Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Day 310: Baseball for Beginners: Lesson #3 - The Infielders

Welcome to week three of becoming a baseball fan! We've learned about the Pitcher (here) and the Catcher (here) but these guys need some help in the field. They're the two that get the play started and the seven other guys in the field are there to try and keep that batter from getting on base. Tonight, we're going to discuss the infield. I love the infield. This is where I played in my years of softball—I've played third base, shortstop and second base. Even though I've never played first base, I've certainly Bill Bucknered my share of ground balls at the other positions.

The infield consists of four players who man the three bases—first, second and third—as well as the shortstop who patrols the area between second and third base. They're the first line of defense against the opposing batters.

First base is the first of four that a baserunner must touch in order to score a run. It lives at the right corner of the infield. The first baseman is the guy who plays the field nearest to that base and is responsible for the majority of the plays made there. This guy is normally a big guy with good flexibility and cat-like reflexes. He often needs to stretch, sometimes almost into a split, to field throws from the other infielders. If the first baseman catches the throw before the runner touches the base, that runner is out. If a runner reaches first base, this guy is also responsible for keeping them from stealing.

Second base is the next base that a runner will advance to. The second baseman, the guy guarding that base and patrolling the right side of the infield, has to be all-around quick. He needs quick hands and feet and needs to get rid of the ball quickly. If a second baseman finishes the game with a clean uniform, he most likely sucks. He's pivotal in a double play, often the guy who gets upended by the runner sliding into second to break up the play. Second basemen are rarely big guys and not really known for their power at the plate.

The shortstop is different because he has no base to protect. He is, however, responsible for protecting the left side of the infield. Baseball generally has more right-handed than left-handed hitters and since most batters have a tendency to pull the ball slightly, the shortstop is usually a busy guy. Because of where on the field the shortstop is positioned, he must have the strongest arm in the infield. And like the second baseman, he should be agile in order to field those balls hit hard to his position.

Lastly, is the hot corner or third base—the last infield base touched by a runner on their way to home plate. It's called the "hot corner" because the third baseman is generally closer to the batter and right-handed batters can scorch a ball in his direction. These players also must have quick reflexes due to that close proximity to the plate, and they must also have a strong throwing arm. This wasn't my favorite position mostly because I didn't want to get nailed in the face with a screaming line drive.

So there you have it. Some quick facts about the infield and the guys who patrol it. Balls hit out of the infield are the responsibility of the outfielders—we'll take a more in-depth look at those guys next Tuesday.

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