Just like Kevin Costner’s movie portrayal of Iowa corn farmer Ray Kinsella’s dreams, new parents often have fields of baseball dreams of their own.
When their infant tosses a tiny teddy bear halfway across the room from the relative safety of a crib, or a couple of World Series later smacks a whiffle ball through a playroom window the dreams of rearing a baseball star begin to repeat.
But, what if those parents don’t know a double play from a bullpen?
How will their naturally gifted four-tool youngster prosper? Knowing the four tools—throwing, catching, running, and batting—is a start.
Then understanding the various baseball positions that are suited for the youngster as he or she begins to be attracted to baseball is the intent of this article.
Before we go there, though, I’m going to point you to the SportsEdTV series of conversations with one of the great big league baseball parents of all time—Howie McCann—whose boys Brian and Brad lived their bigtime baseball dreams.
You’ll likely hear Howie’s earliest fundamental advice to let the kids fall in love with the game on their own. The parent’s role is to nurture rather than navigate.
Though some baseball positions are better played by players with different physical attributes, there are always going to be exceptions to the norm. Below we'll talk about the norms, but when a youngster exhibits an affinity for a certain position it is an indicator of the sport's fifth and defining tool—passion—that is a powerful accelerator itself.
Baseball scoring assigned numbers to the positions of play on a nine-position team, so our notes will follow the age-old numbering system.
There’s a reason the position of pitching is number one. It is the most important single position in baseball as it is critical to the success of the entire team. It is physically stressful and as such, pitchers need to rest their arms after play.
While all baseball positions come with a risk of injury, pitching can be riskier than some of the other positions. SportsEdTV’s Dr. Gene Coleman has parental advisories.
Catchers' equipment is facetiously called "the tools of ignorance" as the mask, leg, and chest protectors serve to support catchers' courage from the dangers of fouled balls, over swung bats, and overzealous base runners. The catching position is the nerve center of the game, as the catcher not only communicates tactics with the pitcher via signals and gestures, he or she can signal to adjust the positions of other teammates given knowledge of upcoming pitches and prior experience with the player at-bat. It is a physically demanding position and traditionally played by sturdy athletes.
#3 First Base
This position is usually reserved for the biggest player on the team—providing a larger target for other players to throw to and retire batters who hit ground balls to other infielders. A special glove that encourages catching errant throws is usually worn by a first baseman. It is also a position played by athletes with slower foot speed, as its ground covering requirements are not as difficult as other infield spots. Traditionally, first base is a position played by strong offensive hitters.
#4 Second Base
While this position is often played by sure-handed athletes with throwing strength not as powerful as other infielders because of its closer proximity to first base, the throwing and athleticism required of second base athletes are very important. In baseball, the great defensive rally killer is the double play—two outs recorded in the same at-bat. The double play's most frequent iteration involves the second base pivot requiring a fast catch and throw simultaneous move while touching the base and avoiding the chaos of an approaching offensive runner.
#5 Third Base
Third base is known as baseball’s "hot corner" because there are more hard-hit balls sent there by right-handed batters who dominate the offensive side of baseball. The position requires quick reflexes and an accurate strong arm for the cross infield throw to first base. Not unlike its first base counterpart, third base is considered a less strenuous position, requiring less mobility than second base and shortstop and it is often played by athletes with strong hitting skills.
Perhaps the most athletically demanding infield position in baseball, shortstops tend to be fast, with sure hands and strong arms, often not as physically large as other players. Shortstops, statistics show field more batted balls than any other infield position. Defensive abilities are the traditional priority given to the shortstop position batting skills tend to be de-emphasized. A good hitting shortstop has a great future.
The left field is often the position of athletes with strong bats and weak arms. Because almost all outfield throws go to second, third, or home bases, left fielders are rarely if ever, required to throw across the field to first base. It is also the position where less than gifted defensive athletes frequently play in deference to their strong offensive abilities.
Like their infield shortstop counterparts, centerfielders tend to be fast, athletic, and sometimes smaller than their corner outfield companions. As the outfielder-in-charge, centerfielders patrol and control the largest amount of outfield space, including the right and left center portions of the field. Also, the deepest part of most baseball fields is the space behind the center fielder. With centerfielders, foot speed is a premium because they run down more fly balls than any other outfielder.
Like its left-field teammate, right-fielders tend to be good hitters. They differ in the throwing strength and often have the best arms of the outfielders because of the frequent requirement to throw across the field to third base. In advanced baseball given the ability to assemble a balanced roster, the defensive skills of right fielders are important. Historically in youth baseball where more right-handed batters are hitting to the left side, less skilled defensive players are relegated to right field.
# 10 MVP (Most Valuable Parent)
Folks who are gifted with kids who'll live and love baseball are in for truly enjoyable moments that grow from dreams into cherished memories. Like the on-field players, off-field supporters need skills, too. Suggested readings to hone those skills are Dr. Kristen Dieffenbach’s Pee Wee Sports Pressures and another by Dr. Gene Coleman on Training Guidelines