By Eric Johnson
The Situation: Runner on 2nd, one out. The wind is gusting out to left field.
The Play: The batter hits a high popup into shallow left field. The left fielder jogs in and calls for the ball. The runner on second has gone about half way and stopped. When the left fielder camps under the ball, the runner turns and jogs back towards second base with his head down. The outfielder suddenly starts backpedalling as he realizes he misjudged the wind. The ball hits the tip of his glove and drops right behind him.
The Outcome: The runner hears his third base coach shouting and turns to look for the ball, but he doesn’t see it right away. The outfielder grabs the ball off the ground and gets it in to the shortstop, holding the runners at first and second.
What Went Wrong?
The runner on second made the unforgivable mistake of assuming that a play was going to get made. In college, you are going to be told over and over again that you have to pressure the defense. That means that, as a hitter and runner, you have to force the defense to make the routine play under the maximum amount of pressure possible. How do you produce that pressure? Put the ball in play hard on the ground. Hustle out of the box. Round the bag hard. Try to take an extra 90 feet.
In this situation, the runner dropped his eyes as he returned to second. There is no reason for a runner to ever take his focus off the play. The runner did a good job going about half way to third on the popup before stopping, and he even had the right idea about starting to move back towards second once the left fielder camped. But there was no reason for him to go all the way back to the bag, and there was no reason for him to stop watching the play. As soon as he saw the left fielder start to backpedal, the runner should have started to extend off second again. When the ball dropped he should have at least been able to advance to third, if not home.
Always find a way to pressure a defense. Remember, 90-foot victories will win you ball games and get you noticed. Players who play the game hard and do the little things right will be a huge part of their teams, and their teammates and coaches, as well as college coaches, will recognize the value they bring to a team. Recognize that you can always pressure the defense in some way when you’re hitting or running the bases. Understand the situation and find a way to earn a 90-foot victory for your team.