1st and 3rd plays on defense
In my part of the world (Pennsylvania, USA), high school teams are gearing up for their regular season schedules. In beautiful weather I might add.
Right now, practices consist of all the nuts and bolts of the program: rundowns, pick-off plays, PFP (Pitchers Fielding Practice), bunt plays, relays, etc. Most of these plays are pretty straight forward and easy to practice. One play, however, still has me waking up in a cold sweat every now and then. The 1st and 3rdplays!
I have to admit that I absolutely hated practicing 1st and 3rd plays on defense. One reason is that there are so many different types to work on and master.
- What do you do if the guy at 1st leaves early and sprints to 2nd?
- How about if he leaves early and starts walking to 2nd? Should the pitcher run at him or throw it? Throw it to whom?
- What if he steals on the pitch and then stops in between 1st and 2nd?
- What do you do if there are no outs or one out? How about two outs?
Add about four or five more questions in there and you see why I hated this play. For the defense to work this play correctly and consistently, quick decisions and good instincts are needed to act on all the variables.
For most of my coaching career, practicing the play consisted of my players running all over the place trying to get the runner caught up between 1st and 2nd and also trying to keep the runner on 3rd from scoring. It was not unusual to get nobody out on the play. This is where the “absolutely hated” phrase comes into play. It seemed no matter how we practiced it, high school kids generally were not able to recognize what to do and when. Even when they did, they often did not have the throwing strength or accuracy to make the play at home when needed.
The higher you go in the game, the less tricky stuff teams do because the talent of the players at those levels prevent the play from working most of the time. The arms and instincts are usually too good. The problem I ran into was that high school players themselves must notice and act on the variables they see in order to make the play. Their lack of experience and physical talent largely prevents them from doing it correctly.
I got so fed up with the results (in practice and in games) that I decided to make things more simple for the players. I made it very black and white, or actually “Red” and “Green.” I basically boiled the play down to two options:
GREEN – When this play is called, the defense’s job is to get an out … anywhere. I didn’t care if the out was made between 1st and 2nd or between 3rd and Home. Just get an out. I didn’t care if the runner on 3rd base scored. Just get an out. I would run this play early in the game when one run is normally not as important or when we were up a few runs. In many cases, I would gladly trade a run for an out. The other team is giving you an out. Take it.
RED – On this play, the runner on 3rd ABSOLUTELY, POSITIVELY CANNOT SCORE. I told my players that the runner on 1st could walk to 2nd for all I care. He could stop half way between 1st and 2nd and the defense wouldn’t have to budge. I told my defense that it is perfectly ok to act as if the runner on 1st base wasn’t even there. I would call for this play later in the game when that runner on 3rd is more important. It’s also good when you have a stud pitcher on the mound. In that case, I’m forcing the other team to beat us with their bats against a good pitcher and not beat us because of our defense. I want the ball in my pitcher’s hand. If we happen to prevent the run from scoring AND get an out … hallelujah! The planets lined up!
Unless you have two gifted middle infielders (in terms of arm strength and instincts) and a left handed first baseman (he can turn and throw home easier than a right hander), making it very black and white (or Red and Green) can help simplify things at the high school level.
I just wish I had done it sooner.
What is your experience with this play?