Catching - Introduction
Catching may be the most demanding position in baseball, both physically and mentally. To be a quality catcher, you need to know more than how to catch the ball and how to throw the ball to second, you need to know the game of baseball. When we talk about knowing baseball, we mean knowing it as a coach tries to know it. As the catcher, you're the onfield coach. You have the entire field in front of you. Your team depends on you to make split second decisions that can determine runs vs. outs, wins vs. losses.
To illustrate this point we will set up a game situation:
Late in the game
Your team is up by one run
Runner on second
Number 3 hitter is up
What goes through the mind of the catcher before calling a pitch? Here are some possibilities:
- What has this hitter done in his previous at bats?
- What has the 4th hitter done? Maybe the 3rd hitter has hit the cover off the ball and the 4th hitter has struggled.
- Is the hitter a dead pull hitter or does he spray the ball?
- What does your pitcher have left in the tank? How is his control?
- Is the runner on second a threat to steal?
- Based on all that information, what pitch are you going to call and what location?
After the pitch, the possibilities in just one play are numerous and the catcher must prepare to handle each of them.
A catcher likes being in the middle of the action, likes to think on his feet, and is not afraid of making split second decisions. Physical skills are also important, but a catcher who can handle the mental part of the position rises above the catcher with stronger physical skills.
Just take a look at the Major Leagues. Many catchers that start do not have greatest physical tools. You find better athletes sitting in the minor leagues. But these catchers have developed their physical tools to the point where they can make it at that level and have developed their mental skills to the point where they play over other players with better physical skills.
Prepare yourself to take charge. As the catcher you must be a strong leader. Catchers must know how to calm a pitcher who is upset about a certain call, an error made in the field, or his performance. In short, you have to handle the pitcher. You make sure he stays focused on the situation and the pitch he is about to throw. You must keep him focused and in the game. Even though pitchers are unique and you handle them differently, always show them that you have confidence in their ability to get the job done.
One of the first requirements as a catcher is learning as much about your pitching staff as possible. You need to know each pitcher's strengths and weaknesses. You must also learn how to call a game. Many times a coach may be calling the pitches from the bench, but you still must be in tune with the flow of the game and it's up to you to make sure the pitcher hits different locations by giving a good target. Learn as much information as you can about pitching. You need to be on the same page as the pitcher.
Catcher is one of most difficult positions to play. It takes practice and determination to become a quality catcher. Hopefully this section will provide you with some information to help you on your way.
How to Prepare for the Game
Take your stretching and conditioning seriously. Often pregame or practice stretching and conditioning is done half-heartedly by many position players. As a catcher you are in a position that is physically more demanding than any position on the field. Your ability to avoid injury and play the position for many years requires that you are well conditioned.
Talk to the starting pitcher after he has completed his warm-up. How does he feel? How is his control? What pitches is he having trouble with? What pitches are working well? Compare that with your impression from his warm-up. Use the information above to come up with an approach for the first time through the lineup. After a couple of innings you may notice that things that weren't working during the warm-up are working now.
A pitcher with arm trouble won't be a pitcher for long. The same holds true for a catcher. Make sure you warm-up properly for each practice and game. Throw as much as you can to build arm strength and make sure you always warm-up slowly.
We hope this section will give you some of the information necessary to improve your ability to play this difficult position.