Like others on the defense, the catcher in baseball has an assignment when the ball is hit. Most of the time, it’s guarding the plate. On pop-ups and bunts, however, the play for the put-out is very often all his. No matter what the play, the catcher ought to toss his mask aside as quickly as possible.
To field the bunt, the catcher (presumably right-handed) should always try to go to the left of the ball-make a little circle if he can-so he’ll be in good position to throw when he comes up with it. If the ball is still rolling when the catcher reaches it, he should stab his glove down in front of it to stop the roll, then scoop his glove and bare hand together for the pickup. If the ball has stopped, the catcher can make the pickup with the bare hand.
Catch It With Your Nose
On all pop-ups, the catcher wants to get under the ball as quickly as he can and be waiting as the ball comes down. Since pop-ups to the catcher are caused by a sharp undercut of the ball, the ball spins at terrific speed. The spin will make the ball “move” in one direction or another but usually toward the infield. The catcher must be careful of this drift as the ball comes down and not try to catch it with the arms extended, else he will suddenly find that his arms are two inches short!
To keep the ball from floating out of reach, the catcher should keep his nose right underneath it. “Catch it with your nose” the pros say. (It’s a good idea, too, to blink eyes rapidly as they follow downward flight of the ball. This helps prevent “blind staggers.”) On pop-ups that go in back of the catcher, the spin caused by the undercut of the bat often makes the ball curve as it goes up.
As a general rule, it will curve toward the batter if he undercuts an outside pitch and away from him if the pitch is inside. Thus, if the ball goes up over the catcher’s left shoulder, he should turn to his right to go back and under. That way, he will usually find the ball curving toward him, making the catch much easier. If the ball goes up over the right shoulder, the catcher should turn left to chase it.
Catchers Cover 3rd
There are three times when the catcher in baseball covers 3rd. The first and most important is part of his assignment in the bunt defense with a runner on 1st. The catcher charges into the diamond on the bunt, but if the third baseman fields the ball, he circles to his left and hustles to 3rd. If he doesn’t do that, the base will be open and the runner advancing from 1st to 2nd can continue to 3rd.
The catcher also occasionally finds himself on 3rd during a run-down between home and 3rd. He again goes to 3rd when both the shortstop and second baseman chase a pop fly directly in back of 2nd with runners on base. (Third baseman takes 2nd, pitcher covers home.) It’s a good idea for catchers to back up 1st when the bases are unoccupied and the batter hits a grounder to the infield. This is especially important in a close ball game. The catcher, to make this back-up play, should start running at the crack of the bat and head for a spot at least 20 feet to the foul side of 1st. Thus, if the ball gets by the first base-man, the catcher and ball will arrive at about the same time and the catcher will be able to either hold the runner on 1st or nip him going into 2nd if he tries to advance.
Remember, it is imperative that the catcher in baseball be thoroughly versed in the skills and technique required.