This past fall baseball season in North Kingstown Wickford Little League, I had the opportunity to manage a Juniors Division team. This was my first year coaching players on the “big” field, also known as a regulation baseball field for interscholastic sports, college, amateur, and professional ranks. Essentially, the “small” field of Little League®, Cal Ripken, AAU, and other youth baseball leagues is 46 feet from home plate to the mound, the basepaths are 60 feet apart, the outfield fences are set appropriately for age groups up to 12 years old. Now, that I had a season of play on the “big” field, here are some of my observations from the dugout:
- Home plate to first base is a long way away. A baseball hit on the small field by a speedy runner, more often than not, turned into a base hit. Not so on the big field. I saw a lot of routine outs on balls hit in the infield area, simply because the fielder had significant time to gather the baseball, stand up, and make an throw with proper mechanics.
- First base is a long throw from shortstop and third base. In the beginning of the fall season, the coaches and I worked with players on that long throw across the diamond. Most could not reach first base in the air. The fielders had to get acclimated with the distance, which in some cases is a throw over 100 feet. These long throws are very rare on the small field and usually involve a player in the outfield trying to throw out a runner at home or at third base from deep in the outfield.
- Stealing bases is fun. On the small field, stealing is permitted via the rules of youth baseball under certain conditions. Passed balls are the most common scenario for a stolen base in most games played. But on the big field, stealing is part of the strategy of the game. As previously mentioned, the bigger field presents challenges for base runners (now 90 feet between basepaths) and the catcher (who has to throw over 120 feet to second base, 90 feet to third base) as well as the pitcher (who I will discuss later) who has to hold on the runners. Which brings me to my next point.
- Leading off bases gets you closer to where you want to go. Taking a proper lead, then a secondary lead helps you establish good offensive baseball skills and awareness on the field. If you want to get to second base via a steal or when the ball is hit into the field of play, taking a good lead and following up with a good secondary lead will do just that. Early in the fall season, I found a lot of players hesitant to “get off the bag” and it cost us outs and runs. As the season progressed, the players got more comfortable taking leads and we ended up stealing a lot of bases and scoring runs on passed balls and balls hit to the outfield.
- Hits do not come easy on the big field. The prowess of the youth baseball player who could hit a gap hit or possibly take advantage of a weaker defensive player took a big hit on the big field. I witnessed a ton of hard hit baseballs that might have been out of most Little League® parks that landed innocently into the glove of an outfielder. Again, the distance you have to hit the ball into the outfield on the big field is significantly greater than on the smaller fields. Players were frustrated by this but I was quick to point out that their hits were solid contact. As these players developed physically, those baseballs will travel farther and faster into the gaps, creating doubles, triples, and home runs.
- Welcome to the first year of pitching. On the smaller fields, a host of great arms go to the mound and throw the ball to the plate. Most don’t pitch, they just throw. From 46 feet away, you can definitely get away with throwing vs. pitching. However, as you transition to the big field, pitching is not just physical. It is just as much a mental exercise. On the big field, you now must throw strikes from 60’6″ away. And, potentially hold runners on which means you must adapt to throwing from your traditional windup with a ton of momentum to the stretch position. The stretch position allows you to stop and check the runners on base before throwing to the plate. If you throw a pitch from the wind up with runners on base, a steal is inevitable and almost a given for the baserunner. Pitching on the big field and going forward in Juniors, interscholastic sports, maybe college and beyond, from this point forward is as much physical as it is mental.
These are just a few of my observations from this past fall season coaching Juniors on the big field. I had a blast coaching and getting back to the “big” field rules as opposed to the “small” field rules. I have always love the mental part of baseball – the strategy, base stealing, calling pitches, working defensive adjustments, and more. I look forward to working with my son and others as they continue to transition to the BIG field in years to come.