Everyone has always had that one coach that you couldn’t stand or just didn’t get along with, right? Well for me, it was my infield coach in college. It’s not that we didn’t like each other, we would just butt heads on some things when it came to infielding. In my mind, I thought I was “The Man” and I knew everything there was to know about infielding. As I have transitioned from playing to coaching baseball, I now understand how difficult it can be to instruct players that have this “know-it-all” attitude. Not being open to criticism and change can be the deciding factor in ruining the relationship between player and coach. After looking back at my career, there are many things that I dragged my feet on; concepts I wish I had committed to from an early age, that for some reason I didn’t. The most important and beneficial to my development as a shortstop was buying into the idea of fielding on the left side of my body or, if you are a left hander, fielding on your right side.
I will never forget those spring afternoons in college, going to early batting practice and taking ground balls from the pitchers that either try to hit missiles at you every rep, or just can’t seem to hit the ball to save their lives. On one particularly gorgeous day the pitcher was locked in, hitting perfect ground balls to me, one after another. I was feeling so good about my hands and footwork. However, in the distance all I could hear from my infield coach was “not the right side, field it on your left side.” And that’s where it all began… from that day forward no matter what I did or how smooth of a play I thought I was making, all I heard was “not here, here” as he moved his arm from the right to the left side of his body. In practice, in the game, and even on my own time, if my coach was watching, all I heard was “here, not here”. Even as much as I hated hearing that every day, it changed my fielding more than I could have ever known.
Why do you think you should field the ball on the left side? Because it’s easier? Because it’s smoother? Because there is less room for error? Or maybe, it’s because it helps you flow toward your target? The answer is: all of the above. More times than not, you want to get around the ball to field it on your left side, which will make an easier transition to throw the ball to first. If you end up waiting back on these routine balls and fielding them on your right side, you are most likely going to get an in-between hop or a bad hop that’s going to jump right over your glove. Instead, try this out – get in your fielding position and move your glove hand to the right side and up without changing to a back hand. Pretty tough right? Now with your glove hand, raise your hand to the left side as high as it can go. You can see how high and easy it is to bring your arm straight up. This exercise helps you to really visualize which is easier to move if you end up receiving a bad hop. Your left arm has more mobility on the left side than moving your arm to your right.
I have seen countless players fail to get around the ball and make an error more times than I can care to remember. Now that I am a coach, I notice it often in the younger generation because they get so eager to throw the guy out at first base, that they forget they need to take care of the ball first. There is a simple way to find the perfect positioning of where you should be fielding the ball. Get in your infield stance with your butt down. Next make an imaginary line from between the middle of your leg to your left foot, then reach out in front of you on that left side making sure your glove is on the ground. You should be fielding every routine ground ball within your range, in this standard position.
Don’t forget to take care of the ball by going straight at it, while having your left foot slightly facing toward your target. Then, while receiving the ball on the left side of your body, flow through towards your target.
Remember the more you can work on fielding on the left side the more consistent you will become. Breaking your habits won’t happen after your first time practicing. You are going to have to break your old habits by constantly working on this and verbally telling yourself “left side, left side”. While doing this over and over again, you will soon see that fielding on the right side will feel awkward and uncomfortable.
Drills that can help:
- Bare hand short hops, only receiving on left side.
- Flat glove short hops, only receiving on left side.
- Regular glove short hops, only receiving on left side.
- Ground balls working around the ball and fielding it on your left side
- Ground balls that are 10 to 15 feet to our left and right, that make your get around the ball and field it on the left side.