Catching 101 – Blocking
Blocking is the catcher’s ability to throw himself in front of an incoming pitch in the dirt, and stop it with their chest, mask or glove. This is the area of catching that repels many players from the position. There are not many players who are willing to take a hit to their body to keep a runner from advancing a base. Blocking takes a player with determination, toughness and pride to do what needs to be done for their team.
The fundamentals of blocking a baseball are far more complicated then what most think. There are multiple pivotal movements that need to be done within tenths of a second to ensure the catcher successfully blocks the baseball.
The first thing a catcher must do is be in the correct stance. There are two stances the catcher can start from. The first is the primary stance; the primary stance is when a catcher can relax their lower half on their heels with their throwing hand protected behind their back. This stance is used with less than two strikes, or with no runners on base. The second positon is what I call the catcher’s “secondary” position. This is the position you will want to be in to block the baseball. A couple things will change for the catcher when in the secondary position. Instead of sitting on their heels, the catcher will now elevate their lower half couple inches off their heels and create a slightly larger base with their feet to become more athletic. The throwing hand will also be placed behind the glove in preparation for the block. The throwing hand behind of the glove exposes the hand a little more and is a technique some coaches choose to use, but I will explain further shortly.
Now that the catcher is in the secondary position, he is ready to block. Let’s imagine a fastball that is thrown in the dirt, but hits directly in front of the plate. In this example, the catcher does not need to move side to side and simply needs to go through the proper blocking mechanics. First the catcher needs to drive his knees to the ground. I prefer the replace method, the replace method is when the catcher’s sweeps the feet straight back and replaces his knees where his feet once were. Some coaches teach their catcher’s to drive their knees towards the baseball, I DO NOT believe in this method. When blocking a baseball you want to be as soft as possible, if the catcher drives his knees towards the baseball he is creating momentum that will push the ball further away after blocking the ball. The goal is to keep the ball directly in front after blocking. When the knees are driven into the ground, they should be wide enough to create a sturdy base. The wider to base, the wider the catcher will become which gives the catcher more surface area to block the baseball.
Next the catcher needs to drive his glove between his legs to eliminate the small opening underneath. The catchers throwing hand will come in flat behind the catcher’s glove, palm facing the pitcher for protection. This is where some coaches disagree. Some coaches prefer to have their catchers leave their throwing hand by their hip or behind their back in hopes of further protecting the catcher. More often than not it is the catcher’s natural reflex to release the throwing hand to stop the baseball. So as a result, now the hand is completely exposed to the oncoming pitch. If the catcher is able to keep their throwing hand behind their back, now it takes away from their ability to round their shoulders towards the plate and keep the ball close.
Now that the catcher has driven his knees and has also driven his glove into the ground, now we have to make sure the top half of the body is in the correct position. The catcher’s body should be square with the baseball with his shoulder rounded towards the plate. Catcher’s also want to slightly bend forward while staying balanced toward the plate. This is to insure that once the ball makes contact with the chest, that the ball will fall back in front instead on a deflection to the sides. The elbows should also be slightly flared away from the body. Enough space to make the catcher a larger target, but not too wide that a ball can get through the opening.
The head should be tucked at the chin to protect the throat. This is very important especially in young catchers due the natural reaction of wanting to turn the head away from contact. The best protection the helmet provides is when it is directly facing forward towards the baseball. If the player turns their head either way, openings to the neck and possibly the jaw will be exposed.
Once the ball has been successfully blocked, the catcher must recover the ball as quickly as possible to hold the runners from moving up a base, or to get the out at first base on a blocked third strike. As a catcher you want to avoid using your glove or hand to assist yourself up. Instead catchers need to practice jumping back to their feet without the assist of their hands. This is not an easy task with all the gear a catcher wears. To do this, the player must use the momentum of their top half exploding upward and then sweep the feet back underneath them. This movement is very difficult to get used to, especially young players who lack the lower half and core strength. Spend time practicing the ability to recover quickly after to block to become more comfortable with the movement.
If a ball is thrown in the dirt to the inside or outside part of the plate, the catcher now has to move from side to side to block. The key here is to stay low when moving, the higher we are, the longer it will take to get to the blocking position. From the catchers view, if a ball is thrown to their right they need to have their primary push be from the left leg. As the push occurs from the left leg, the right foot will slightly pick up to allow for the movement to happen. The most important thing from here is creating an angle to cut the ball off. The catcher must always create and angle back towards home plate to keep the ball in front of them. If a right handed pitcher throws a ball in the dirt to the left handed batter’s box, there will be a severe angle from pitcher release point all the way to the plate. So as a catcher, if we do not create an angle to match the pitch, the ball will deflect off the chest and bounce to the dugout. If we create the correct angle, then the ball should remain around the plate. With a ball thrown in the dirt to the right handed batter’s box, the same mechanics will be used but the push will now occur from the right leg.
As you have read, there are many more mechanics that go into blocking then just throwing yourself in the way of the baseball. Good base runners won’t stay at the base simply because you blocked the baseball, you have to keep it close and have a quick recovery time to the ball as well. Repetition is the best way to become a better blocker. Bumps and bruises may occur along the way, but the more time spent on blocking, the quicker and more precise you will become.
- Matt Kiley