I’m sure many a catcher has woken up in a cold sweat after dreaming of Bo Jackson or Prince Fielder bearing down at them at home plate. This type of play has the potential for serious injury for a variety of reasons. The top one being that the catcher is somewhat stationary and the runner is traveling at full speed. In addition, the catcher’s eyes have to be on the ball/throw and can lead to a catcher being blindsided by the runner. Because of these significant dangers, there are some very important safety tips catchers need to implement in order to protect themselves as much as possible and make the play as well.
A forearm to the face is a great
reason for keeping the mask on.
Point your toes/knee at the runner. When a throw is coming from the centerfield or right field area, the left side of the catcher’s body is facing the runner coming down the line. A catcher MUST point his left foot and knee at the runner who is coming at him. This does two things: 1) It faces the shin guard at the runner and protects his left leg should the runner’s spikes hit the leg on the slide, and more importantly, 2) the side of the catcher’s left knee does not get hit by the runner. When the side of the catcher’s knee gets hit on this play, it has the potential to result in a major, career ending injury to the knee. A leg that gets hit from the front may still result in an injury (hyperextension) but it normally won’t be as severe as getting hit on the side.
Give the runner some space. When you watch a play at home plate on TV, you will see that the catcher usually provides a space or lane for the runner to get to home plate on a slide. When a runner sees this space, he is more likely to slide. If the catcher is totally blocking the plate, the runner is more likely to slam into him because there is nowhere else to go. If a catcher receives the throw early enough, he can then step back to block that area from the runner and apply a tag. Blocking the entire plate without the ball usually invites a collision.
Stay low. Whenever possible, a catcher should stay as low to the ground as he can on a play at the plate. Think of the biggest hits in football. Usually they involve a player with the ball who is upright and a tackler who drops his shoulder and plows through the guy with the ball. Catchers want to avoid this situation if they can. A catcher can be a sitting duck on this play so staying lower than the runner prevents a runner from dropping his shoulder underneath the catcher and really drilling him. Unfortunately, the catcher cannot control the throw he is given. Some throws will be high and/or up the 3rd base line a bit which forces the catcher to remain upright to catch the ball. A catcher just does what he can to stay low.
Lower than the runner, left toe and knee facing the runner, mask on,
and drops his butt to the ground on impact.
Other important tips:
Don’t assume. At many amateur levels, a collision at the plate is an illegal play and can result in immediate ejections. Of course, this is due to the potential for injury. However, a catcher should NEVER assume the runner is going to slide like he is supposed to. Sometimes a runner has every intention of sliding until the last moment when the competitive side to him comes out and he just temporarily loses his mind. A catcher must prepare for the worst no matter what the rules say.
Don’t get angry. When a catcher gets “smoked” by a runner at the plate, the best thing a catcher can do is just get up and react as if nothing happened, especially if the runner is out. Many young catchers will come up angry and go after the runner to confront him. Very immature. React as if it had no effect on you at all and you will earn a lot of respect from both teams and others who are watching. Of course, if a catcher is actually hurt on the play, nobody would expect him to just get up and carry on as normal.
Practice. Because this play is a rare one in baseball, many catchers do not practice the fundamentals of this play very often or at all. A catcher should practice getting throws from different parts of the field and apply tags with the correct body position. A runner or coach can move down the line when the throw comes in and “collide” with the catcher by just shoving the catcher back with his hands. This “controlled collision” allows the catcher to practice all the tips listed and explained above.
A collision at the plate is usually not a very fun play for a catcher but it certainly is part of the job description.