocking. This drill is done with the hands behind the back, which means you are getting no reach with your hands, which means less rotation of the torso upon reaching because there is no reach. Anyone who knows anything about catching knows that the hands go first. In this drill we miss out on that part which changes the mechanics of the block a little bit. This drill is done strictly for lower body purposes. This drill is all about getting a good push off of your opposite foot and getting to the inside of your knees as you hit the ground. Lots of young guys rely too heavily on their upper body for lateral moves which causes them to jump and end up landing on the outside of their knees which causes ineffective blocks. They also tend to try to do a jab step prior to doing a lateral block thinking it gives them more range. WRONG. It takes you longer to cover that ground so the ball is either hitting you at a terrible angle or it is going right by you all together. Rather, we want learn how to utilize our legs in moving laterally. Do this drill to increase leg dexterity and see your ability to move laterally increase over time. No need to get a crazy angle back to home plate like many of you are taught either. Maintain squareness to the pitcher and you will be doing great. This gives you enough angle and also gives you a ton of space with your upper body to block the baseball, aka surface area. Get turned too much and you lose that area to block the ball and you actually expose yourself to more injury by showing the lateral side of your elbow to the ball. I don't know about you, but when I get hit in the boney part of my elbow by a baseball moving 80-90 plus mph it hurts pretty bad. I for one am going to rely on my protective gear to do its job.
If you want to get better, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will do all that we can to help you improve your game.