How to Field a Ground Ball

Whether you’re starting from scratch or fine-tuning your approach, this article will teach you how to field a routine ground ball like a Major League baseball player.
How to field a ground ball.  Tips for fielding from a pro

NY Yankee Doug Bernier (author) fields a routine ground ball. Spring Training 2011. Image by Ed Wolfstein.

First Things.

A routine ground ball is hit right at you, your first move is to…

  1. …see what kind of ball is it. Is it a chopper, a ground hugger, or in between?
  2. …how hard is it coming?

The purpose of all this is to compute in your head how you are going to get the ball: Are you going to charge or stay back?

What’s Next.

With those two important pieces established, it is time to talk about how to use your feet and properly field ground balls. Remember, these articles are written from the perspective of a right-handed infielder. If you are left handed, you should do it the opposite way.

How to Field a Ground Ball

1. Stay Low.

As you approach the ball, stay low.  This allows you a better view of the hops taken by the baseball.

Also, staying low keeps you in a more athletic position.  It’s easier to come up to meet the baseball than to drop down and get it.

2. Gain ground.

Gain ground on the baseball until the hop makes you stop.  It’s at this moment that you will pick out which hop you want to field the ball.  In other words, decide if you going to get it on the long hop or the short hop.

It is also important during this stage to create the best angle as you advance on the ball.  A “V” shape angle is my preferred approach.  This takes some planning ahead, with the goal being to get yourself in a good position to make the throw after you field the baseball.  

Taking a “V” angle to the ball will automatically get you to the right side of the baseball.  Being slightly to the side of the path of the oncoming baseball means you will see it better than if you are directly straight on.  You’ll field the ball in front of your body but slightly to your left – i.e. the left side of your chest is squared up to the baseball (more on this below).

Finally, the “V” angle puts you in a good position to make the throw to first base.

Pro Tip: First Step Quickness

In practice, try to get in front of as many baseballs as possible.  This will (1) improve your range, (2) condition your feet not to be lazy, and (3) best of all, it creates the perception that you have more range than the next guy.

3. Right, Left, Field.

That is, Right foot, Left foot, Field the ball.  This is the rhythm you want to have as you field the baseball.  It will keep you squared up to the ball, and its the same rhythm you’ll use for forehand and backhand plays as well.

4. Small Strides.

If you miss everything else in this article, pay attention to this piece of advice.  Keeping your strides small allows you to make quick adjustments to change direction, accelerate, and decelerate.

The longer your stride, the longer your foot is in the air.  If you are in the air, you can’t make any adjustments until you land.

Next time you’re watching a game on TV, pay attention.  You’ll notice that this is something that all the best infielders do.  If the ball takes a funny hop, they can make a quick adjustment and still make the play.

5. Work through the Baseball.

Your glove should stay in the “zone” as long as possible.  This means keeping a straight wrist and using your arm to move it through the baseball.  (This is especially true if you are backhanding the baseball).

How to field and throw a routine ground ball.  Baseball Instruction by professional baseball players.  How to field a baseball.

Step 7 – Funnel the baseball to your chest. SWB Yankee Doug Bernier transitions from fielding a routine ground ball to throwing the baseball to 1st.  Image by Frank Lauri.

6. Stay Relaxed.

Hands and feet that are relaxed work better.

7. Funnel the Ball to your Chest.

Once you field the ground ball, funnel it to your chest (see image).   In this position, you are balanced and free to move.  Now that your center of gravity is over your feet,  your hands are in a good position to throw and you can shuffle your feet as needed.

8. Don’t Rush.

Most mistakes happen because we try to rush.  You can speed up if needed, but stay in control.  If you are dealing with a fast runner and you feel like you need to be faster, your adjustments should be made in other ways.  You can take a step closer to the batter when getting into your ready position, or even choose to charge the ball rather than wait for it.  These adjustments will buy you more time without making you rush your throw.

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Tips from a Pro

I hear many high school and college infield coaches say that they want an infielder to either have their feet squared to the ball or their left foot slightly in front, so they will have momentum and their feet lined up correctly when throwing to first base.
I like to do things a little differently.

  • Glove Position.

    I like to field the ball on the left side of my chest. I am still keeping the ball in front of me but instead of fielding it in the middle of my chest I field it off my left nipple. I do this because this is where my shoulder is and I don’t want to feel that I am reaching in front of my body to field the ball. I would like to field the ball directly underneath my left shoulder. This allows my glove hand to work freely and flow smoothly because I am not fighting my body. Let the glove work from this position.

  • Foot Positioning.

    Ideally I’d like to have my left foot slightly behind my right foot. I like this because I feel that since my glove is on the left side of my body it makes my glove work a lot easier and I don’t have to worry about my left leg getting in the way. I feel I have a lot more room for error I don’t have to be quite so perfect in reading the hops. It makes you work harder to get your feet in the right position to throw to first base, but you have to field it before you can throw it.

  • Making the Throw.

    To make the throw from this position you have two options:

    1. Take your right foot and place it in front of your left foot. Do this instead of placing it behind because when you place it in front your momentum is going towards first instead of falling away slightly. Take a mini hop or a shuffle step (whichever is more comfortable) and make your throw.
    2. Take your right foot and swing it around so your right foot shuffles into your left foot. Make sure you shuffle one more time so your momentum can be in a straight line towards first base. Then make your throw.
Next Articles on Fielding:
  1. Did you miss it?  Part 1 is Professional Fielding Tips for Infielders
  2. Next – Part 3, Proper fielding mechanics for Backhand Plays (click here)
  3. Part 4, Proper fielding mechanics for Forehand Ground Balls
  4. Part 5, Fielding mechaics for Plays on-the-run, and slow rollers
  5. Best infield gloves