Baseball Magazine

Baseball Instincts

By Meachrm @BaseballBTYard
Before we begin, can I trouble you with an experiment?  Watch the clip below and do the following:
When the teams start to run around, count how many times the team in WHITE passes the ball. 

Did you see the Bear?  I didn't either!  Nobody does if they are focusing.  That's the point.  So why do I share this experiment?  Because I think it relates to "baseball instincts."  That's a term you may hear coaches and scouts use to describe a player.  "What I like about him is that he has great instincts on the bases." "The kid has talent but poor instincts."  Another similar term is "baseball awareness" or "field awareness."  What do these terms mean?
In general, they refer to a player's ability to "see" more things than the average player and apply it correctly to situations on the field.  The following versions of the same play are an example:
The set-up:  There are runners on 1st and 2nd with the score tied in the bottom half of the last inning, no outs.  The coach puts on a rotation bunt play to try everything possible to get the runner going to third base be out on the force.  The ball is bunted and the pitcher fields it.
Version #1:  The pitcher fields the bunt, spins, and throws to third base because that's how the play is designed.  The runner is safe.  Now bases are loaded with nobody out.
Version #2:  The pitcher recognizes right after contact that the soft bunt is heading slightly to his left which is going to make it tougher for him to charge, field, and throw back to third.  He also knows that the runner on second base had a good lead before the pitch and can fly.  Even though the play is designed to get the guy at third, he recognizes that there is no play at third base and gets the out at first base.
The pitcher in Version #2 showed better "instincts" on this play because he noticed more things prior to and during the play which enabled him to make the correct choice.  There are thousands of examples like this that occur during baseball games. 


Baseball Instincts

Good instincts: Born with or learned?

One question that arises might be "how do we get players to focus on the play but not focus too much and ignore important aspects surrounding the play?"  I think players need to be introduced to examples like the one above to plant a seed in their mind that there is more going on around them than they might realize.  Spending more time around the game - practice, games, talking baseball with friends and coaches, reading baseball blogs (!) and books, watching games on TV, listening to the announcers, etc. - certainly helps.  The point I'm making is that what we commonly label instincts really is behavior that can be learnedInstinct implies that you are born with it.  That's the danger with using a term like baseball instincts.  It leads some people to think that a player either has it or he doesn't.  It may take quite some time to learn but I think it can be done.
Once a player learns to see something, he'll rarely miss it again. 
Just like the video clip above ... you'll never be able to NOT see the bear again.

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