At yesterday’s Wickford Middle School vs Chariho Middle School game, I witnessed a number of fantastic defensive performances. The two catchers were outstanding throwing out runners to second and third base. There was diving play by Chariho’s second baseman. Both shortstops were proficient on routine ground balls. Even a double play was recorded, one of the best defensive plays a team can make. But the one play that really stood out for me was the one that ended the top of the 4th inning. In your scorebook, it would read 8 – 3 – 2.
There were two outs in the top of the 4th inning. Chariho, being the visitor, was at the plate with a runner on second base. The game was knotted at 0-0 at that point. In fact, the entire game was a nail biter, pitcher’s duel. A Chariho hitter lined a clean single to center field, the runner at second base took off and headed for third. The center fielder gathered the ball cleanly in medium depth center field, all while the first baseman hustled into cut off position in the middle of the infield, by the pitcher’s mound. With two outs, the base runner had been off with the pitch and the Chariho third base coach waved his arm in a circular motion, meaning keep going to home plate. The crowd yelled, the coaches yelled, the players yelled as loudly as they could to throw home. The center fielder, a player I know from my NKW Little League coaching days, could have easily thrown it in the air to home plate from where he was. But he didn’t.
Instead, the center fielder wisely threw to the cutoff man positioned perfectly in front of the pitcher’s mound. The throw was crisp and on point. The first baseman, now hearing the screams and instructions of coaches, parents, and players, and with a small pivot fired the ball to the catcher. The catcher caught the ball cleanly in the air and readied himself for the incoming runner. The base runner slid home just short of home plate, the catcher applied the tag, and the runner was out. Inning over. 8 – 3 – 2 in your score book and one of the best defensive plays I have seen all spring.
Great job by the players, the coaching staff to execute what I believe is a lost art of defense. Far too many young players watch professionals throw the ball from deep center, deep right field to third and home plate in the air. Granted, these professionals have A plus arms and can make most of those throws. Also granted, most youth baseball players can not make most of those throws. The relay system defensively saves arms, it saves runs, it saves runners moving up due to errant throws. There is no shame in throwing the baseball to a cutoff. It is not a sign of weakness nor a lack of arm strength. It comes down to this. The fastest way to get the ball from deep right field to third base, for most youth baseball leagues, is through a relay system. A high arcing toss from right field that may end up somewhere around the base does not beat two line drive, crisp throws.
Going back to the Wickford Middle school center fielder, I know that player could have reached home plate, maybe in the air. But, he made the smart play by utilizing his cut off and the play went from maybe 30% successful to 100% successful. Great job by the coaching staff to teach and encourage this lost art of the outfield to infield to the plate relay throw.