Physically speaking, the most difficult part of being a catcher is blocking pitches. Blocking pitches can be mentally and physically draining but also very difficult to do well. It’s important to understand how to block a pitch and how to protect yourself. Here are some examples of how to accomplish each.
When blocking pitches, there is always a risk of injury. Catchers' equipment is there to protect the important parts of your body like your head, chest and knees. But there are a couple parts of your body that are important that equipment does not protect - your throwing hand and neck. Since these body parts are not protected, your job is to protect them yourself. There are two ways we can protect our throwing hand when blocking a pitch. One way is to hide it behind your glove; the other is to leave it behind you. Ideally, when you block a pitch you should have your bare hand behind your glove because it’s safe and it gives you the best opportunity to block the pitch. When protecting your neck, it’s important to tuck your chin into your body, allowing your mask to cover the area. These two techniques will decrease the risk of injury when blocking a pitch.
Blocking a Pitch
There are two methods to blocking a pitch. One method of blocking a pitch is falling forward. Falling forward means when your knees hit the dirt they’ve gained ground from your initial position. The other method is replacing your feet with your knees. What this means is where your feet are in your stance, your knees will replace them and you will not gain ground. Some people may choose to do it only one way but there can be value in using both. How a catcher can use both methods is by having great instincts which simply takes time behind the plate. A great blocking catcher must be able to pick up the ball right out of the pitchers hands and be able to react accordingly.
Both of these methods are used, but everyone will use both and do so with different variations. Knowing the pitch that is coming can help you anticipate which method is the best to use based on when it is more likely to bounce. It’s up to you to decide what is/are the best option(s) for you, practice it a lot and develop that instinct that allows you to do it as naturally, fluidly and automatically as possible. You don't have a whole lot of time to think about it in a game!
So if you are new to catching or simply not getting a lot of coaching at your position as can happen to catchers, work on these tips and you should start preventing nicks, bruises and injuries a little better and blocking pitches a little more frequently than you have been.
Kevin Hussey BSc, MSc - The Baseball Zone
Image courtesy of brentmayne.com