On offense for baseball and softball, a lot of emphasis is placed on hitting properly. That’s only right. Everything starts with making contact between the bat and the ball, and it’s not exactly an easy skill. But as a coach or as a player, you can’t overlook the importance of effective base running strategies.
The simple truth of the matter is that not all hits are home runs, so the player can’t just get into that well-known trot around the bases. If you’re a player and you get on base, you have to know just how to run the bases effectively. It can make the difference between a run and an out, and that difference can very well decide the game.
Overall Base Running Fundamentals
Base running involves certain basic principles that players need to master on an instinctive level. That’s not an easy process, and it can take time. But here are some steps that can really help out.
- Going over hypothetical situations. It can help a player if the coach provides clear general instructions for hypothetical situations that can happen during a game. Players need to have some idea of what to do, when there are 2 outs or no outs, when they’re on first base or second, and so on and so forth. A written document that a player can read during their off time can help them become familiar with the tactics they can use for certain situations.
- Base coach instructions. Players should also make it a habit of listening to the advice of a base coach. Sometimes these instructions can be verbal, and on other times they can be in the form of hand signals. Players should learn what these instructions and signals mean.
- Going over the rules on stealing bases. Different rules for stealing bases apply to different ball games and different leagues. Make sure that players know what rules are in effect for the games.
From Home to 1st Base
For players, going from home to 1st base is perhaps the most basic form of base running. Everyone needs to master the following basic guidelines. Here are some basic rules when the only possible options are either getting to first base on a single or being called out on first base:
- Explosive starts. The first few steps getting out of the batter’s box is truly important when it comes to reaching home base. If you’re the player, you need to take quick and short steps going out of the box once you make contact with the ball. Then you can increase your stride as you go towards 1st base.
- Run through the bag. This is the most important guideline in getting to first base. Unlike with other bases, you can’t get tagged out simply because you went and left 1st base on your explosive run. So don’t stop or slow down until you’re past 1st base. It doesn’t matter if the fielders have an easy pass to the 1st baseman to get you out. There’s always a chance of a botched throw or a dropped catch.
- Learn to “break the tape”. If you’ve seen Usain Bolt and other sprinters in action, you may notice that they have this motion at the end of the race that literally breaks the tape at the end of the runway. This motion (and general attitude towards sprinting) is actually the quickest way to get to first base.
In addition, umpires may just see your upper body instead of your feet touching the base. For close plays, the motion of breaking the tape may get the “safe” call.
- Run, don’t jump. During close plays, a player may want to jump towards the base in an effort to get there more quickly. But the advantage is just psychological because you think your extra effort gives you benefits. But the plain truth of the matter is that jumping (or worse, sliding) into first base is actually slower. Also, it can cause an injury, and that’s especially true if you somehow slide head first into 1st base.
- Slowing down. The final step to running to first base is slowing down. This is done properly with quick stutter-steps to stop the feet’s momentum. If you’re a player, you should try to master stopping after just 3 stutter steps.
You should then slow down and face to the right towards foul territory. This direction makes it quicker for you to see if the defense has made a mistake and if the ball was overthrown to first base. You may then be able to take 2nd base as a result.
Strategies for Leading Off
The player should know the exact rule about when they can or can’t leave the base. Whether it’s when a pitcher releases the ball or when the ball reaches the catcher, there are two options for positioning your feet on the base.
- You can put your front foot on top of the base. The toe is in the dirt while the base of the foot is on the base. This lets you push of the base when you run for greater momentum.
- Another option is to line your foot along with the bag while the whole foot is on the dirt. This second option makes it look like your foot is still on the base when your back foot makes the first step forward. So this allows you to take off just a little bit earlier.
You can also rock your body slightly. The rocking motion should time perfectly with the pitcher so that you’re rocking forward at the same time as you’re allowed to leave the base.
Rounding the Bases
If you know you’re trying for 2nd base, then you need to take a different route when approaching first base. You have to take this at an angle, and you need to practice the right approach angle and turning towards 2nd.
When you’re on 3rd base, you can score on a sac fly, or on a hit.
- If the ball is hit deep enough, you can remain on base until the fielder makes a play on the ball. Whether or not they catch the ball, you can leave 3rd and go for home and beat the throw.
- If the hit is a bit shallow, go just far enough down the base path so you can return to the base when the fielder catches the fly ball. If it is dropped, then you may try to get to home, depending on your coach’s direction.
It’s not all that easy to decide what to do when you’re in a game situation and you’re running the bases. The most effective base running strategies must be practiced constantly, so that you’ll know what to do when particular situations arise during the game.