Often a left-handed pitcher will have a higher leg kick when going home then when coming to first. This can enable you to get a great jump as you can actually start stealing as the leg moves up past the point where he normally would make a move to first. When using this as a key, make sure you don't anticipate what he will do. You will get a good jump if you simply wait for the leg to get past the position and then move.
You may be able to tell which direction the pitcher is going by looking at his foot. When going to first, the toe will be pointing down and you won't be able to see the bottom of his shoe. When going home the toe will be pointing up and you will be able to see the bottom of his shoe.
The shoulders on the pitcher can also be an indicator. Some pitcher's will keep their shoulders perpendicular to you if they are throwing home. On a move to first they will rotate their upper body toward first in order to get more on the throw. You can think of them as pointing where they are throwing. If you see the right shoulder rotating toward you, get back.
These are a few of the most common indicators that can be used when leading off first base. With a good left-handed pitcher it can be difficult finding a good indicator. The runner, the first base coach, and the team on the bench should all be looking for keys that the baserunner can use.
It's bad enough getting picked off at first. It shouldn't happen often, but it does happen. Getting picked off at first because you went back to the base standing up instead of sliding simply shouldn't happen. It's a sure sign of laziness and proof you're not paying attention. Sliding back to base is the one time a head first slide is the preferred method. On the pitcher's move to first, you will make a crossover with your right leg and dive towards first.
There is no substitute for a good jump when stealing base, but many runners lose time with the first few steps they take toward second base.
The first move towards second should be a crossover step. Often a baserunner will move their right foot first, picking it up and moving it an inch or two. All this does is take time and gets you no closer to second base. Whether stealing a base or playing defense, picking up and putting your lead foot back down will cost you time. It's a bad habit and one you need to break.
Want to be more explosive towards second? Start with your arms. As you pick up your left foot to start your crossover, also use your arms to get your movement toward second started. Take your left hand and throw a punch toward second base. This will get your upper body twisted quickly toward second base and get you moving quickly. Stay low as you start, standing strait up will only slow you down.
If you are stealing on your own or a run and hit has been called, you will need to take a glance toward home plate when you anticipate the ball will be crossing the plate. The reason is to pick up the ball as it crosses the plate. If the hitter hits a pop fly, you need to see it and quickly stop. You may find you want to do this on every steal. The batter may have missed the sign and is swinging when you expect him to be taking. The glance can also help you decide on how you are going to go into second base.
The main thing to realize is that the quickest way to second base is a strait line and slide that is strait into the bag. Many players learn to hook slide in addition to a strait slide, in reality the only reason to use a hook slide is to avoid being tagged when you are sure to be out if you slide strait in. If you are sure your going to be tagged out, you may find a strait slide to the back side of second base is your best chance to get in safe. This works best when the infielder covering the bag is not straddling the bag but is to the inside.