Step-By-Step: How To Field Ground Balls

01
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Soft Hands, Quick Reflexes - And Staying Alert

Omar Vizquel of the San Francisco Giants fields during a May 2007 game. Vizquel is one of the best fielding shortstops of all-time. He's won 11 Gold Glove awards. Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

Infielders in baseball and softball share one trait all around the horn. They all have good soft hands and quick reflexes.

Why soft hands and quick reflexes? Because fielding ground balls is one of the toughest things to master. Even the best commit errors all the time, because the ball is very rarely simply rolling. It's always bouncing off something or has a strange spin off the bat.

The best minimize those errors with preparation and staying alert. Where fielders play are on the infield usually is dictated by arm strength. Stronger arms are at shortstop (between second and third) and third base, where the throws are longer and and need to come in harder. Shortstops have the toughest job, and likely the most active one. Second basemen have their own skill sets for turning double plays, but don't need the super-strong arm. And first basemen need to be the best at catching the ball, scooping low throws and leaping for high ones.

Left-handers can play first base, but infield play at second, third and shortstop is easier for right-handers. Why? It's simply easier for a right-hander to make the throws, because lefties would have to pivot in an odd direction to make the plays. It's not a conspiracy: There is not a single left-hander at any of those positions in professional baseball.

There's a lot more to playing the infield than catching the ball, of course. There's cutoff throws from the outfield, who covers which base in which position, etc. But for the basics on grounders, here's a step-by-step look.

02
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Setting Up

San Francisco Giants shortstop Omar Vizquel is ready to pounce in any direction during this July 2007 game. Otto Greule Jr./Getty Images

A good infielder never looks bored. He or she might be back on his heels before the pitcher throws, but a good infielder has to be ready to break in any direction in a split second, whether it's to the right or left, in or out.

To accomplish this, the fielder should distribute his or her weight evenly on each foot. Keep an eye on the plate and the batter, to watch the ball right off the bat to get a jump.

03
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After The Ball Is Hit

The Giants' Omar Vizquel had to dive for this ground ball against the Cubs in August 2007. Greg Trott/Getty Images

It's all reaction at first. The fielder has a lot of computations to make immediately: Can I get to the ball? How fast do I need to run? Is it coming on a line drive or on the ground? Will I need to dive or leap? Where are the other fielders, and would another fielder have an easier play than me? If so, where do I run to get out of the way? Should I cover a base instead?

On plays where more than one fielder can make the play, it's helpful to remember which player might have the easiest play. On a ball hit up the middle, the second baseman should yield to the shortstop, who is running the direction of first base and would have an easier throw because the momentum is taking the shortstop that direction. The same goes for a ball between shortstop and third base. The third baseman has the momentum there. And on a play between second and first, the second baseman typically has the better angle.

04
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Charge It!

The Giants' Omar Vizquel never stands still when fielding a grounder. On this play, he had to move to his left. Jamie Squire/Getty Images

A common mistake for young infielders is waiting for the ball to come to them. If it's a hard ground ball, that isn't likely a problem. But it's rare that an infielder doesn't have to move at all. In fact, if it's coming right at them, they should still charge the ball, meaning running forward to grab the ball.

There are really good reasons why. First, the fielder is shortening the distance for the throw. It's a lot easier to make a relay from 100 feet than 120 feet. Secondly, the ball can take crazy hops at any time. The fewer times the ball bounces on the ground, the better chance there is that the ball won't hit a stray pebble and bounce in a strange direction. It's always best to play the ball before it plays you.

05
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Getting Down On The Ball

The Giants' Omar Vizquel is in perfect position to field this ground ball. Greg Trott/Getty Images

The most common mistake for a young infielder is not getting down on the ball. Keeping the glove down, then bringing it up if needed at the last second, will position an infielder for an easier and more fluid motion when it's time to throw. And it's a lot easier to bring the glove up toward the body than down toward the ground at the last minute. A good fielder doesn't "stab" at the ball - he or she simply scoops it up. But that takes practice.

To do so, bend over and straddle the spot if possible. It's best not to backhand or field the ball to the side unless absolutely necessary. It's simple enough why: If the ball then doesn't hit the glove, it could hit the fielder's leg or torso or an arm, thereby giving an infielder a fighting chance to still make the play. If the ball is played to the side, it's likely to get through to the outfield if the ball isn't caught cleanly.

Some infielders, especially at second base, where the fielder might have more time, will even kneel in front of the ball so there's no way it can get past them. And an infielder can't be scared that the ball is going to hit them in the face with a tricky hop.

06
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Making The Relay

Omar Vizquel prepares himself to make a throw in a 2007 game. Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

It's important to catch first, of course. But the best infielders can transfer the ball from glove to hand in one motion, then make a throw to first base. Time is of the essence, but don't rush. That's how throwing errors are made.

Depending on how much time a fielder has determines how hard to throw. The first baseman should be on the bag, ready to take the throw. Many infielders like to take what's called a “crow hop” before they throw to first. It's a timing mechanism toward making an accurate throw. The fielder takes a tiny leap in the air toward the base they're throwing to, landing on his or her back foot. He or she then pivots, pointing their front leg directly at the base they're throwing, and aims right for the midsection of the person covering first base.

There are, of course, other places to throw if there are runners on base, force plays at second, double plays, etc.

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Out At First

Omar Vizquel throws to first during a September 2007 game. Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

Make a strong throw, and the play is now in the first baseman's hands. Odds are the batter will be out at first.