*Please Read Previous Posts Before Reading This Section to have a Better Understanding and for This Post to Make Much More Sense
The routine backhand play is a necessary topic to discuss and is a very important tool for infielders to have to be successful. In this post I’ll discuss three different phases of the routine backhand (body position, approach, and hand position). I’ll also touch on transition from the backhand to throwing position.
Let’s start with a definition of the routine backhand. The routine backhand is the play where the infielder must travel to the backhand side to field a ground ball. The extension play to the right or “great play” backhand will be discussed in a future post. The reason that I have two separate posts for this is because of two reasons: One, the routine backhand should be a play that has a very high success rate and should be taught at all levels. And two, the extension backhand is a play that is not expected to be made with as high of a consistency rate as the routine backhand. Although, this is a great basis to learn a develop the extension play to the right.
Body Position: Body position is the logical place to start because I find that the approach is learned much quicker when the player has the correct body positioning already down. No matter what position the feet are in, depth is key. Remember from previous posts, depth is how close the chest and eyes are to the ground. We always want good depth no matter what type of ground ball we’re fielding. A good teaching point for the backhand is to get the chest over the ball (I’ll talk more about this in the approach section).
Let’s start with the feet. This is simple, there’s two basic ways to field a backhand with the feet, right foot in front and left foot in front. Right foot in front- I am a big proponent of right foot in front. I like it better because, if done right, the feet, hips, and shoulders will already be aligned with first base, making the transition to throwing position much easier. Some key things to remember with the feet when using the right foot in front: You always want the right foot to be directly behind where the ball is being fielded with the backhand. The reason for this is because if the fielder misses the ball with their glove it’s a good backup to block the ball and not let it out of the infield (I promise you that this will come up big in a game situation someday and probably save a run). The other thing that is very important is the distance between the feet related to the shoulders. This is tough to explain, but if you were to look at the fielder in the right foot forward backhand position from directly behind him, his feet should be wider than shoulder width apart. There are two reasons for this, the first being balance, (the more narrow the feet get, the less stable the fielding position will be, therefore making the transition into the throwing position much more difficult) and two, depth (the wider the feet are apart from each other, the easier it is to gain depth with the chest and the eyes). Now, if you were looking at the fielder from home plate, the distance between the feet with relation of the right heel to the left toe can be much narrower. As long as the left toe is never in front of the right heel we can still achieve fielding the ball in front of our right foot, balance, good depth and having the body in line for the throw to first base. If the fielder is to take a step back from that position with the left foot then we’re still fine and in a good position. Any more distance from that will probably be too spread out and we’ll lose the balance that we’re trying to achieve.
Left foot in front- Now some guys like to take the routine backhand with the left foot in front. Sometimes it’s a rhythm thing or they just have this muscle memory so far ingrained that it works better for them. This is necessary to practice because it’s inevitable that sometimes the fielders timing will be off with the feet and the left foot will just have to be forward. For the routine ball to the right I would always recommend the right foot forward, because of some simple points that are unavoidable with the left foot forward. One, the distance between the feet with relation to the shoulders will have to be much narrower therefore creating a position with less balance. Two, if a fielder tries to field the ball in front of the left foot to create a backup he’ll lose any type of glove give he may need for an up hop, so he has to field it outside the left foot. Three, the feet, hips, and shoulders will have to be shifted during the transition to the throwing position, making one more unnecessary movement and taking more time. Having said all that, sometimes certain players are just better with the left foot forward. Even if they are able to do the right foot forward, they just feel more comfortable fielding the backhand off left foot. So, practicing both is definitely key because the more options a fielder has to implement different techniques the more successful he’ll be overall. Sometimes coaches get stuck on the mentality that there is only one way to do things, but ultimately giving the kids options and letting them find out what’s better for them will lead to better results.
Approach: So, approach is next and is very important to do correctly because it will determine if we are going to get into the correct backhand fielding position. There’s two things you want to convey to the infielders that you are teaching when it comes to what they are thinking as they approach the routine backhand. You want them to get their chest over the ball and you want them to field it off their left ear. These two points basically teach the same thing, fielding the backhand inside the barrier of the body and not turning a routine play into an extension play. We don’t want the routine backhand fielded too far outside the feet, no matter what foot positioning the fielder uses. The reason for this is because the further outside the foot the backhand is fielded, the more extension the glove hand requires, making the glove hand hard and not able to give if the hop requires it. Also, when the ball is fielded too far outside the feet, another step will be required in the opposite direction of first base, and taking more time than necessary.
So now that we have our fielding position down and our mental cues to approach we have to talk about the different types of approach for our two different types of foot positioning. For the right foot in front approach we have the drag. The Drag is where the fielder has the right foot forward in the position talked about above and has traveled to his right, he has his chest over the ball and drags his glove hand and right foot simultaneously into the transition to throwing position. Now, some things are assumed here: One, it’s a routine backhand (this does not work for an extension play to the right), and two, the fielder has put himself in a position to receive the down hop or a short hop (discussed in the Choosing the Correct Hop post). The reason it has to be a down hop or a short hop is because we are going through this ball and working our momentum towards first base. If we receive an up hop the glove has to give ground as opposed to coming through the ball defeating the whole purpose of the drag. For the left foot in front approach we like to do what we call a mini skip. The mini skip- is where the fielder will do a small skip with the right foot, keeping depth as best as possible with the chest and the eyes, and having the left foot land just before the ball hits his glove. This is good because it gives the fielder rhythm and creates better timing. You have to make sure when you’re practicing this though to avoid letting the fielders skip too high because this will change the chest and the eye level and negate the depth that we are trying to obtain. There’s a lot of great ways to practice these techniques and I will describe them in an upcoming drills post.
Hand Position: Hand position is the last thing we will talk about when it comes to the routine backhand. With all the backhands, you always want to make sure that the fielders are catching the ball in the pocket of their gloves. You do not want infielders to receive backhands in the palm because there is no other hand down there to help out if it bounces off the palm. You always want the glove arm to have give and never be locked out. If the glove arm is straight it will create hard hands and produce a lot more errors. Remember, the glove gives on the up hop and pinches, or comes through the short hop. The down hop can either be pinched with the glove hand or the hand can give, depending on what method the fielder is using. For the skip the glove hand will pinch the short hop and give on the up hop and the down hop. For the drag, the glove hand will always pinch no matter what the hop (the key with this and honestly any routine ground ball is to always get the short hop or the down hop).
*Please feel free to comment and let me know what you think. I always am available to talk about different methods and what works or doesn’t work for you. If you don’t want to comment, I can be reached at email@example.com