How to catch a fly ball, ready position, crossover stepping, best route to the baseball, and other pro tips for how to play outfield
The tips on this page for how to play outfield will help you create a foundation of knowledge and technique that will make you a better outfielder, maximizing your natural talents and helping you go as far in this game of baseball as you can.
Having an understanding of the proper way to track down and how to catch fly balls will help you cover more ground, and take more hits away from the other team. There are many types of fly balls that can be hit into the outfield. Balls to your left, right, up, and back, as well as many variations of each.
Former Red Sox Outfielder Jonathan Van Every believes the three essentials of being a good outfielder are:
- Get a good initial read
- Get a good first step
- Take a good route to the baseball
1. Ready position
This is the position we should be in every time when the ball is being pitched and traveling through the strike zone.
- In between pitches, outfielders can be walking around and moving, or doing whatever we feel is comfortable, it doesn’t really matter. Don’t fall into the trap of not moving your feet for 2,3,4 pitches. Keep your legs light and ready by moving in between pitches.
- As the pitch is about to be delivered we want to be in an athletic position. This position would mirror a basketball player playing defense, or a tennis player about to return a serve.
- We want to have our legs a little wider than shoulder width and have some movement with our legs.
- Our hands are off of our knees and we are anticipating a swing and getting a good first step.
- React with what you see, let your eyes guide your body.
2. Movement of baseballs off the bat
Most of the time, balls that are hit to outfield are either hooking or slicing. This will affect the corner outfielders more than the centerfielder. Balls that are hit back up the middle towards the centerfielder can have some movement but usually have more backspin and less sidespin.
Balls hit towards the corner outfielders will likely have some hooking or slicing action depending on the side of the plate the hitter is hitting from. The action of a batted ball tends to hook or slice toward the foul line. Very rarely you will see a baseball start toward the line and work back into the gap.
- Right handed batter: If a right handed hitter hits a fly ball to left field, the action on the baseball most likely will be going left to right from the outfielders perspective (or hooking from the batters perspective).
- Left handed batter: If a left handed hitter hits a fly ball to left field, the ball will be working from your left to right (or slicing from the batters perspective).
- Right handed batter: If a right handed hitter hits a fly ball to right field, the baseball will be working from your right to left (or slicing from the batters perspective).
- Left handed batter: If a left handed hitter hits a fly ball to right field, the ball will be working from your right to left (or hooking from the batters perspective).
It’s important to understand this theory when tracking down fly balls and making your first move on baseballs
3. Movement of baseballs on the ground (snaking ground balls)
Keep in mind how the outfield grass is cut. When there are a bunch of nice looking designs and lines in the grass, after a fresh mow, the ball will do weird things.
The outfield grass is different shades of green because of which way the grass is laying, so when the ball is rolling towards you the ball will actually “snake” or zig zag left and right depending on which way the outfield grass is laying when the ball is rolling over that section.
This can be tough for some fielders to get used to this when fielding ground balls. Just know how the ball is rolling, take your time, and watch the ball into your glove.
4. Using a crossover step
Using a crossover step is the foundation to starting your track after a fly ball. This is where you can save valuable steps by getting to where you need to go in a straight line.
Our first move from our ready position is to make a good, hard step.
- This step is made by if we need to be going left, we will take our right foot and throw it over our left foot in the direction we need to run. This movement is quick and violent, so we can get to top speed as quickly as possible.
- The opposite is true by going to our right we will take our left foot and throw it quick and violent over our right foot in the direction we need to run.
After our crossover step is made and we are in stride, we will need to use our eyes to figure out where the baseball is going to hit the ground. Once we find this spot we need to beat the ball there. Our eyes are very good, with practice, at calculating how hard the baseball is hit, how high it is hit, and how much spin is on it. This calculation is what we rely on to get to the spot where we need to be to catch the baseball.
5. Catch the baseball with your eyes
As the baseball is coming down and it is about to fall into your glove, keep your glove out of the way of your eye sight.
Every outfielder has done this before and it gets a little scary because when your glove crosses in front of your eyes you lose track of the baseball for just a split second but that is about the time you are catching the ball. This is how people drop fly balls.
As you are running to your left and right, follow the baseball all the way into your glove and catch the it with 1 hand. Click here if you want to read more about tracking fly balls. Also, you can read more about how to avoid losing baseballs in the sun.
6. Run on your toes
When outfielders are running after the ball, sometimes it might feel like the ball is bouncing all over the place.
This happens because of how you are running after the baseball.
When you run and your heels hit the ground first at impact your eyes will bounce and it will give you the illusion of the baseball jumping all around.
To minimize this bouncing, try letting your toes hit the ground first and the impact will be a lot softer on your eyes and you will see a big difference when running after a baseball.
More pro tips for how to play outfield:
- Outfield 2: Tracking Fly Balls
- Outfield 3: How to Avoid Losing Baseballs in the Sun
- Outfield 4: How to Throw Using Crow Hops
- Outfield 5: Using the Long Hop
- Best sunglasses for baseball (sunglasses are the outfielder’s best friend!)