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Fielding: Getting the Good Hop

by Adrian Vore, with Dan Radison, San Diego Padres

Good infielders get good hops. That, according to San Diego Padres Coach Dan Radison, is the key to becoming a good infielder. Good hops come to infielders with good footwork and glove position, who correctly anticipate where the batter is likely to hit the ball.

Reading, Stance, Footwork

N.Y. Mets infielder Jeff McKnight demonstrates solid form in fielding the ball on the same side as his glove. He moves toward the ball in such a way that he catches it on a good hop. He also uses both hands and keeps his head down.

"Good infielders read the bounces,” says Radison. "If the ball is bounding toward the fielder, he must move in. By concentrating on the hops, an infielder will not only know when to charge and when to lay back to get the best bounce, he will react more quickly to the bad hop.”

Stance is critical to catching the ball on a good hop. Just prior to the pitcher's delivery, the third baseman and first baseman should hang low and sway a little bit from side to side to prepare for a quick jump on the ball. Shortstop and second baseman should stand more erect, because their positions require them to cover more ground. A low, spread-out starting stance inhibits easy lateral mobility.

Radison suggests that infielders begin the move to a routine grounder with a step to the right, so they can approach the ball with momentum toward first base. "Field through the ball,” Radison says. Many coaches teach the crossover step as the best initial move to a ball hit to the fielder's side, but Radison believes the jab step is just as effective. "The key is not taking the first step away from the ball hit to the hole. Infielders need to get low as they approach the ball, then rise if necessary,” he says. "They shouldn't come in upright and then try to reach down at the last instant.”

Glove Position

An infielder should position himself to catch the ball on his glove side, about a hand's width away and slightly in front of his body. This way, he can see the ball into the glove, and his arms can move freely, unobstructed by his body, in case of a bad hop.

A good fielder keeps his glove still; he doesn't flip the glove out to snatch at the ball. Says Radison, "Carry the glove low and quiet….” On a backhand play, some infielders rush themselves and start moving toward first before they catch the ball. "Hold the glove steady. Wait until the ball bounces into the mitt before turning toward the base.”

Getting a Good Jump

To get a good jump on the ball, the infielder must know what pitch has been called. Hitters tend to swing late on a fastball, but pull off-speed stuff. The count may also be a factor. Hitters swing freely early in the count, often pulling the ball. With two strikes, a hitter may shorten his stroke, swing more defensively and take the ball to the opposite field.

Major League infielders almost always cheat toward the direction they anticipate the ball will go. Cal Ripken, a great shortstop without great range, does this as well as anyone in the game. Less gifted infielders may also cheat to compensate for poor lateral movement or a weak arm.

Drills

Padre coach Rob Picciolo uses several drills to strengthen the fielding skills of San Diego infielders. To improve footwork, he hits them grounders at varying rates of speed, over and over. The pupil must learn to quickly judge the speed and read the bounce, then correctly time his charge in order to catch the ball in rhythm and moving toward first base. A player who has mastered this drill will be able to charge a slow grounder with no indecision or hesitation.

To encourage a steady glove, Picciolo will position an infielder—often a third baseman—on the grass and tell him to take his normal fielding stance, but to let his glove rest on the ground. Picciolo hits grounders directly at him, and the infielder tries to catch them with as little glove movement as possible.

Another drill helps determine if an error-prone fielder's problem is his hands or his feet. While the player kneels on the grass, Rob hits one- or two-hoppers at him. If the player continually drops the ball, it means his hands are the problem. If he catches the ball, his footwork may be preventing him from getting the good hops, thus causing errors.

To "soften” the hands, Picciolo recommends the fielder remove his glove and have someone roll him ground balls. The object of this drill is to be able to catch the ball with little or no sound. If no coach or teammate is available, a player can perform this exercise with a tennis or rubber ball against a wall.

Who to Watch

Coaches have their favorites, and Radison and Picciolo are no exceptions. To their way of thinking, Alan Trammell, Jay Bell, Cal Ripken Jr. and Mike Gallego are among the most fundamentally sound infielders in the game today. "Watch them work,” says Radison. "They get the good hops and catch the ball on the left side. Do what they do and you'll be doing it right.”

Fielding a Ground Ball

  • Approach the ball to get the good hop.
  • Work down, then move up as necessary.
  • Position feet and glove in shape of a triangle
  • Place feet about shoulder width.
  • Drop butt down.
  • Keep hands low and forward to watch ball into glove and react to bad hops.
  • Field ball from middle of body to glove side.
  • Keep glove still.
  • Use two hands.
  • Receive ball with body momentum toward target base.

LEFT: San Diego Padres Coach Dan Radison illustrates the correct technique to use when catching a routine ground ball.


ABOUT DAN RADISON

St. Louis selected Dan Radison in the 10th round of the 1972 free-agent draft. He caught in their minor league system for three years. Radison began coaching in 1977, serving as associate head coach for Broward Community College through 1979.

He coached hitting from 1979 through 1981 at the University of Georgia, and 1982-1983 at Old Dominion, before moving to the pros. He managed Kingsport of the Appalachian League in the Mets system in 1984, moving to Little Falls of the NY-Penn League in 1985. For the next four years, Radison managed in the St. Louis organization, joining the Yankees in 1990 as a roving hitting instructor. He took over their AA Albany club that year, remaining there until moving to San Diego in 1993 as first base coach.

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