Infield Practice

Making Infield Practice More Efficient

By Cal and Bill Ripken
By now you've probably gotten tired of reading that there are no shortcuts and that repetition is the key to success when it comes to developing fundamental baseball skills.

Making sure that your players get a lot of repetitions - whether we are talking about swings, ground balls or fly balls - can be a challenge when you have a roster of 12 or more players, but there are ways to maximize the time you spend working on fundamentals that you may not have thought about. Even if you have one assistant coach or volunteer helper, you can use that person to break your kids into smaller groups, keep them active and at least double their repetitions.

Realistically, by eliminating some throws and using strategically placed buckets, you can probably triple or even quadruple your players' ground ball repetitions during a given session. Keeping your players active not only will make practice more enjoyable for your team, but also it will allow them to improve rapidly and dramatically.

Many coaches rely on formal infield/outfield pre-game and practice routines for their teams' ground ball work. While traditional infield/outfield practice is great for having players work on moving their feet, throwing after the catch and hitting the cutoff, in most cases only one player is working on his or her fielding fundamentals at a time. Sure, you may be working on cutoff and or relay fundamentals or on turning double plays, but as far as fielding goes, you are hitting balls to one person at a time while the others are watching.

Professional baseball players field a minimum of 50 ground balls per day - either before batting practice, during batting practice or both. Those guys are the best in the world at what they do, so if it makes sense for them to field balls every single day - even though they play on pristine fields - wouldn't it make sense for your young players to do the same?

Remember that your players are still developing their skills, so the more balls they get to field the better. We like to say that when the routine plays truly become routine - when players develop the muscle memory to feel relaxed enough on the field to react automatically to most balls that are hit their way - is when it becomes possible for the more challenging defensive gems to occur.

With that in mind, we feel strongly that it makes sense to spend 15 to 20 minutes at the beginning of every practice working on individual fielding. Of course, you want to accomplish a lot in every practice - baserunning, hitting, team fundamentals and so on - but if you really think about it, what is the point of cramming all of that stuff into a practice if your team struggles with the most basic part of the game (catching and throwing)?

Certainly, since time together on the field is a precious commodity, you want to be able to work on other aspects of the game during your allotted practice time. We are not suggesting that you spend your entire practice having your players field balls; kids are still kids, and we want to make sure they are having fun. If you spent even 30 or 45 minutes just working on fielding fundamentals, there's no doubt a lot of your players would lose interest. However, we do want to stress that is important to have your players field balls for 15-20 minutes every time they are on the field. And if you are going to set aside that amount of time for fielding, you might as well do what you can to ensure that the process is as efficient as possible, right?

Here's how you can do that:
Ask another coach or volunteer to hit ground balls with you. Get two full buckets of baseballs, or if you only have one bucket of balls, divide the bucket in half. Place half of your players on the left side of the infield and the other half on the right. It is best to put them in positions that they actually play, but for the first part of this drill, you want the players to be distributed evenly on both sides of second base so that they all get an equal number of reps.
Let's say that you have 12 total players and want all of them to catch ground balls (definitely a good idea with younger teams). In a perfect world you would place three kids at third base, three at short, three at second and three at first. As you will see, an even distribution is the best scenario for the first part of the drill in which the players simply field balls and drop them in a bucket. Once you ask players to start making throws, it is important for them to be in positions that they normally might play to simulate the type of throw that they might have to make in a game. Likewise, it is a good idea for first basemen to work on receiving throws, proper footwork, etc.

Before starting the drill place an empty bucket or other type of container that can hold balls at each position in a location that will not interfere with the players attempting to catch ground balls. Place the buckets in foul ground at first and third and in the outfield grass behind second and short. One coach sets up five to 10 feet to the right of home plate, with the other five to 10 feet to the left of the plate. Each coach has a bucket of balls. The coach to the right of home hits ground balls to third base and shortstop, with the other coach hitting to first and second.

This is a rapid-fire ground ball drill, with both coaches hitting balls at the same time. The coach to the right of home hits a ball to the first person in the line at third base. That player fields the ball, focusing on the proper fundamentals, jogs to the bucket and drops the ball in it. The next player in the third base line quickly steps up and does the same. This coach hits to all the third basemen and then all the shortstops and then repeats that pattern until there are no balls left in his bucket. Meanwhile, the other coach follows the same pattern with the second and first basemen.

After each coach has emptied his or her bucket, have the players return the balls to the coaches' buckets and then start over. This time, however the third basemen and shortstops throw to first after fielding the balls, while the second basemen continue putting the balls in their bucket. The first basemen put the balls thrown to them in their bucket after receiving. Hit balls until the buckets are empty and then reverse the scenario, with the second basemen throwing to first and the first basemen dropping the balls in their bucket while the shortstops and third basemen simply field the balls and drop them in their buckets.

This is a great way to ensure that your players field a lot more ground balls than they would get in a normal session, while also allowing them to work on throwing after the catch. Likewise, the first basemen get to field balls and also concentrate on proper footwork around the bag and receiving. This allows you to focus more on specific team fundamentals such as cutoffs and relays, force outs, double plays, throwing to bases and so on during your regular infield/outfield routine without having to worry if your players are getting enough reps fielding batted balls.