The Situation: It’s the first batter of the game in a weekend conference series early in the year. The left-handed leadoff hitter steps in against the left-handed pitcher, trying to get the visiting team off to a good start.
The Play: After seeing a fastball for strike one and laying off a high curveball to even the count, the leadoff hitter is expecting a fastball and gets it. He hits a hard one-hopper that the pitcher snares off of survival instincts. Disappointed at the lucky play, the hitter takes a few 75% strides towards first. As the pitcher goes to take the ball out of his glove and throw to first, he realizes after a moment of initial shock that the ball is stuck in the webbing of his glove. It is at this point that the leadoff hitter realizes something isn’t right and starts sprinting full speed towards first. The pitcher hurls his entire glove towards the first base but his throw comes up a little short. The first baseman comes off the base, bare-hands the glove and jumps back onto first just before the runner hits the bag.
The Outcome: It’s a bizarre way to start a game, but it seems like something new happens every time we show up to the ballpark. The batter is punched out by the umpire, and the game resumes. Baseball is a game of momentum, and we’ll never know what would have happened if the runner had sprinted out of the box and been safe.
What went wrong?
On plays that surprise us or when something unexpected happens, we often see situations like this one play out. Players expect the routine to happen every time, and when the unexpected happens, they get caught spectating and not giving 100%. This is a situation where the batter could have benefited from the unexpected had he sprinted to first base 100% from the get-go. Offensive and defensive players both get caught watching the game instead of playing it, from time-to-time. The clear mistake by the leadoff hitter was not putting his head down and running hard all the way to first. We are only left to wonder what impact a leadoff runner would have had on the inning, game, and weekend series.
The best way for a player to prepare to go 100% all the time in a game is to treat drills and practice like games, as much as possible. Always compete and look for an edge. Maybe you have a controlled scrimmage in practice where line drives off the pitching screen are considered outs. Every time you hit a liner off the screen, you should run down the line full-speed despite being out. Maybe it’s looking to take advantage of a bad throw back from the catcher when you are on 3rd base. Get creative! We are sure if you think the game, you will be able to figure out ways to ensure you give it 100% effort all the time and take advantage of the unexpected.