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Sunday, September 20, 2009

How to Communicate Effectively in the Outfield

By Steven Michael

Good communication in the outfield is mandatory. Communication is virtually all verbal in nature. And for good reason. When defensive players are running to catch the baseball, they don't have time to look at each other and give visual cues. Communication should also include returning or confirming a call made by a player. And communication is also meant to direct the next action by an outfielder.

Communication To Catch

"I got it -- I got it -- I GOT IT!" That's how an outfielder should state his intention to catch the ball. If there is any question in outfielder's minds who should make the play, communicate it three times and make it loud.

Crowd noise, wind whistling through the ears as they run, and same-time calling are all reasons to yell loudly and multiple times. In big stadiums, crown noise can be deafening. Even in smaller venues, a hundred people screaming can diffuse outfield communication.

Players who call for the ball at the same time is the most common problem. They each call for it once, at the same time, and neither player hears the other. Bam! -- a player collision. In addition to being loud, communication should be done in an authoritative voice. The ball is up for grabs and must be caught. Call for it with authority -- and remember the priority rules.

There is a wonderfully funny story about language as a barrier to good communication. In the 1950's the Phillies had a center fielder named Richie Ashburn. Richie was a great outfielder and was named Rookie of the Year in the National League. The Phillies shortstop was a Spanish player from the Caribbean, and he didn't know any English. On more than one occasion, Richie and the shortstop would be running to catch a pop-fly behind the infield. Richie would scream "I got it", but the shortstop didn't understand, and they had a couple near misses at colliding. A savvy old coach told Richie that the Spanish words for "I got it" are "Yo la tengo". Well, the next time a pop-fly happened, Richie was sprinting in to catch it screaming "Yo la tengo -- Yo la tengo". The shortstop immediately understood and stopped. Richie was then run over by his American-born left fielder.

Marco -- Polo!

Just like the youth game played in a swimming pool, where one child, with eyes closed, is calling "Marco", the other kids say "Polo" to audibly reveal their positions, outfielders need to respond. Outfielders must respond and clearly communicate with each other. This prevents any misunderstandings about who will make the play.

In situations where two players are calling for the ball, the player who backs off should communicate that fact. He should confirm that the other player has priority. How does he do this? By saying, "Take it -- Take it -- Take it".

When calling for the ball, it is assumed the outfielder is confident he can catch it. Don't call for the ball when you have zero chance of making the play. On the other hand, if an outfielder thinks he has a better chance than any other fielder, call for the ball. On some outfield plays, nobody calls for the ball. Where two outfielders are running for the ball, and neither thinks they have a chance to catch it, it's okay not to call for it. This usually means the outfielders are not close enough to risk a collision.

Communication To Assist

Outfield communication is not all about calling for the ball. There are times when an outfielder should help by being their teammate's eyes. Let's look at these situations.

Warn About the Fence

Outfielders should have a signal worked out between them about the wall. When one outfielder is running full stride toward the wall to make a catch, the adjoining outfielder should warn him when he is five strides away from it. The most prevalent method used is shouting the words, "Fence -- Fence -- Fence!". This lets the pursuing outfielder know in plenty of time that he has four to five strides before the fence.

The reason five running strides is the threshold is because it takes at least two strides for the receiving outfielder to recognize the communication. Things happen fast, so you want to alert your teammate in plenty of time.

Direct the Throw

When one outfielder is making a play on a batted ball, the adjoining outfielder should watch the play and tell the fielding outfielder where to throw the ball. This applies to all situations. The adjoining, or non-fielding, outfielder can see what base runners are doing, the depth of the ball, and the game situation. The fielding outfielder is watching the ball to catch it. If a ball is hit to the gap in right-center, and the right fielder will get to it first, the center fielder should be yelling at the right fielder to hit the cut-off man.

Runners on first and third bases, less than two outs, and a fly ball is hit to the left fielder. The center fielder should let the left fielder know where to throw the ball. If the ball is deep, he yells, "Two -- Two -- Two" to prevent the runner on first from advancing to second -- and scoring position. If the ball is not deep, the center fielder should yell, "Home -- Home -- Home", or "Four -- Four -- Four" to cut down the runner tagging from third base.

With less than two outs, a fly ball is hit to left-center field, and there is a runner on second base, the left fielder should be telling the center fielder that the base runner is tagging. He can yell "tagging" or "he's tagging", just make sure your are heard. This lets the center fielder know that he should position himself to make an urgent throw to third base -- through the cut-off man.

In a huge number of situations that can't be fully described here, a non-fielding outfielder should be communicating the things that the fielder can't see. Runners tagging, hit the cut-off, which base to throw to, are just the normal situations. It's always better to over-communicate than to say nothing at all. Help each other out.

Direct Traffic for Outfield-Infield Plays

When an outfielder and infielder are both pursuing a pop-up, in addition to the outfielder calling for the ball, the adjoining outfielder should also call the outfielder's name. This gives both pursuers of the ball a confirmation of who should catch it. Now you might say that three players yelling is too much static to hear anything definite. But you're wrong. The more communication that is used is always better.

How many times have you seen an infielder backpedaling to catch a pop-up, he hears the outfielder's steps, and stops. The outfielder slows down because the infielder looks like he's going to catch the ball -- and neither one catches it.

I just watched a game last night and that happened. What if the adjoining outfielder had screamed the outfielder's name? Do you think that would have helped or hindered the situation? Yeah, it would have helped considerably, in fact the ball would have been caught. By the way, three runs scored -- there were two outs and the base runners were off with the pitch. Ouch!

Steven E. Michael played seven years of professional baseball in the Montreal Expos, Detroit Tigers and Milwaukee Brewers organizations. He played collegiately at Arizona State University in Tempe, Arizona earning All-Western Athletic Conference, All-College World Series, and Sporting News All-America honors.

His new book, "How To Play Baseball Outfield: Techniques, Tips, and Drills to Learn the Outfield Position" is available at

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Have a great day, Nick