How to Catch a Baseball: Steps & Directions

Baseball has become one of the most important and popular pastimes in the United States, growing to acceptance in many other countries around the world. Due to the rising popularity of this exciting game, there are many new people coming to the plate who want to learn the ins and outs of how to play baseball. While it can be a little intimidating to start playing baseball, the truth is that it’s really not that difficult of a game to gain competency in. Like any other game, it requires a lot of skill and practice to gain mastery. However, gaining competency is very possible to even the least athletic player on the field. When you take these simple steps seriously, you’ll be well on your way to being able to catch a baseball.

The Basics

Before you move on to the more complex aspects of catching a baseball, it’s important to understand the basic physical dynamics and the technique involved. After all, the body moves in very predictable, complex ways that can be understood through careful observation. These movements are important for you to understand if you are to gain any level of competency when it comes to catching a baseball.

Eye Contact

One of the most important aspects of catching a baseball is that you need to maintain eye contact with the ball throughout its arc of descent. The arc of descent is the angle in which the ball travels from the bat to the ground. The most common mistake that new ballplayers make is that they flinch or close their eyes when the ball is coming at them. This is a rational and easily-understood reaction given how fast the ball is traveling. However, this is the worst thing you can do when it comes to catching the ball.

The first obvious problem with this is that you can’t catch the ball if you can’t see where it is. If you close your eyes, then you won’t be able to see where the ball will land and you can’t position your glove correctly. Also, closing your eyes can make the catch much more dangerous for you as the catcher. After all, a baseball traveling at a downward trajectory from 80 feet in the air can cause a lot of damage if it hits your face. If you keep your eyes on the ball, you can eliminate these dangers almost entirely.

Body Positioning

Your body positioning is very important when it comes to catching a baseball. If your body is turned to the side, then you are not able to move your arm with a full range of motion. Imagine that the ball is traveling to you and you have your side to the ball with your glove outstretched. If you make a mistake on determining the trajectory of the ball, then you won’t be able to move your arm freely enough to make the catch. Your arm will also naturally turn the tips of your fingers toward the ball, lowering the potential catching surface of the mitt.

What you should do is stand with your body facing the ball straight on. If possible, you should brace your free hand behind the webbing of your glove to help keep the impact of the ball from pushing the web into your face. Keep your palm flat and facing toward the ball as it comes toward you, remembering to keep your eyes on the ball. Try to get the ball to land in the webbing of the mitt since this will protect your palms from repeated injury.

Get Under the Ball

There is a tendency in new ballplayers to run away from the ball. Since the ball is very hard and it is moving very fast, it’s natural for people to want to be out of the way. The problem is that it’s physically and literally impossible for you to catch the ball if you’re nowhere near the landing spot. To be truthful, you will probably get hit by the ball at least one or two times. However, this really isn’t something that can be avoided. The only thing you can do is reconcile yourself with this fact and move on with the game.

Steps in Catching a Baseball

The steps you’ll take in catching a baseball will depend on a number of different factors. This is because the ball can come at you from various angles at various speeds depending on where you are on the field. To keep things simple, these steps will be taken from a “pop fly,” mid-range and ground ball perspective. These are the three most common types of trajectories you’ll deal with on the field, so it makes sense that they are the ones you learn about before all others.

Pop Fly

A pop fly ball is a ball that has the highest rise and narrowest angle of trajectory of all baseball shots. The ball fires up into the sky and then comes back down almost right on top of the players. To catch these balls, you need to:

  • Position yourself so the sun is not in your eyes
  • Point the palm of your glove up to the sky
  • Find the ball and keep your eyes on it while you move back or forward to get under it
  • Let the ball fall into the webbing on your glove, avoiding your palm to mitigate painful damage to your palm

Mid-Range Ball

Catching a mid-range ball is much simpler and this trajectory most closely matches what most people will experience during a simple game of catch. To catch these balls:

  • Turn your body toward the direction of the ball
  • Raise your glove up with the palm facing out toward the ball
  • Lean into the ball as it comes in to help brace the impact of the ball in your glove

Ground Ball

Ground balls are perhaps the most difficult of the balls to catch for a number of reasons. These are also the types of catches that cause the most injuries due to poor form. When catching a grounder, you need to:

  • Squat down low to get your glove to the ground, never bend over
  • Place the tip of your glove on the ground at a very slight angle
  • Place your free hand at the base of your gloved hand to act as a backstop
  • If you don’t place your hand in the way of the ball as a backstop, the ball will almost certainly roll up and hit you in the face

It Takes Time

No matter how much you read about catching baseballs, the truth is that you can’t really learn about it using nothing but theory. You need to get out in the field and practice as much as possible if you want to really nail the technique involved. Thankfully, regular practice will almost certainly bring your game up to a better level if you give it some time.

Kevin Kerekes is a New Jersey resident and former Division I Rutgers baseball player. He can be reached via Facebook.

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